Mary Ellen Hannibal: The World Wildlife Fund just came out with a report showing that we have lost half of the numbers of wild species on this earth in the last 40 years alone.
Heather McElhatton: That’s Mary Ellen Hannibal, author of Citizen Scientist, Searching for Heroes and Hope in an age of extinction.
Hannibal: And it’s important to think of extinction as visions of the polar bear on the ice flow or African elephants being hunted to extinction for their ivory, but just as important are losing numbers of species in our own backyards. The number of birds migrating overhead. the number of butterflies migrating through are being vastly reduced by human impacts.
Heather: Hannibal believes that one of the planets greatest hopes for survival is a growing league of “citizen scientists.”
Hannibal: So citizen science is a general term referring to regular people without advanced degrees contributing to scientific research.
Heather: Citizen scientists have a very long and celebrated history, going all the way back to aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, and Darwin, who all made important observations about the natural world in areas outside their educations.
Hannibal: But today’s citizen science is turbo charged by smartphone technology. Basically what we’re trying to do is mob source data collection distribution and abundance on the landscape so we can get a good picture of patterns of what’s happening to species as the climate is changing and help support them and help stem the sixth mass extinction that is currently underway.
Heather: You heard her. The sixth mass extinction is currently underway, but the possibility of reversing or slowing these catastrophic changes are possible – if we all pitch in. That means sending in observations from our own backyards – wherever they happen to be.
Hannibal: For example there was a landowner in south america who decided he wanted to know what species were on his property and started documenting species using iNaturalist. A herpetologist in NYC was looking at this feed of nature observations from so America and he saw a frog that he said ‘that is new to science.” He flew down to so America to check it out and indeed, it was a species no one had known existed.
Heather: Hannibal says the collective brainpower and data gathered from legions of everyday citizen scientists is critical to combatting climate change and understanding natural global events, because all this information would take colossal amounts of time and money to gather otherwise.
Hannibal: All over the world there is different kinds of different citizen science – one of my favorite kinds is called “extreme citizen science” and this fundamentally questions what is science, who gets to do it and what is it for? Indigenous tribal people all over the world are doing extreme citizen science projects, an exapmle is some tribal people in south america who have smartphones that have been designed so they can use them without having any regerence to any written language. there are semifores on the phone and tribal people can just press a button when they see illegal logging in their area and that inforpation goes directly to local law enforemement who can adress it in a much faster timeframe.
Heather: Hannibal says you can become as a citizen scientist, no matter what your favorite subject is. Yale, Stanford, Cornell, the White House, the Smithsonian, NASA, the National Weather Service, National Ocean Service, the Audubon Society all have CitSci projects. You can help with scientific studies on bees, butterflies, dogs, water quality, illness, gut bacteria, outer space, you name the subject, they need citizen scientists. Hannibal recommends a free app called iNaturalist and a website called Scistarter that connects everyday people to science projects around the world.
Hannibal: I find quite a lot of heroes and mostly they’re regular people, and some scientists and policy leaders but really regular people who are attuned to supporting nature in whatever way they can, and who see what needs to be done and are doing it. I think the important thing to understand is we are all heroes, we are all on a heroic journey, that’s part of our life history and it’s in our power to put this into our daily life to help support nature. Or you can also get out there and help remove invasive species and help support habitat very directly. The beautiful world is this world. Lets keep it beautiful, let’s support it and keep it and not lose it.
Heather: Hannibal’s book, Citizen Scientist, Searching for Heroes and Hope in an age of extinction provides a rich education on how we can all help save the planet and become everyday heroes.