Should Environmental Scientists Engage in Public Advocacy to Help Conserve the Natural World?
School of Geography
221 Bouverie Street
Advocacy is the public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. It is also something that many environmental scientists have to struggle with over the course of their careers, yet is a topic that few have received any training in. To some scientists, public advocacy is an action to be avoided at all costs. To others, it is not only implicit within the discipline of conservation biology but is an obligation that must be fulfilled by citizens in a civil society who hold specialised technical knowledge.
Objections to public advocacy by scientists are usually based on the assumptions that (1) advocacy calls into question the (supposed) objectivity of scientific advice and its (supposed) special place in policy formulation; (2) conservation biologists are no better qualified to advise on conservation topics than anyone else in the community; (3) advocacy leads to conservation science being politicised; and (4) the possibility that public advocacy will lead to self-promotion.
In this presentation, Professor Paul Boon will show that all four objections are deeply flawed. The current state of the world leads to the argument that environmental scientists should aim to influence conservation policy and on-ground works through a multitude of channels in order to influence and mobilise public opinion (which is arguably the only factor acknowledged by politicans, the ultimate makers of conservation policy). The limits to this course of action are outlined along with possible adverse outcomes for those scientists who choose to engage in public advocacy, including the risk of legal action.
Professor Paul Boon, University of Melbourne
Professor Paul Boon
University of Melbourne
Paul is an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Geography. He joined the School in 2018 after having turned 60 and deciding that this was a suitable time to say a fond farewell to the Institute for Sustrainability & Innovation at Victoria University. Earlier in his career he worked in the Botany Department of Monash University, for CSIRO Land & Water as a senior research scientist on the ecology of aquatic systems in the MurrayDarling Basin, and as the leader of the aquatic ecology team at the engineering consulting firm of Sinclair Knight Merz. His BSc(Hons) studies in the late1970s were on the ecology of mangroves in the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney. This was followed by a PhD on seagrass ecology in Queensland, and postdoctoral studies on the saltmarshes of Western Port. Since his nominal 'retirement' though, he has become more interested in environmental history and in pursing longneglected hobbies in music (despite his daughter telling him that he should give up as he can't keep in time), painting and traditional silverbased photography, and travel in inland Australia with his trusty LandCruiser and Tvan campertrailer.