Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Science and ramblings on the mining debate

I had an odd conversation this morning. I was telling someone I know that I am applying for some science jobs. I am currently working as a nurse, falling back on my first career and working around the magazine but I have a science degree too now and I want to work in science. What I hadn’t realised is that apparently most of the world has no idea what that means.
I am currently applying for two positions, one as a technician at one of the Centres of Research Excellence at Lincoln University and one with the Queen Elizabeth II Conservation Trust. They are hugely different positions. The technician position involves projects to stop the spread of invasive species and is similar to the job I have done previously with Plant and Food Research. The other job is conservation based and involves assessing and helping farmers conserve areas of noteworthy landscape or conservation values on their properties. I consider both of them to be working within science, different branches of science certainly, but still science. When I mentioned science though this lady said, “Oh test tubes and chemicals and stuff.” When I told her about the conservation position she said, “Like the mining thing?”
For any overseas readers the NZ government is currently proposing (or investigating the possibility of) allowing mining on the conservation estate. Does working with farmers to conserve remnant stands of forest or areas with rare lizards equate to stopping the government mining the conservation estate? On one hand I suppose they are similar. The professed outcome is to preserve the natural environment. On the one hand we have landowners doing the best for their land. On the other hand we have the largest landowner in the country, the crown, doing the best for OUR land? Or not. Yes all right, when I put it like that it is only the scale that is different.
Until today I really haven’t given a lot of thought to the debate. Generally remnant stands of bush are in gullies or rough ground, fencing them off actually improves the overall value of the land. Likewise keeping cattle away from waterways and wetlands improves drainage, water quality and ultimately land health, it is a winning situation. We are asking the government to do the same thing with vast quantities of land, areas that have already been fenced off because of their intrinsic and environmental values. We have thousands of undescribed species in these undisturbed areas. Who knows what medical, industrial or other worth may be found here? Truly, we don’t know. Did you know that the mountain weta and other high altitude insects are able to freeze over winter, thaw out in springtime and get on with their lives? Isn’t that wonderful? That attribute has huge applications in medical science. I know of a study of just one West Coast forest tree. The huge tree, I don’t know what it was but I think it was a podocarp, was wrapped in a fine net and using abseiling equipment a young lady student sampled from the canopy down to the trees roots. She found hundreds of species of both plants and insects on that one tree. From memory I think around 1/3 of what she found hadn’t been investigated by science or even named before- she found new species on one tree. That was one tree. Just think what may be out there in the whole forest. Think of the potential benefits to the world from what we don’t even know about yet. Then decide whether a short term gain of jobs from mining the ground under that forest is worth it.
So folks, today I worked out which side of the mining debate I’m on. And I know I want to work in science.

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