I participated in my first ever public demonstration last Sunday, 29 Nov. Part of the global climate march, about 70,000 people gathered in London and marched from Hyde Park Corner to Westminister – including about 9 of us from Silwood Park campus of Imperial College London. The climate march was a prelude to the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 currently held in Paris, where world leaders are gathering to discuss climate change (and hopefully come to agreement on some climate action).
It was a rather interesting experience. Being London, it was grey, windy and rainy, but despite the weather, there was quite a festival/carnival feeling in the air. That’s the positive side of a climate change-related march I guess (compared to a Don’t Bomb Syria demonstration), that you can dress up as animals and parade around, contributing to a fun and chill vibe. There was also lots of drums and various instruments, so all in all, pretty much like a carnival, though it did involve a lot more waiting and standing around than I expected.
You might think that all of us environmental people who care about climate change are the same, but it was somewhat surprising (even for me) seeing the diversity of people present. People were coming together to demand climate action from our governments for many different reasons, from many different backgrounds. Groups of religious (CAFOD), humanists, vegan eaters, meat eaters, people & poverty-focused, animal focused – people who might disagree on several other issues, all coming together to demand action on something that would affect us all, as a human race. No matter our beliefs.
After our group photo from the march appeared on my Facebook, one of my friends commented that it’s something he always envisioned me to be doing. Which was rather interesting, as I never had any intentions of being an activist, nor would I consider myself one. Perhaps because the word ‘activist’ brings to mind people chaining themselves to trees and doing other similarly radical things, while I consider myself more logical and sensible I guess. A similar discussion was brought up during class last week, on the line between being a scientist and an advocate (a less strong word for activist?).
I arrived in the world of conservation from an urban development perspective, and have always voiced my opinion on certain issues, especially when I was younger. After all, how do you sit and stay quiet when you know something that could make a real difference, particularly as a scientist, an expert on a certain issue? At the same time, advocating for a particular action to be taken might undermine scientific credibility (being objective), which would be pretty damaging for a scientist. Horton et al. (2015) discussed balancing credibility and advocacy as a conservation scientist, and framed credibility as having multiple dimensions – goodwill, trustworthiness and expertise – which would be emphasised differentially depending on the issue at hand.
On the other hand, it also seems like many people who are environmentally-inclined take the moral high ground, and feel supreme to others who do not act or live as they do. But as E.J. Milner-Gulland from Oxford’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science reminds us, taking the moral high ground is not likely to convince others. Trying to push conservation to (an often hostile) economic-political world is tricky as it is, but it all starts with ourselves and how we choose to convey our message.