Sexism (and racism) in science: How do we make it go away?

It seems like I read an article about sexual harassment or under representation of women in STEM fields every day. Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about it. Not because I’m a sexist moron, but because every time I read one of these articles I get absurdly angry. I just don’t want this to be a problem anymore. Women are perfectly capable of being scientists and they prove it every single day.

After reading this article over the weekend I posted this comment to Twitter

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4 ways to make a difference this Earth Day

Today is April 22nd, also know as “Earth Day.” Today people will bake earth shaped cookies, bike to work, do city cleanups, plant trees, and maybe even recycle. All of this stuff is great! The earth is a pretty imporatnt place. We live here and it’s our home. The only one we’ve ever known and likely the only one we will ever know (at least for the foreseeable future). I’ll let Carl Sagan take it from here:

“The earth is where we make our stand.” Carl Sagan is right (as he usually is/was). This is the only planet we have, let’s try not to ruin it. In that vein, I have a newer video for you to watch as well. It’s gone viral this week, so you’ve likely already seen it.

Prince EA brings a different perspective to the table here. While I don’t care for his little ad at the end for Stand for Trees, I do really like his overall message. We are responsible for a great deal of destruction. Rainforests aren’t the only thing we are messing with. The ocean is currently full of trash, sea levels are rising, climate is warming, ice is melting, etc… Perhaps most important in all of this, at least from a human perspective, is that we are losing out on a huge amount of natural resources (ie: food and clean water). If we continue down this path, future generations will suffer. In fact, they already are. Man made CO2 emissions have caused climatic changes already and this will continue into the future. If we stopped emitting carbon today it would still take generations for the climate to stabilize. It is in this way that we are borrowing from the future.

From IFLScience (Artwork by deviantART user Humon)

Now that the stage has been set, here are a few things you can do today (and everyday) that will help make this world a better place.

1. Keep an open mind. Seriously. Please. Gather facts and opinions from all sides. Hear everyone out and then make a decision for yourself. Do this with any issue worth considering (but please do not do this when considering which snack to buy at the store. You want the Oreo’s and we all know it). Make sure you are informed about all issues that you care about. I can’t force you to care about climate or the earth, but I can encourage you to be properly informed on issues. Read the actual facts, listen to actual experts (not just talking heads). Check credentials, do some research, and find out what is actually happening and then decide what your stance is.

2. Reduce your carbon footprint. You’ve heard this phrase before, but do you know what it actually means? It basically means that you can reduce your personal impact on CO2 emissions. How can you do that? Many many ways. Here are a few examples:

-Ride a bike, walk, or take public transit instead of driving everywhere. How far away is that grocery store? Can you walk or take a bus?

-Buy local! Not only is buying local food awesome because you get to explore local culinary culture and learn to cook new food seasonally, but it also diminishes your carbon footprint. Produce and many pre-packaged foods often travel hundreds or thousands of miles before they reach your grocery store shelves. All of those miles convert to gallons of gas and tons of fuel burned. Instead of buying that tomato from China or Mexico, maybe you can buy one from a local farm. Luckily, many grocery stores source some produce locally, but even if they don’t, chances are you live in a place that has a farmer’s market or a local co-op. Check out your options. There may even be farm to table foodshares in your area. Google it! Many farms will deliver a basket of box of seasonal goods to your door every week, 2 weeks, or 1 month. That way, you get local goods and you don’t even have to leave home! I should also mention that you are being environmentally conscious AND supporting small businesses at the same time!

-Reuse. I have eliminated plastic bags from my life entirely. They seem very wasteful to me. Not only are they petroleum based, but they are seen on roads, stuck in trees, and all over the world’s oceans. I have come to hate plastic bags to be honest with you. Luckily, reusable shopping bags are readily available and very cheap. I take them with me every time I shop. I even try to buy things from bulk containers to eliminate packaging waste. Does that sound crazy? It isn’t. It’s super easy. I even bought some of these to reuse when I buy in bulk and they are great!

3. Vote. As much as environmental issues should not be a political thing, they very much are. It’s the nature of things in this country. In order to make the large scale changes necessary here, we need  people who hold this issues as priorities in government. Our current president values climate and environmental issues and has protected unprecedented amounts of our coastal ocean, but he can only make so much happen without allies. The legislative branch is clearly not interested in progressing pro-conservation bills and seem perfectly happy to allow CO2 to be spewed unregulated. If you don’t like the sound of that, remember that you and all of your peers have the power to vote these people out of office. See #1, act on #1, then decide who you want to vote for and go vote. You can also write to your senator or anyone else in government. Maybe they won’t respond individually, but someone in their office will read your letter and hopefully if enough people write about an issue action will be taken (I recognize this is idealistic, but we have to be hopeful here).

4. Treat every day like a Earth Day. Did you walk, bike, or take public transit to work today instead of driving? Maybe you can do that everyday (or once a week for starters). Are you more conscious of your carbon footprint today? Use that as a launching point for some lifestyle changes (see above) that might help make a difference. While it is true that the actions of one single individual will not have a huge impact on their own, maybe your decisions can influence others around you. Next time you and your friends are having a lively discussion about who should or shouldn’t win DWTS or “The Bachelor” you can add a chat about sustainability issues, public transit, local politics, recycling, or even some larger scale issues. Awareness of the issues is the first step in fixing them! Everyone can help with that. Remember how I started this post: “The Earth is where we make our stand.” It’s up to us to ensure a positive future for our planet and our species. We can do it, but we have to do it together.

NOAA out together a great infographic of things anyone can do to help! Check it out below and tweet at us with the hashtag #EarthDay to tell us how you are making a difference.

NOAA Ocean services  #EarthDayNOAA

This Week in #Oceanoptimism — Marine Reserves on the Rise

Have you ever heard of the Pitcairn Islands? Answer: Unless you’ve read or seen Mutiny on the Bounty (based on real events), probably not.

Well, they are a small group of islands in the middle of the Pacific about halfway between New Zealand and South America.

Yep, that's them.

Earlier this month, the British government turned these tiny remote islands into the world’s largest single no take marine reserve! This news comes less than one year after a scientific paper published in the journal PLOS ONE called for immediate protection of these islands.  The 2012 study that led to this paper was led by members of the National Geographic Pristine Seas initiative  (check our their video of this expedition here). The Pitcairn Islands are home to a remarkable amount of biodiversity and the paper uncovered many as yet undocumented species of coral and fish at these sites. The new reserve is larger than the state of California, and much larger than the U.K. With this new reserve, 30% of U.K. territorial waters are protected, the largest percentage of any country in the world. Here is a map of the new no-take marine reserve.



It’s great to see science being used to inform marine policy in such a way. Pristine Seas has carried out 12 expeditions around the world and 6 of these sites are now protected. In fact, when the expedition to Pitcairn finished in 2012, the local council voted unanimously to set up an MPA. Less than 3 years later, the U.K. government declared this huge no-take reserve. No take reserves aim to prevent fishing (including illegal fishing) through monitoring and enforcement (fines, etc…). Currently, only about 1% of the world’s oceans are protected no-take areas. These protected areas allow for replenishment of fish stocks that are economically viable and necessary to keep the fishing industry (and many people around the world) alive. In addition to fish, these areas also protect benthic organisms such as coral reefs because trawling (a common and destructive type of fishing) is prohibited. Trawling is a good way to catch a lot of fish, but it also scours the bottom and destroys fragile and long-lived ecosystems such as coral reefs that can take decades or centuries to grow back (if they grow back at all). Reserves like this are awesome and it is great to see a government take steps towards protection.

The U.K. is not alone. Last year President Obama declared the world’s largest network of no-take marine reserves centered around the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument. More recently, two large reserves off of the California coast have been expanded. Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farollones National Marine Sanctuaries are located just offshore in the San Francisco Area and run from the edge of the Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in the south, past the bay, through Point Reyes, and up into Mendocino County. Both sanctuaries have been almost doubled in size. This decision was reached via deliberation with NOAA and public comment. The reasoning behind the expansion was to protect the nutrient-rich upwelling zone that originates at Point Arena (the north end of the new zone). This upwelling brings nutrient rich water to the surface. That water is carried south in the prevailing current (and with it, any marine organisms that cannot swim against the current) through the marine sanctuaries. This upwelling system is the reason why the interidal and coastal regions of central California are so productive. These ecosystems are the habitat for 25 endangered species. Again, it’s great to see policy take action and it’s even better when that policy is backed by science. Protecting our coastal oceans is greatly important, as we are having the most negative impacts in these areas (and they are often the most productive parts of the sea). Protecting pristine islands is also important, as they are great hotspots for biodiversity. The ocean is a wonderful resource, but we are using it at a more than unsustainable rate. These new protected areas are steps in the right direction. Let’s hope the trend continues.