At the surface, the 23rd annual ENVX Symposium’s topic, Conservation, may seem like a single track issue which is relatively safe from scrutiny; when we harm the natural world around us, it makes sense that we would seek to fix this harm. Rhetoric around a topic so squarely planted in science should appear to be governed purely by reason, but so many times this rhetoric is not. It feels as though conservation is being questioned at every turn, even when there’s no supporting evidence for these assertions. For a symposium which hosts complicated, thought-provoking topics each year, how it deals with the concept of disinformation, misinformation, and outright lies is just as important as the topics themselves. How do we cut through the haze of a post-truth world?
One of the most famous examples in American history regarding conservation is the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which was passed in order to help protect species which had been viewed as ‘threatened or endangered’ by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service. This law has helped protect iconic species such as the bald eagle, florida panther, and grizzly bear from extinction. However, this law has been viciously attacked since its creation with claims that it damages industry and hurts economic output. Every year since 1973, bills have been presented to weaken the Act’s ability to classify and protect species. Recently, the Trump Administration passed sweeping reform which would include an economic impact evaluation for species being put on the list.
When looking at conservation in America, it seems that the gap between science and legislation is widening, along with the attitudes surrounding both. During the catastrophic wildfires in California during the summer and fall of 2018, President Trump was recorded stating that the Finnish prevented forest fires in their country by raking the forest floor. He went on to say that the state of California could prevent these forest fires by doing the same, and openly denies the effect of climate change on that year’s record-breaking fire season. When it comes to science, especially that which relates with the natural world, it’s easy for deniers to call into question its legitimacy. Conservation is faced with a tricky situation because it is so easy to spin the topic as a falsehood. How can truths be fortified and taught when there are so many false claims and lies in circulation in our “post-truth” world? symposiums and conferences across the world, this may be a question for their very existence.
This is where public engagement comes in. How do speakers and organizers effectively to pass along truth? For the issue of conservation, this may mean a number of things. Part of the solution is finding people who emulate the integrity of the scientific process, and who support the use of quantifiable data in our legislative decisions. Just as importantly, however, is the presence of actors who have experience in both the fields of conservation and legislation; in order to bridge the gap in understanding, all understandings must be present. Only through representation can the ENVX Symposium deliver effective, potent information to a curious student body.