It wasn’t until my next flight had lifted off, treating me to a panoramic view of dawn over the southern Pacific Ocean, that I realized the irony of what I’d done. Overnight, a plane had carried me across the world’s biggest body of water, containing the world’s largest trash dump, the Pacific Garbage Patch. In the morning, I had, though indirectly, contributed to its continued expansion.
Worse, a bad ski season predicts a tough year for water-users (read: everyone) living in the American West.
On Thursday night, the group “Beyond Searsville Dam” held an auction event in Palo Alto titled, “Give a Dam!” to raise money to evaluate and consider the removal of Stanford University’s Searsville Dam.
But today, as pennies are being pinched and a growing faction actively denies the societal value of scientific knowledge, those of us working in basic science are feeling a bit on edge. As evidenced by scores of cell biologists linking their work to cancer biology, and numbers of ecologists citing the impacts of climate change, we’re all looking for ways to make our work immediately relevant to society’s needs.
That’s what happens in nature, when some species — transported far from home by human activity — launch ecosystem-rattling invasions of local plant and animal communities. Invasive species can change landscapes, clog waterways, squeeze out locals and even poison wildlife. And unlike a visiting sports team, which catches an outbound bus after even the most disheartening trouncing, invasive species come to stay.
Unfortunately, the way the message was presented was somewhat flawed — to raise awareness about the ecological impacts of various foods, the museum put out plates of shrimp cocktails and sashimi. Of course, this just made me hungry, and after leaving the museum — and I’m really ashamed to admit this — I went to a restaurant and ordered myself a shrimp cocktail. Oops. Fortunately, there is a silver lining to this story. My guilt has compelled me to dedicate this week’s column to the poor, delicious shrimp and all the other endangered animals by recommending that you pursue a career as a wildlife rehabilitator.
I saw the process repeated several times that day. The turtle was never caught, and I had little fear for it. Elsewhere, green sea turtles (which are listed as an endangered species) are crowded, chased, encircled and petted by dozens of eager snorkellers. I was no less guilty, having pursued more than my fair share as a child. There was something different about how these young men saw that turtle, though. It was a companion, perhaps a friend, another living, feeling being with whom they shared an increasingly fragile world.
Teaching is simultaneously one of the most rewarding and the most challenging duties of a graduate student. At any moment, you could inspire a student’s career or illuminate a light bulb of understanding. (Yes, it really does sound that romantic, until you’re sitting through a deserted office hour or hearing snores from the back corner of a classroom.)