By Jim Perry
Attended by over 100 members, the Wisconsin’s Green Fire (WGF) 2018 Annual Meeting caused much philosophical pondering and also provided some concrete ideas on how to make connections.
We were out to learn “The Art of Effective Science Communications-Reaching Outside the Echo Chamber.” Echo chamber … it’s not uncommon that we associate with like-minded individuals, and as such we often have a difficult time imagining why Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Science Services has been gutted, ground water is under assault, air quality standards are being diminished, Chronic Wasting Disease is not approached as a crisis requiring real action, or some legislators want to take enforcement actions out of the hands of our wardens.
Thus, we need to expand our thoughts beyond the comfort zone of those like us. Across economic and political boundaries. And especially outside the “white European male DNR” culture that many of us fit into.
We were primed for Saturday’s meeting the evening before, inspired by Big Top Chautauqua’s Blue Canvas Orchestra performance of Wild Woods and Waters. This collection of natural resources-inspired original compositions by Chautauqua’s co-founder Warren Nelson really speaks to me, and it did to others as well. In his years as a DNR attorney, WGF’s Michael Cain has argued many cases about our rights to water resources. He noted that Tom Mitchell’s illustrated theatrical skit of fly-fishing with his father on the Willow River brought tears to his eyes. It depicted the epic legal battle of Frank Wade, who took on the private interests of a group of wealthy individuals wanting to claim the fishing, and the waters, as their own. The 19th Century Wisconsin Supreme Court decision laid a vital foundation stone in our cherished Pubic Trust Doctrine, which defines the waters of Wisconsin as a shared public resource.
One man had the resolve to action. His action affirmed my legal right to wade any navigable stream without fear of being arrested for trespassing. We all need that resolve to make such a difference.
Northwestern University’s Patty Lowe, known by most of us for her stellar work on Wisconsin Public Television, helped me start thinking of how we can bridge the cultural divide between the Indigenous Nations within the boundaries of our state. It’s humbling, and disconcerting to realize my own cultural bias even when I don’t want it to exist. And it also opened my eyes to the enormous talents that Native American youth bring to the table.
A panel of five diverse presenters built on Patty’s foundational keynote, their messages ranging from intensely academic to the art of story-telling. Consider how we, as scientists, are logical thinkers, often with long term interests in mind, while legislators think in 2, 4 or 6 -year frames, depending on their term of office. Or even how with one notable exception, what’s important to the preponderance of everyday citizens is how an issue affects their family, this week. We need to be thinking of that as we get outside the echo chamber.
We will need to educate the media, get out of the confines of print and into the 21st Century with podcasts and more Facebook and Twitter posts.
I came away both humbled and inspired. I’m humbled because as I listened I realized how narrow my knowledge base is, but I am inspired to become one of many voices that continues to speak for the living organisms that cannot speak for themselves. And I hope you will join me.
And who thinks beyond today? The original Americans, who not only make decisions with the next seven generations that follow them, but who consider the rocks and the trees, the waters and the air, the animals around them to be sentient, and ancestral. We can learn from those closest to Mother Earth.
How would we act differently if we knew that Nature loved us?
–Jim Perry is Vice President of Wisconsin’s Green Fire