Saturday, June 8, 2013

Continuing Our Uncommon Dialogues

The past week of uncommon dialogues has been brought about some fascinating discussions on the topic of conservation, covering many points that merit dissemination past the hull of our wandering ship. As we know, conservation is a group effort, and although the SSV Seamans is currently carrying a very promising group of individuals, we can always do better to bring our ideas of sustainability and conservation to the wider world.
For her uncommon dialogue, Alexis Woods presented us with a novel, utilitarian view of sustainability. She had us imagine it was the year 2300 and the world as we know it had been wasted away by our harmful actions. In order to preserve our species, the remaining humans set off to a fresh, unexploited planet capable of sustaining life. With this scenario in mind, Alexis asked us, what should we bring, both in terms of our practices and our material possessions, to sustain ourselves in this new world? The class was quick to eliminate all sorts of disposable materials we use today, but we came to this conclusion in an interesting way. At first, we decided that bringing plastics of any kind would be a bad idea, but as the discussion progressed, it was clear that some plastic are extremely useful and necessary to our society. The question of food was also a point of debate. Although it was agreed that grains would be extremely useful as a stable food source, how to go about supplying protein to the population was more complicated. Bringing livestock seemed the obvious choice but it presented the problem of the very low caloric return we would receive in exchange for the food we would have to supply the livestock with. This led to the suggestion that if we are being purely utilitarian and ignoring factors like preference and taste, should we do away with animal protein all together and focus only on plant sourced protein? The practice was a revealing one, posing us with the question of whether or not true, perfect sustainability is possible without sacrificing our preferences and pleasures in life.

                The following uncommon dialogue was hosted by Alessandra Santiago. Alessandra talked to us about using concepts of sociology and anthropology to promote conservation. Although many of us were familiar with the concept, it is admittedly one that too often slips from the minds of those absorbed in the scientific community. In an age when communication of data is arguably becoming a more dire need than the accumulation of the facts themselves, the powers of sociology and anthropology can be an extremely powerful tool. Through a few examples, Santiago reminded us that information is much better received when delivered in the right cultural context. For example, one Stanford sociologist studied the most effective ways of disseminating advertisements in Kapmandu and found that the most frequently viewed form were those aired on karaoke videos. This example highlights just how drastically things can change across cultural borders, because as you and I both know, karaoke advertisements would not be very effective here in the united states. With this in mind, we began brainstorming the best possible ways of providing the parts of the world that we do not necessarily fully understand with conservation and sustainability information. Alessandra’s ideas were received very positively by the group and we were soon discussing the place of proactive behavior in science. As we gather information about the instability and frail nature of our planet, is it our responsibility in turn to do something about it? Or, should the answer to the problems we as scientists point out be left to a different community to figure out? In the end the students agreed on one point. What is the point of being a scientist if you are not part of the change you hope to bring about?

-Lucas Oswald

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