Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Edward Abbey

26 August 2005

Do you have to see a tiger to save it?

I had the privilege of meeting Surita Narain in person some years ago, and she made a huge impression on me. In those days her http://www.downtoearth.org.in website was open source and free to view. She and a small team of committed environmentalists were taking on The Machine.

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Originally uploaded by KiMbali.

I read today that she has been invited to join an organisation fighting to save the tiger (wild tiger that is!!!). Anyway, the "conservationists" involved were horrified when they heard she had never seen a wild tiger and therefore questioned her credentials in terms of being capable of helping save the species.

Sunita writes:

"She has never seen a tiger": this is how some conservationists questioned my credentials to chair the tiger task force when it was set up three months ago. It did not surprise me. Cola, pesticide or diesel car-making companies reacted precisely like this to our work. Discredit the messenger and hope the message also gets dismissed.

But it did worry me. Here were people we work with. Saving the tiger is surely common to all environmentalists. So, was it really so important for me to have seen a tiger to have the expertise for what could be done to safeguard it? Why did I need to prove my 'loyalty'? After all, this was not the fanaticism of religious extremism or the jingoism of right-wing nationalism. Was it?"

I can identify with this. Especially regarding my experiences as a science writer. When interviewing a scientist, I am often asked, "but how can you write about science if you have no scientific qualification?". I always answer that it allows me to write better, because I come from a point of no knowledge of a subject. This allows me to explore it from all angles, not only the scientific.

This has also shaped my beliefs as they stand today. Science is not only the preserve of scientists, because science impacts the lives of each and every one of us - person, tree, beetle, frog and sea. Fellow anarchist Bertrand Russell puts it so well when he says:

"Science as the pursuit of truth is the equal, but not the superior of art."

And then there's Einstein: "Science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgements of all kinds remain necessary."

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