The problem with the general public perception of Environmentalism: a coin with two sides, and both of them misguided

In spite of the ever growing interest of the general public in environmentalism I can’t help but notice that the acceptance of its principles and theories (especially the dangers of man-made extinctions and climate change) even by self-described science enthusiasts and supporters (who are NOT scientists) is much lower than, let’s say, the acceptance of evolution. At first I found this kind of weird: most of these people, not being biologists, decided (and rightly so!) to trust scientists and experts about evolution, so why don’t they trust scientists and experts about conservation and global warming? The answer then came to my mind, and I think it’s a combination of at least two facts. First of all, environmentalism apparently implies some sort of responsability, which is something pople don’t like very much. Second and probably most important, it’s a sad truth that most people who define themselves environmentalists are, in fact, obnoxious, misinformed, dogmatic assholes whose main interest is in appearing “hip” and “different”, rather than truly act in support of environmental conservation. Their main activities seems to be shouting that humanity is evil and corrupted, and that Mother Nature is a so good and kind, and, most terrifying of all, they often seem to refuse many scientific positions on various subjects (energy, agriculture, etc…), which is of course horrifying, since science is our best tool to understand the environmental dangers we face and to try to find new solutions.

This being the situatution, I can partially understand and sympathize with rational people who don’t want to be associated with such morons. It’s painful for me to know that the public face of environmentalism is represented mainly by uneducated hippy wannabes. At the same time, however, people that antagonize environmentalism on this basis should understand this: the fact that an idea is venerated by many morons in bad faith who don’t really understand its principles doesn’t automatically mean that said idea is stupid. Environmentalism as a whole, or parts of it,  are supported by many (if not most) scientists and researchers around the world, because it makes sense from a scientific and self-preservation standpoint – after all, when you look closely, environmentalism is nothing other than the management and conservation of resources vital to mankind. Who the fuck would oppose that?

So we have these two widespread perceptions of environmentalism: we have the cultist-like dogmatic misinformed people who spread ignorance and damage the public image of the movement, and on the other side we have people who see them and fallaciously identify the empty slogans of hippies with what should be the real goals of environmentalism, and thus attack the movement as a whole. To both groups, I say: try to look at the science behind environmental challenges, before taking a position.

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Happy Birthday to The Cladogram!

Just after announcing the temporary hibernation of this blog, I’m BAAAAAACK! Only for today, though. ‘Cause the 23rd of august of one year ago, The Cladogram was born! Oh, what a glorious adventure during the course of a year! Well, maybe not that great, some of you might say, but I’m still pretty satisfied with what I’ve done, and I’ve learned a few more tricks about blogging. And remember all those good ol’ memories? Like when I mocked mockumentaries. Or when I shamelessly analyzed the biology in Avatar. And what about my clumsy attempts at microphotography? Not to mention the most awesome environmentalist ad ever made, and my encounters with rare animals and plants. So, I hope I’ll come back soon and better than ever. Long live The Cladogram!

Cryptobiosis. This blog has entered it.

As you might have noticed, it’s been a couple of months since I’ve last updated this blog, but I want to assure you that I don’t want to let it die. It’s just that, except for a brief period of rest in the exotic land of Turkey, my summer has been full of work for my stage (or internship or whatever the hell you want to call it) and my exams – and it’s not over. I still have to complete the stage, write my thesis, take one last exam and choose where to continue my University adventure. So I declare officially that this blog, while not dead, certainly is in a state of cryptobiosis; don’t expect too much in the next few months, even though I might pop up sometimes with something new. See ya, folks.

R.I.P. Lonesome George

It’s been silent here for a while. I started my stage, participated in various excursions and field experiences and also took 3 exams, so it’s been one hell of a month, and not only because the temperature here is rising at an alarming rate. Hopefully I’ll deliver some more content in the next days, but today I bring you one sad piece of news: Lonesome George is dead. Remember him? He was the last of his subspecies. Now, i’m not usually the one to think that every single existing variety of every single existing species should be preserved at any cost (I think many of these cases could be taxonomic inflation, which in my opinion is more harmful than good for environmental education and sensibilization), and I don’t think that the death of a single tortoise (that additionally didn’t want to mate with any other tortoise of different subspecies) will impact in any way the survival of the species as a whole. But I must admit I’ve always found the tale of  the last Pinta tortoise and of the desperate (and sadly useless) efforts to make him reproduce very fascinating and inspiring. R.I.P. Lonesome George, and R.I.P. Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, a now extinct subspecies.

Face to face: Pulmonaria apennina

Pulmonaria apennina

Undergrowth in purple.

I’m BAAAAAACK! There are no excuses for such a long absence, but I have been a little busier than usual with the university – and I’ll be in the immediate future too! Recently, I’ve attended a course called “Ecosystemic Laboratory”, which includes a series of excursions in natural parks, and I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the local flora. Here’s Pulmonaria apennina, a protected species that is not very common everywhere, but in some places can be very abundant. The flowers are pink at first, and then become purple, and the leaves present many white spots (the green parenchyma in those spots is reduced). The function of the spots, if they have any, is unknown (it could be for protection from insects, like some exotic plants in which the leaves look like they’ve already been infested, thus prompting the insect to search some other plant) but in the middle ages people believed that, since the spots vaguely looked like alveoli in a lung, the plant was a miraculous cure for respiratory problems. It isn’t, of course, but the trichomes (“hair”) of the leaves caused expectoration, reinforcing the belief. It’s a plant that grows in shadowy places, like the underwood, and flowers around march-april, and its main pollinators are bumblebees (genus: Bombus)

Myrmecos’ Alex Wild pays a visit to Italy

Hey, apparently a while ago Alex Wild of Myrmecos visited Parma, an Emilia-Romagna city not too distant from where I live! But what was he doing there? He was in collaboration with local researchers to start a project in which the local population (in this case, elementary school kids) would be directly involved into ant research, which is totally awesome. I was really envious when I read on Wild’s blog of similar projects that took place in America, because this kind of things both help researchers collect data on large territories and manages to sparkle more interest and understanding for science and biodiversity in non-scientists; since here in Italy there’s basically no real support for scientific research, I thought we would never start something like that, which would have been a pity because our nation, thanks to the enormous diversity of geographic and climate conditions, has the richest biodiversity in all Europe. Well, apparently (and fortunately) I was wrong, since this new initiative follows the american model: it consist in leaving open vials containing a bait (usually a piece of a cookie) in various places with different conditions (grass, concrete…), wait for local ants to enter them, then capture the insects. At this point, the citizen can attempt an identification, but more importently can record data on when, where, etc… the specimens where captured, then freeze the ants, pack them with the data and send them to experts, helping them to study the distribution and ecology of these amazingly important organisms. So, overall, that’s great news for italian biodiversity research. One minor note to Alex Wild’s otherwise excellent article: I kind of rolled my eyes reading “…the students went back inside to talk about what they had found and then, I assume, it being Parma, eat pasta and/or pizza for lunch…”. It’s a little bit weird. Yes, pizza and the pasta can be found everywhere in Italy, of course, but come on, you make me feel like this guy.