Guilt and the Galápagos

Last year Allison’s father asked us to join him on a trip to the Galápagos Islands on his dime.  We said yes (shocking!).  Between the invite and the trip, which is just around the corner, I have 1) flown to see friends in Orlando, 2) flown to visit my sister in Los Angeles, 3) flown to Puerto Rico for some field work, and 4) flown to New York for a job interview.  Oh, and I bought a compact pickup truck.  An oilman’s delight, I am.

In stark contrast with my profligate personal lifestyle, my professional interests lie in the conservation of wildlife and how birds in particular respond to anthropogenic changes to the planet.  I delved through some of my unpublished data to provide a diagrammatic representation of the typical findings in my field:

Conservation biology, in a nutshell
Conservation biology, in a nutshell

Prognosis of what?  Anything really.  Ecosystem function, demographic rates, population viability.  What’s more, and we all know this, such findings extend far beyond the realm of the little ketchup-packet sized birds I study.  It is also common knowledge that the push toward “fucked” is a consequence of increased resource consumption by my own species.  And by extension, me.  The disconnect between my professional interests and personal lifestyle can rightly be considered to be profoundly hypocritical.

So should I feel guilty? Or perhaps the question can be more honestly phrased as, “Why don’t I feel guilty enough to stop participating in activities that are demonstrably bad for this planet?”  I often wonder how my environmentally minded friends and fellow ecologists reconcile the conflict between what we know is right and how we live their lives.  Does tossing our cans in a blue bin forgive us our trespasses?  Do we buy a Prius and sleep with a clear conscience henceforth?  Food for thought as I jet across the clear blue sky towards boobies and tortoises and finches and everything else that makes the symbolic epicenter of the unifying theory of biology such a fascinating place to visit.

Honestly, I can't wait.
Honestly, I can’t wait.

8 thoughts on “Guilt and the Galápagos

  1. Haha I hear you. It’s a balancing act. I say think from the heart and look at the big picture. Your heart says that you care, and the big picture says that oftentimes it probably won’t make a huge difference. Individual actions, spending, votes, and voices are important, because collectively they are very powerful. But I think there’s a time for sticking to principles and a time for being selfish, with peak happiness found somewhere in the middle. You don’t want to be this hypocritical douche who is contributing to messing everything up, but you don’t want to lead a miserable life of privation (unless your ambition is to be the gandhi or mother theresa of conservation biology). In our system the status quo pretty much goes towards the “fucked”, so any hope for the “okay” requires some sort of resistance. Humanity is stupid and/or helpless enough to crap in its own global backyard and some people are happy enough to profit from that as much as they can. Knowing that, you can’t feel fulfilled with a “standard” routine of consumption and waste. I am fully aware of the irony when I am sitting on a flight and using my water bottle instead of a new plastic cup every time I want a drink. I asked a flight attendant on a long-distance flight of hundreds of people with 2 meals about what happened to all the trash: none of it ever gets recycled. But what do we know, the universe could explode tomorrow. Enjoy the islands!

  2. You’re unable to appreciate the direct negative impact of your activities – . i.e.- you can’t hear a bird screaming in fear as it’s sucked through the turbines of the jet you’re flying in (also its particlized viscera is shot out the rear of the turbine too quickly for you to recognize it for what it was) – because sitting there in seat 23B you’re too removed from the horror it causes. Next, you probably rationalize the flight itself as something approaching necessary so the massive fuel consumption and its subsequent conversion into atmospherically hazardous material become acceptable externalities and anyway those things won’t have direct impacts for days or weeks and after all you’re only one person riding one of thousands of flights so whatever. Then we arrive at the fierce cognitive bias bordering on narcissism that informs us that the stuff we have to do (fly somewhere in a giant metal bird grinder) is more important than the stuff other creatures have to do (migrate).

  3. You’re doing great baby. I’m proud of what your doing . Just remember that jet will be flying with or without you . Don’t beat yourself up life is hard enough so don’t add stress . Everyone that knows you love’s you and admires your work to save our planet . Now carry on with a song in your heart for Jesus.

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