Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

David Suzuki: 'Keen Observers of the Natural World' Wanted

Climate
David Suzuki: 'Keen Observers of the Natural World' Wanted

Our ancestors may not have called themselves “citizen scientists” or organized to collect data for scientific inquiry, but they were keen observers of the natural world. Their survival often depended on being able to tease apart nature’s complexity—where to find game and when to sow seeds, collect berries and prepare for winter or bad weather.

But our modern, technology-obsessed lives increasingly divorce us from nature, with consequences for our health and well-being. Numerous studies now remind us of what we know intuitively: Spending time in nature makes us feel better—helping with depression, attention deficit disorder, recall and memory, problem-solving and creativity. People who spend more time outside are also physically healthier.

Enter citizen science—using the same technologies that separate us from nature to help us understand and enjoy it. Smartphones, the Internet and accessible research technologies deinstitutionalize science and get the inner scientist in all of us outside to contribute to a broader understanding of a variety of topics, from backyard birds to flower-blooming times.

Citizens now have many opportunities to partake in a wide range of scientific discovery.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Science relies on observation. As more people examine natural phenomena and record and share information, we gain better understanding of the world. An increasing number of scientific inquiries now depend on contributions from ordinary people to help them answer important questions.

The National Audubon Society has been enlisting volunteers to monitor birds during its annual Christmas bird count for more than 100 years, but it’s not the oldest citizen science program. It was predated by a couple started in the 1880s: a survey asking lighthouse keepers to identify and count birds that struck their lighthouses and another that looked at bird migration.

Citizens now have many opportunities to partake in a wide range of scientific discovery.

Take roadkill. The Humane Society estimates that more than a million animals are killed every year on U.S. highways. Collisions with large animals are tragic for all involved and cost insurance companies millions of dollars a year. The insurance industry is working on an innovative partnership with the University of California’s Roadkill Observation System to enlist citizens in efforts to identify and protect wildlife corridors in particular hot spots, saving both human and wildlife.

The David Suzuki Foundation started engaging citizens in research following the 2011 meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor, partnering with various organizations and universities, including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, to set up a volunteer network to sample seawater from sites along British Columbia’s Pacific coast. This will help scientists understand the ongoing spread of radiation across the Pacific and its evolving impacts on the ocean. Volunteers from 14 communities are collecting seawater samples over three years. The radioactive plume has not yet reached North America, but we’ll know when it does, thanks to ordinary people providing extraordinary coverage across the region.

NatureWatch, another uniquely Canadian citizen science project, was also recently launched. It has four programs. Frog Watch participants collect data on amphibians, valuable indicators of changes in our air, land and water. PlantWatch records flowering times for select species, helping track the effects of climate change. And WormWatch monitors earthworms and soil health.

This winter, you can volunteer for the organization’s IceWatch and contribute to the scientific understanding of global warming. By analyzing citizen records, scientists have found that the freeze-thaw cycles of northern water bodies are changing. However, since climate change is not consistent across the country and large gaps exist in the current monitoring network, scientists require critical data from many more regions.

By recording yearly ice events—the freeze and thaw dates of lakes and rivers—you’ll help monitor the effects of climate change on Canadian ecosystems. You can also join RinkWatch, an initiative by geographers at Wilfrid Laurier University asking citizens to track skateable days on local outdoor rinks.

Canada has hundreds of citizen science programs. Although never a substitute for or rationale to cut science spending, these programs amplify and fill gaps in government- and university-led science. There’s something for every individual, every interest and every region of the country.

We all have mighty powers of observation. Citizen science is a way to encourage us all to get outside, hone our senses, and undertake meaningful activity to monitor and maintain our environment, improve scientific literacy and, best of all, be happier and healthier.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Science and Policy Director Mara Kerry.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Native Americans Arrested Following Keystone XL Pipeline Vote

Fighting Global Warming Will Improve Health of People Everywhere

New ‘F’ Word Means More Bad News for Bees

With restaurants and supermarkets becoming less viable options during the pandemic, there has been a growth in demand and supply of local food. Baker County Tourism Travel Baker County / Flickr

By Robin Scher

Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tearing through the crowded streets of Philadelphia, an electric car and a gas-powered car sought to win a heated race. One that mimicked how cars are actually used. The cars had to stop at stoplights, wait for pedestrians to cross the street, and swerve in and out of the hundreds of horse-drawn buggies. That's right, horse-drawn buggies. Because this race took place in 1908. It wanted to settle once and for all which car was the superior urban vehicle. Although the gas-powered car was more powerful, the electric car was more versatile. As the cars passed over the finish line, the defeat was stunning. The 1908 Studebaker electric car won by 10 minutes. If in 1908, the electric car was clearly the better form of transportation, why don't we drive them now? Today, I'm going to answer that question by diving into the history of electric cars and what I discovered may surprise you.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A technician inspects a bitcoin mining operation at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec on March 19, 2018. LARS HAGBERG / AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin's fortunes and prominence rise, so do concerns about its environmental impact.

Read More Show Less
OR-93 traveled hundreds of miles from Oregon to California. Austin Smith Jr. / Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs / California Department of Fish and Wildlife

An Oregon-born wolf named OR-93 has sparked conservation hopes with a historic journey into California.

Read More Show Less
A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. The plant, owned by FirstEnergy, was retired the following month. Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

By David Drake and Jeffrey York

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The Big Idea

People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.

Read More Show Less