Matt George Martin

The Storytelling of Science

 “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious- the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” – Albert Einstein  Mystery In the natural world is terrifying in an inspiring sort of fashion.  We’re not entirely sure why we feel an unnervingly annoying nag somewhere between our neck and navel when we do something inherently wrong….but we do.  We’re not fully confident we can explain the remarkably unusual act of throwing our heads back and contorting our faces in a gremlin-like yawn when we’re tired….but it happens.  We marvel at the healing power of our minds during the placebo effect though no medication has been administered.  And we simply cannot explain the geometrically amusing state of Stephen Harper’s hair…but there it is in all its shapely glory.   I think we can all agree that it IS in fact this mystery that keeps us moving forward in the scientific world! We are arrestingly absorbed by the unknown and there is profound elegance and beauty in that.  But with every new discovery, with every beakers-drop and within every ecosystem there is another device we crave, the wonderful story nature tells.  Indeed within it all….is the storytelling of science!  Rachel Carson’s epic  Silent Spring  encourages us to band together in defense of the natural world with a sledge hammer of emotion as much as facts and figures; we could almost feel the poisons on our skin, as if she Pavlov-ed us into trembling at the very mention of pesticides.  Hawking’s  Theory of Everything  reminded us to look skyward in wonder with its rhythmic, pulsating equations of the cosmos.  It is this brilliantly scientific poetry that inspires us to march onward towards discovery and will most certainly be the driver for future generations of scientist frontiersman!

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious- the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” – Albert Einstein

Mystery In the natural world is terrifying in an inspiring sort of fashion.  We’re not entirely sure why we feel an unnervingly annoying nag somewhere between our neck and navel when we do something inherently wrong….but we do.  We’re not fully confident we can explain the remarkably unusual act of throwing our heads back and contorting our faces in a gremlin-like yawn when we’re tired….but it happens.  We marvel at the healing power of our minds during the placebo effect though no medication has been administered.  And we simply cannot explain the geometrically amusing state of Stephen Harper’s hair…but there it is in all its shapely glory. 

I think we can all agree that it IS in fact this mystery that keeps us moving forward in the scientific world! We are arrestingly absorbed by the unknown and there is profound elegance and beauty in that.  But with every new discovery, with every beakers-drop and within every ecosystem there is another device we crave, the wonderful story nature tells.  Indeed within it all….is the storytelling of science!

Rachel Carson’s epic Silent Spring encourages us to band together in defense of the natural world with a sledge hammer of emotion as much as facts and figures; we could almost feel the poisons on our skin, as if she Pavlov-ed us into trembling at the very mention of pesticides.  Hawking’s Theory of Everything reminded us to look skyward in wonder with its rhythmic, pulsating equations of the cosmos.  It is this brilliantly scientific poetry that inspires us to march onward towards discovery and will most certainly be the driver for future generations of scientist frontiersman!

Above is a picture we can almost unanimously identify (no it is not a furry representation of the Worldwide Wrestling Federation).  Although we may not all be aware of Chi Chi, the giant panda who inspired Sir Peter Scott, we are all quite aware that it is the official symbol of the World Wildlife Fund. 

Aside from saving the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars in printing costs, Chi Chi brings to light the intensely important essence of the storytelling of science. 

Conservation, in theory and in practice, intrinsically revolves around the respectable debate of why we conserve.  What is it about a certain species that begs its salvation over another lesser species?  How do we delineate which ecosystems are in greatest need and how do we dictate our findings to organizations on the ground and the general populous?  Do we want to live in a world where the rainforests have long since been obliterated and abolished? Nature is becoming less natural all the time, are we certain that we can imagine a world without the splendor of colorful wonder that rejuvenates us as fellow animals?

The former two questions are scientific and the latter two tell the story.  Scientifically speaking WWF’s panda Chi Chi represents a double-sided conservation model.  Although giant panda’s may not be as biologically significant as the honey-bee or the giant sequoia, high atop the misty mountains of Western China there is another story being told.  Giant pandas subsist almost entirely on bamboo, in earnest needing anywhere from 25 to 85 pounds of the woody perennial daily to maintain their robust figure.  These bamboo forests are the heart and soul of Western China, an economic and geographic strong hold with an essence of enormity; both in terms of physical beauty and biological productivity.  These wholesome forest ecosystems are not just the home of Chi Chis next of kin, but a stunning symposium of wonderful and curious species; some of whom, like the golden monkey, are endangered.

In pursuit of protection at the highest level, a deeply enriching story is being told about the giant panda and their bamboo homes.  Indeed we can protect an entire ecosystem, ensuring the survival of endangered species, but we need only fall in love with one.  Laboriously and gracefully walking from A to B, pandas have the distinct qualities of a wise old man; respectful, calm, understanding even in some ursidae way.  Young children hold their plush brethren when they go to sleep at night and their black-rounded eyes are almost apologetic.  They sit thoughtfully on their bean-bag-behinds in pleasant temperament and alternate between walking and sitting and eating, walking and sitting and eating, walking and sitting and eating as the time and place demand simply because that’s what they do. They seem happy to do it.  Their young, rather orb-like babies, wordlessly beg to be hugged and you are overwhelmed by the strange desire to tell them everything is going to be okay even though you’re not at all sure why it wouldn’t be. 

In every distinctly unique faction of science stories like that of the giant panda are being told.  The story often reads like an epic poem and its value cannot be underestimated.  The wonderful and amusing story of the giant panda currently being told is an inspirational introduction to the amazing world of Western China’s bamboo forests, and all the mysteriously magical creatures in it that are in need of a story of their own.  Citizen scientists and professionals alike can see to it that these stories of conservation and community have a happy ending, all that is needed is for someone to start telling it! 

World Oceans Day!

Protecting Our Unknown World

 

“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders.  He is bolted to the earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.” – Jacques-Yves Cousteau

 

World Oceans Day is a day we commit to a better year of protecting our big, blue, unknown world! It may strike you as odd that we have a day commemorating our Oceans. “Shouldn’t everyday be World Ocean Day?” you might ask.  Spot on my friend! Spot on! Alas as humans we are all too skilled at forgetting what truly matters.  With the official recognition of our Oceans every year in the early days of June, we can come together under one banner and recognize what it means to be a species entirely dependent on H2O. 

Twenty-three years ago it was Canada that put forth the proposal for an officially recognized ‘World Oceans Day’ at the Earth Summit in Rio.  It had been unofficially celebrated every June 8th since then, until its official adoption by the United Nations in 2008, a day of respect and gratitude for our Oceans that has been ratified and observed (we hope) by every UN member state.  Since its official inception, it has been coordinated across borders by The Ocean Project, a US based organisation advancing our conservation efforts and education programs surrounding our vast oceans. 

The Ocean Project, in their official mandate, has recognized the important of scientific education and conservation as well as the influence of public opinion, i.e. if we do not learn to love our oceans we will not learn to protect our oceans.  Global warming is present and continuing, sea level rise is threatening to maintain its ascent and ocean acidification cannot go unchecked.  Although this is a day of celebration, it should also be a day on honesty.  If we are not honest with ourselves, and soon, we may very well one day return from whence we came. 

Our innate attraction to water is inherent in all of us.  Aesthetically that passion is difficult to explain, each person carrying his or her own interpretation.  Its size terrifies yet amazes us, its depths allow us to defy gravity, its destructive nature humbles us, and its soothing calmness is undeniable.  Sunset on a beach or at ‘the cabin on the lake’ tends to be a rather silent affair, as if the colors forming the reflection of the sky can better explain our emotions than words.  Whether you’re a fisherman on the Atlantic, a scientist in the pacific or a captain in the Artic one fact remains the same; we need our Oceans, and we’re abusing them. 

Biologically speaking our relationship with water is rather easy to put into words; the equation of two hydrogen and one oxygen is constant, fresh drinking water is a human right, an essential component of life on earth and almost 70% of our physical form.  Salt water in our vast oceans covers almost the same percentage of our Earth’s surface and is lesser known to us than outer space.  Indeed the oceans are a universe entirely their own.  The salty seas play host to graceful giants, towering dense forests, mountain volcanoes, the meager and the massive.  Of all the animals that use the resources the oceans have provided, it is abundantly clear that only one knowingly casts them aside as expendable. 

While it should be rather obvious that every day should be World Ocean Day, let’s use this officially recognized date in June to put ourselves to the test. We at ACAP challenge you to consider your own personal relationship to water as well as the biological components of our oceans that are at risk.  We challenge you to learn one new thing about our oceans today; the more we know about our natural world the more likely we are to foster an appreciation for it that leads to significant change!

FACT: “Under conditions expected in the 21st century, global warming and ocean acidification will compromise carbonate accretion, with corals becoming increasingly rare on reef systems.  The result will be less diverse reef communities and carbonate reef structures that fail to be maintained.”

Hoegh-Guldber, O., et al. 2007. Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification. Science. Vol. 318. No. 5857. Pp, 1737-1742. 

Bridging the Gap

Collaboration In the Public Sector 

“ACAP Saint John has become known for partnering and working with the community to help provide solutions to existing and pending environmental problems.” 

 

Collaboration is important.  It’s really important.  Putting aside the intricacies that distinguish private sector versus public sector, every successful non-profit organisation must be philosophically intent on open-mindedness, outreach, and community collaboration. 

Although the private sector may be immune to certain strains of conflict present in the public sector, not-for-profits simply cannot exempt themselves from the democratic process.   Non-profits working in human rights, addiction services, healthcare, and the preservation of local ecosystems may be different on the surface, but they all share one essential component; the community and the individuals they serve. 

I think it is inherent in all of us to want to help.  ‘Help’ being used as blanket coverage for that most human feeling of wanting to contribute in some way.  Nobody wants the seas to rise and swallow island nations whole.  Nobody wants their local beaches to be covered in poorly-disposed-of human trash.  Nobody wants a community to be without green space to play, laugh, run and grow.  We all have stock in the natural world and it is us who will lose our investment should grassroots environmental work not continue. 

But where to start?  To the individual who wants to help stabilize the environment and who wants to benefit from a sustainably green community, the task seems immense.  Almost overwhelmingly impossible.  What a shame it would be if the hundreds, indeed thousands, who want to see New Brunswick’s environment flourish remained silent because they did not know how to best tackle the BIG issues. 

Having a third party organisation bridging the gap between the community and environmental change is key.  With our partnerships, outreach, community inclusion and passion for the natural environment of Saint John, ACAP has become an intense resource for change.  

We Have Concerns

An Open Letter to Our Future

To be an explorer is the stuff of dreams.  Young children go to sleep with visions of twinkling stars, now star-dust in the Milky Way.  Twenty-somethings carry the ideals of exploration into careers as writers, biologist, physicists, philosophers and dreamers.  Those characterized by the deep lines of graceful old-age look back on their lives in pursuit of early memories of blazing trail in a ‘simpler’ time.  Wouldn't it be sublime if every human-being had the chance to enjoy the universe in this deliberate and wondrous way? How fantastic it would be if we could all fall in love with the natural and profound wonders of the world ahead of us! How truly excellent it would be if our motto was no longer, “Progress for the sake of Progress,” and instead became, “Collaboration for the sake of Sustainability.” The conclusion forthcoming may have already dawned on you; for the first time in forever, we are the generation who can. 

We've found ourselves at a crossroads in history where we are witnessing the formation of a uniquely prestigious club, in fact and undoubtedly the first of its kind; the generation that can no longer claim ignorance.  We have stumbled into an era of technology that was largely not of our making but a tool we've adopted for ourselves.  We have become and will continue to become the first crusaders of information.  Knowledge Knights.  Legions of learning forming every day that see fit to be angry with the status quo because perhaps that’s what the status quo deserves. 

A personal example would do well here. 

In Africa I lived in a uniquely extraordinary region.  At the epicenter of the Warm Heart of Africa in Malawi, I worked among children who redefined inspiration.  Each at high risk of micro-nutrient deficiencies in an area whose people play host to the HIV/AIDS virus to the detrimental tune of 1 in 3 inhabitants, but who each-in-turn hold true to their devotion  to humanity. For those who live in Lilongwe, their environment has cultivated a truer sense of ‘human’ than I, or anyone from the West could ever hope to personally measure.  These children solidified in me a level of gratitude for education and learning I may still be without had I not stepped off that plane.  Our generation is coming around to this conclusion with a grandeur and determination unlike any before it.  Our love for learning and sharing information has come to represent exploration, public engagement, being angry and outspoken when the situation demands it of us, refusing to be left out-of-the-know and having a keen understanding of the importance of the scientific method; all pillars of ACAP Saint John. 

We have created a situation in the modern world whereby those with the least possessions, possess the least voice.  We can accept it no longer.  Climate change is happening and we know it.  There are systemic institutions which seek to keep us unhealthy, actively targeting children and those who are economically challenged, and we know it. There are one billion without the requirements for life and we know it.  The fear of not knowing is behind us, and the challenge of what we will do about it is ahead. This is an open letter to those in Saint John and beyond who, for the first time in history, have the opportunity to right the wrongs.  We will be the first to scientifically and socially benefit from a global discourse that finally includes the incredible minds and talents of one billion people who have, until now, been all but forgotten. 

We've banded together and have accepted that the human condition has pushed us into corners but we’re enchanted by the idea of pushing back! Sharing information via the internet is the general on the stallion leading us ahead.  We have the ability to learn if we chose to do so and we have the ability to talk about it with people we may never meet in person.  The sharing of ideas, the brainstorming of solutions, and the dispersion of knowledge about humanity and the environment from Montreal to Mongolia.  A global conversation that quite literally has never taken place on such a scale. 

ACAP Saint John is a bastion for information, a conduit to environmental change and a channel for local participation.  Outreach has become the name of the game. Encouraging those who have by no fault of their own been in the dark and welcoming them into an era where we can band together and in unison say, “You have got to be kidding me.” I am confident that in 15 years we will look back into the annals of history and see that Saint John’s residents, young and old, chose to join the wave of change.  ACAP Saint John will not only be riding that wave, it could very well be what sets it in motion. 

It simply cannot be said enough; we have created a situation in the modern world whereby those with the least possessions, possess the least voice.  The fear of not knowing is behind us, and the challenge of what we will do about it is ahead.

Join us in making Saint John a front runner in public discourse on the path to change! 

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