Climate change and biodiversity loss are posing an immediate threat to our well-being, but politicians are taking very underwhelming action. The science flagging these problems and how to mitigate them has been around for decades…but where have the scientists been?
To many, scientists are the elite and out-of-touch, closed off from society while writing and publishing only for each other. This is, to a sorrowful extent, true because we are rarely trained on how to share our findings meaningfully with the public.
Very often, however, scientists hold back from taking on roles in activism and advocacy within the community because they fear tarnishing their credibility as objective, evidence-based professionals, and missing funding opportunities from public or private sectors in a career rife with insecure positions and dependence on external funding.
A group of biologists, medical scientists, psychologists and public health experts recently penned an article where they admitted point-blank that they failed to motivate politicians, and society, to take proper action on the climate crisis as a direct result of our absence from activism.
The article is now a rallying cry for scientists to join the frontlines of activism and advocacy to practice what they preach.
“All citizens in a society have a moral obligation to advocate for what they justifiably recognise to be right or good”, the authors justly argue. We are scientists, but we are also citizens. This means we should more prominently, and drastically, use our abilities to create a better world – especially since our lives depend on it.
Standing at the forefront of battles – whether it’s the preservation of our natural environment or social justice – does not compromise our credibility as scientists. If anything, people expect us to be actively involved and they lend us more respect when we put our words into action.
Our relationship with the environment does not stop at books – it’s an extension of our fascination and appreciation of the world and our complete dependence on it. We feel this more when political decisions start concerning the place we call home.
As scientists, we understand the intricacies of what over-construction and over-commercialisation can do to our ecosystem. Because of this, we cannot sit back and watch it go on in silence.
The passive, unpolitical lens expected of scientists becomes counterproductive as studies on the living world are increasingly becoming the documentation of a dying one.
That is why we stand up to be counted when we see Comino being exploited by business interests, or when the marine environment is sacrificed in favour of yacht marinas.
Time and time again we see corporations capturing public institutions, forcing politicians and policymakers into compromising positions. Think about the concessions of public land for private profit, or the frequent tokens handed to the construction lobby…
It’s a familiar scene when politicians start sacrificing the greater good because they refuse to act unfavourably towards big business. Behind the scenes, there are often candidates who depend on generous donations or policymakers who enjoy personal ties with business tycoons. These are the conflicting interests that politicians harbour.
We scientists, do not bear a conflict of interest for being vocal in activism – we do this because we believe it is right, and we know it to be right through our expertise.
Faced with unscrupulous politicians, our role as scientists cannot stop at informing policy from within.
This has been our approach for years and it has not brought about timely satisfactory results – we remained silent when policymakers with questionable interests watered down, or misused, our recommendations, and not raising our voices against harmful policies is tantamount to accepting the status quo.
If you are a professional reading this and feel that it has resonated with you, support a movement with your time, energy, and presence to demand what you know is right.
The fear of public prejudice is unfounded and the threat of retaliation irrelevant. Using your credentials to lend more credibility to the fronts of activism is a symbol of your professionality and dedication to your expertise.
Dr. Marie Claire Gatt is avian ecologist. Dr John Paul Cauchi is an environmental health expert. Both are activists with Moviment Graffitti.
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Should scientists be more involved in politics and activism?