Citizen Science, or, how to have fun and feel like you are making a difference while the world falls apart
A couple weeks ago, I drove up to the Pajarito Environmental Education Center in Los Alamos to see the author Sharman Apt Russell speak. I first learned of Russell while camping in the Gila National Forest volunteering with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. A group of "citizen scientists," myself included, had gathered to conduct environmental inventories of land that would be proposed for future Wilderness protection designation. A number of them had met Russell as she scoured for stories on citizen science.
She read from her book Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing tiger beetles and other new ways of engaging the world. Having fallen in love with citizen science on a trip to India with Earthwatch Institute earlier this year, her words resonated with me as if I could have written them.
"As the world falls apart, as we lose hundreds of species a day in the most current mass extinction, as I lift my head to the bright blue New Mexican sky and lament and wait and ululate...the idea that there is still so much to discover strikes me as a kind of miracle. We think we've beaten the Earth flat, hammered out the creases, starched the collar, hung her up to dry. We've turned the planet into our private estate, a garden here, a junkyard there, maybe an apocalypse at the end. But no longer wild, no longer mysterious. And yet. [As entomologist Dick Van-Wright said] You could spend a week studying some obscure insect and you would then know more than anyone else on the planet. It's such a cheerful thought."
Through Citizen science we can fall in love with nature again. Maybe that love will save it.