Torchlight

What’s the Point?
by Kevin He -- March 19th, 2013

Environmental science is an intriguing contradiction. On the one hand, you have a whole slew of experts working their butts off to understand the complexities of the world. In the middle, you have those same experts shaping that understanding (dumbing it down) so that non-experts can understand it. And then on the far end, you have everyone else plugging their ears and completely ignoring everything. So, I ask again. What’s the point?

What’s the point of a field that has experts that might as well not exist because no one listens to them? Or the fact that the experts must spend a bulk of their time dumbing themselves down so that these complexities are digestable by a wider audience? Take medicine as a comparison. If no one ever trusted their doctor (or all doctors as a whole) to know what they were talking about, then what would be the point of medicine?

Perhaps it’s simply me. But I’ve often been a part of situations where everyone is discussing their line of work, be it psychology, biotechnology, economics, political science, etc. Each time I’m left feeling like the only one without anything to contribute. Here are my theories as to why that is: 1) I know nothing about my own field of study, 2) There’s not much to it to know, 3) Everyone already understands it all, or 4) We’ve dumbed down our own field of study.

Of these, 2 and 3 are unlikely because 1) at the end of the day, environmental science is immensely complex and 2) if everyone knew what was going on, we would probably be solving these problems right now. This leaves me with options 1 and 4, which are somewhat linked. Many undergraduate-level environmental science courses come with names such as “Conserving the Variety of Life” or “Ethics of Conservation” and teach us how/why to think about the environment. This is a useful starting point, of course, and trains students to examine environmental issues from the perspective of the “average person.” Have we, however, doomed our own cause by allowing the average citizen to feel like they know more than we do? If so, it is perhaps time to truly reexamine the trajectory of the discipline.

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