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Book Review: Citizen Science for Now and for Always

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Mary Ellen Hannibal, Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction, New York, NY: The Experiment, 2016. 432 pp. $29.95 hardcover, $17.95 paperback.

Mary Ellen Hannibal’s Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction is a beautiful collection that explores a wide range of stories. From the intimate moments of an individual’s life to the larger narratives of communities, Citizen Scientist tells stories that weave together a grand narrative of our planet through our engagements with science. Her account demonstrates the collaborative nature of citizen science, describing what it means to participate in naturalistic observation.

Citizen Scientist recounts Hannibal’s experiences as a participant in a variety of citizen science projects on the West Coast. She also relates narratives of others who have contributed to the efforts for a healthy planet through citizen science. There are eleven chapters, with every chapter discussing a new citizen science topic or project. In each chapter, there is an eclectic mix of personal anecdotes, interviews, historical journalism, and natural history.

Some of those stories come from now familiar names, including Emily Burns from Fern Watch, and “the guru of citizen science” Sam Droege. Hannibal recounts her first-hand participation in the citizen scientist efforts, as well as her discussions with other citizen scientists and researchers on projects such as Hawkwatch or iNaturalist.

Folded in are also historical backgrounds on citizen science methodology, natural historical backgrounds for the ecosystems in question for each project, and deep personal meditations on Hannibal’s own life. Most chapters also have rich histories of the contributions of great citizen scientists that Hannibal could not possibly have interviewed, such as Rollo Howard Beck (1870-1950), ornithological collector, or Alice Eastwood (1859-1953), botany enthusiast.

In the spirit of shared knowledge, the backmatter of Citizen Scientist includes a wonderful reading group guide for those who want to learn together. Hannibal documents with honesty and humor the work, and also the excitement, involved in citizen science.

hannibal

Citizen Scientist shows that, just as citizen science is objective, common and shared, it is also subjective, personal, and individual. Hannibal provides an integrative context for each citizen scientist effort, illustrating just how connected we are to our local environment and how our pursuits of knowledge and culture, too, are connected with each other. Hannibal integrates science, art, and spirituality to craft a rich narrative account—so do not be surprised to find among the accounts of natural histories some references to literature or poetic language.

Hannibal describes the way citizen science cherishes local histories. Despite the benefits of the global connectedness of the internet and mass media, Hannibal shows us that local histories and personal narratives are more important than ever as she describes various citizen science contributions made up by log books, personal journals, local records, and other observational work.

Hannibal examines intensive collaborations with local communities, a form of “extreme citizen science,” where local communities are fully integrated as partners in research (111-113). The benefits of this exchange of knowledge are bountiful, as experts can contribute their research to local communities and local communities can share their histories and traditions to the experts. Hannibal faithfully demonstrates how these smaller, local histories weave together into grander narratives, a “double narrative” (30) of now and of always.

This double narrative is also evident in Hannibal’s intimate accounts of her close relationship with her father, Edward Hannibal, as he nears the end of his life and as she reflects on the nature of extinction and finitude. She writes beautifully as she meditates on her own double narrative:

“I thought about what [Joseph] Campbell means when he says the hero’s death is the most important part of his journey–it’s when we let go of the thing we have clung to, the ‘I,’ and in so doing, we acquiesce to all that bigger life around and in us. My father was okay with this; he understood what was happening and he was leaning into it. He was losing is life–why do we say it that way? There was more, not less, happening here” (389).

If you want to know more about the rich history of citizen science and the complex stories that citizen scientists reconstruct in their pursuits, Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction is the book for you. Throughout Hannibal’s narratives, there is truly a sense of all time happening at once, as the past has a profound influence on the present and the future. Citizen Scientistis a fascinating read that opens a reader’s eyes to the holistic range of citizen science: an endeavor that starts in the tidepool and ends in the stars; something that is simultaneously individual, local, and practical, while also somehow shared and philosophical.

This review is part of an ongoing series of book reviews written by members of Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher’s research team in partnership with Scistarter.com. If you have a recommendation for a book to review, please contact Scistarter Editor Caroline Nickerson at CarolineN@SciStarter.com. This work has been partially supported by the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science’s Early Research Award program and also the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant program; views expressed the opinions of the author and not funding agencies.

Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone! 


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About the Author

Danielle Griffin

Danielle Griffin is a B.A. Candidate in English Literature and Rhetoric, with a minor in Cognitive Science, at the University of Waterloo, in Canada. Her research interests involve genre, cognitive semantics, and metaphorical conceptual mappings in the English language.

 

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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