We are responding to Donald Strong’s editorial about ecologists and environmentalism (Front Ecol Environ 2008; 6: 347). We think advocating for the role of ecologists and ecological science in environmental decision making is different from what is commonly meant by the terms “environmentalist” and “environmentalism”. We agree that Earth is undergoing major environmental changes, and that the information ecological science can provide is a necessary component that policy makers will require if they are to make informed decisions.
We are concerned that Strong’s usage of “environmentalist” and “environmentalism” is naïve and risks misleading some members of the ecological science community. Environmentalist and environmentalism have lost the meanings he ascribes to them. They have become politically charged terms with the power to polarize conversations. We agree that there has been a “…negative branding of environmentalism…”, but we disagree that this is the sole result of “…the war on science”. We think it equally likely that it is the result of individuals and groups allowing their values to creep into their analyses of environmental problems. Regardless of the accurate identification of the source of the negative connotations associated with the terms “environmentalist” and “environmentalism”, we think that it is important for all of us to be aware and sensitive to this negativism. Equating ecologists and ecology with environmentalists and environmentalism will prove catastrophic to our science. If we are perceived as mixing our politics and our values into our science, we will lose our credibility, and risk our ability to have our science considered in policy setting deliberations of environmental change.
I (IB) am confident that I would not have been invited to recent meetings and interacted with individuals who are in a position to have a major influence on energy policy, if they thought I was mixing my personal opinions into my representations of science as related to the environment and natural resources.
Our strengths – as contributors to current and future environmental deliberations – derive directly from perceptions of the quality of our science. While it is likely that there are few ESA members who are not environmentalists at heart, we urge all members to resist being labeled as environmentalists or to allow what we do as scientists to be labeled as environmentalism.