Walking the Talk of Conservation Biology

How many earths are needed to support our individual lifestyles? First year IGC fellow, Devin Hoffman, started his IGC seminar by polling the classroom about how sustainably we live. Take this simple test and see how many earths are needed for your lifestyle: (http://www.footprintcalculator.org/). If you’re anything like me or anyone else that was in the IGC classroom, your lifestyle is currently using more resources than what our planet has to offer. If everyone on Earth lived a lifestyle like an average American, we would consume over five earths, a startling total.

But what does this mean? Does this mean the planet is doomed, or that we all need to drastically change our lifestyles? Many IGC students say they strive for sustainable living and want to help create a healthy future for our planet. This leads to the question that Devin brought into our classroom, do we scientists need to live sustainably? Over the course of an hour we continued to circle around a single important topic, credibility. Scientists need to walk the talk.  For example, if a scientist studying the impact of plastics on ocean life were seen littering plastics on the side of the road, people might question the validity of their science. This is hyperbolic, but how many climate scientists have carbon footprints that are larger than the general public? As scientists, we often have big footprints because we use laptops, work in large airconditioned buildings, and fly to scientific conferences to help advance our careers. Does this affect our credibility and how the general public perceives or accepts our research? We can all aim to live a little more sustainably, but is there a tipping point? At what point does a sustainable lifestyle detract from our ability to conduct science or advance our careers? Can we conduct our studies without laptops, or advance our careers without flying to at least some of them, or our field sites? I don’t have an answer, but it is clear that a key step for everyone is to walk the talk of our research and rhetoric, and strive for credibility.

Brenen is an Interfaces of Global Change PhD student. His focus area is vertebrate paleontology, studying how traits evolve across mass extinctions, and he works with Dr. Sterling Nesbitt in the department of Geosciences.