Photo: Jennifer Molnar @ The Nature Conservancy
By Jennifer Molnar, Managing Director and Lead Scientist of The Nature Conservancy’s Center for Sustainability Science
Recently, I watched my 5-year-old nephew and 2-year-old twin nieces dig into my mom’s garden in New Jersey—looking for worms and pill bugs and other crawling treasures in the early spring dirt.
It brought back early memories of doing the same with my sister—digging into the dirt, trampling through creeks, climbing trees. Exploring nature, and finding cool things.
My interest in science started in moments like that.
It was fun to find new things. And then I became curious and started asking questions. Why does that animal live there? Why is it that color? What does it eat?
Science is about understanding the world and how it works, and I was beginning by exploring my neighborhood.
The more I’ve explored, the more I’ve learned how integral science is in our lives. By knowing how plants grow, we can raise crops that feed us. Biology and chemistry allow us to learn about diseases and how we can fight them.
Science also shows us how interdependent our world is and how much we depend on nature.
For example, water doesn’t just come into our homes through a pipe. It starts by falling from the sky, then it flows over land before joining with a river or lake and ultimately traveling through that pipe. What that water flows over makes a big difference in how clean it is. Flowing over the pavement of city streets and parking lots, it picks up contaminants like gasoline, motor oil, and trash. Flowing through a forest, the ground can act like a sponge, absorbing and filtering the water.
The Nature Conservancy participates in the Earth Day March for Science on the National Mall in Washington, DC, April 22, 2017. Photo © Lawrence Jackson
We can take advantage of nature’s role in protecting our water supply. Companies can not only look for efficiencies within their factories, but invest in conservation upstream to avoid the need to filter water. And cities can bring elements of nature into their urban spaces—using rain gardens and bioswales to allow rain water to flow more slowly and filter through the ground to enter waterways cleaner.
There are many other ways that nature supports our lives and our economy. Trees filter our air. Healthy soils are needed to grow healthy food. Fish from rivers and oceans feed us. And of course there are the intrinsic values of nature and benefits we get from just spending time in it—relieving stress and having fun.
Science allows us to make better decisions—including how we can better support nature so it keeps supporting us.
Science is also critical to addressing one of the biggest challenges we face today—climate change. We have seen evidence of changes that are already happening, with models indicating more will come if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sea levels are rising. Animals are changing migration patterns and farmers are shifting crop timing due to earlier springs. Weather events are becoming more extreme and less predictable.
Data on these changes allow our communities and companies to better understand the risks and develop solutions to adapt.
Unfortunately, despite the critical role science plays in our lives, its value today often gets questioned. And now in the United States, federal budgets and programs for science and conservation are threatened.
It is more important than ever for us to speak up for science, including the science of nature and its value.
As scientists, this includes communicating the importance of our work not only to peers, but also to broader audiences. To raise awareness of the role science plays in our lives, so it won’t be taken for granted.
All of us can speak up to support science through our votes and calls to government representatives. We can deliver the message that having science data and using it to inform our decisions—in policy, by companies, in our daily lives—is critical.
And I also hope that many more kids will see the wonder and awe of science like I did. Exploring their part of the world and asking questions, and then being inspired to keep asking questions through careers in science. They will be our next generation of explorers and problem solvers—helping us to better understand our world and what we can do so people and nature can thrive together.
Learn more information about the March for Science here: https://www.nature.org/marchforscience