Transdisciplinary Ecology & Conservation Biology

Dear Tom Baugh, I really appreciate your work and writing style. It is interesting to see what you have posted on your blog: It would be nice to have answers to some questions.


Peter Lengyel Q1. How and why have you decided to start and develop a blog about nature & humans?


Tom Baugh: I am a Transdisciplinary Ecologist with over four decades of experience in various aspects of Conservation Biology. My academic training and field work in biology and ecology have been enhanced and informed by work in the humanities and social sciences and this integration of interests and skills is reflected in my blog. The Hidden Springs blog, however, is not just about the intersection of human nature and other nature, it is about my journey along this intersection. The blog is, to some extent, autobiographical. I began the blog during my 70th year, in part as a way to reflect on where I had been in life and what I had done with other species, with other life. Over the decades, that journey took me from tiny fish in caves in the deserts of Death Valley (US) to manatees in the lagoons of Florida, to plants in the wetlands of the Southern Appalachian Mountains of the US. Although not religious, but because billions of others are, this same journey took me into the study of religious beliefs and theological models as they relate to other life and the conservation and protection of that life. That path led me into a Fellowship with the Green Institute and the formation of the Society for Conservation Biology’s Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group. I concluded my contribution to that work in early 2013.


Peter Lengyel Q2. With the experience of investing your life and energy in Conservation Biology, what is your advice to the nowadays young naturalists, biologists, ecologists and environmentalists of the western-type societies?


Tom Baugh: I think the lesson we are all learning, East or West, North or South, is to think as broadly as possible about environmental issues. Incorporating the natural sciences with the social sciences and humanities was, to begin with, almost an accident on my part. For example, I began with an undergraduate degree in Sociology with strong components of anthropology and psychology and tried to apply that in the human community setting. I added substantial graduate work to that first degree. But I never could drift far from my fascination with non-human nature. I entered the world of Nature through natural history writing. My writing made me aware of my lack of knowledge of the science of biology and ecology. Stimulated by that awareness and a lifelong fascination with wetlands and their occupants that continues to this day, I completed an undergraduate and a graduate degree in aspects of biology and ecology. While this part of my journey was underway, the world was wakening to the impacts humanity was having on Earth. Part of that awakening slowly entered the academic arena and, on the science side, we began to see integrative approaches with the development of programs and academic majors in environmental science and other interdisciplinary approaches. From the humanities and social sciences we also began to see the very slow integration of some science involvement. We’ve gotten to the point where thinking on conservation issues is becoming more and more interdisciplinary, if not transdisciplinary in some cases. To return to my point, we all need to think as broadly as we can about conservation issues, even to transcending the disciplines.


Peter Lengyel Q3. I like your approach to make ways for understanding nature not only in a more or less formal scientific communication, but also by using arts, poetry. „Mastodons and mammoths passed this way, and people like us but strange in some ways, and then it became the time of modern man.” What do you feel about the environmental movement, was it able to use this opportunity in a reasonable way… or it is lost in science… far from the interest of the general public and its understanding?


Tom Baugh: I’m not sure that the environmental movements have always based their activities and perspectives on science, however, it seems to me that these movements have achieved and continue to achieve several major objectives. First, they have raised overall awareness of the environment and threats to the environment and, in some cases, implemented ways to remedy those threats. Second, some of those in the movement and specifically some organizations, force reluctant agencies and bureaus in government to enforce environmental laws and regulations. Third, some of these organizations have been quite successful in purchasing or protecting, through easements and in other ways, hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat with numerous rare, threatened, or endangered species. The use of the arts has been somewhat sketchy, although not absent, in the environmental movements. Over the decades the arts have been used to express concern for and love of the natural world. For example, several of my ‘green’ poems were published in journals of the environmental movement. Each year now, for a number of years, the Ecological Society of America has hosted an ‘EcoArt Festival’ at its yearly meeting. I know of NGO’s who display ‘green’ art in their headquarters buildings. Could more be done to integrate art, poetry, film, and song in their message and activities, sure. In a way, however, the lack of art integration, where it is lacking, is no different than the failure to work toward integrated approaches in other aspects of life.


Peter Lengyel Q4. You have had some involvement in urban ecology. What do you feel, is there enough understanding of the connection between the sustainability of a city and the basin from which it’s absorbing the resources? Or, there is a foggy global market approach… with things that are happening somewhere far away, undermining the understanding of the deep dependency of our survival on a sustainable management of the resource base….


Tom Baugh: For the most recent third of my seven decades I have lived on the wildland edge, but that has not always been the case. Previously, as a ‘city dweller’ I developed a fascination with what could be done and was being done to ‘green’ the cities of Earth. Rarely a day passes that I don’t receive something dealing with greening of the ‘built’ or urban environment. New concepts and techniques for urban living are being tried and tested. Planted roofs are now used to cool building interiors and even serve as produce gardens in some places. Parcels of land once used to deposit toxic waste are being cleared and cleaned and converted to urban green space. Construction techniques have been developed that require less and less energy for the maintenance of structure and the health and comfort of their inhabitants. Increasing attention is being given to reducing the ‘heat-island effect.’ Study after study make note of the increasing occupation of villages, towns, and cities with wildlife species once extirpated and we humans are slowly beginning to learn to live in greater harmony and safety with what were once considered vermin. Some things work and some things don’t and that kind of information is increasingly finding its way into professional journals.


My artist wife ( and I currently live in the mountainous portion of the US state of North Carolina in what are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. We live in the French Broad River watershed and this is noted on official highway signs, as are the main tributaries to the French Broad River. The ‘locavore’ movement is alive and well here in our area and I often see bumper stickers encouraging us to eat locally. Farmers Markets, with fresh organic produce, are common throughout this area as they have been wherever we have lived for the past several decades. An increasing number of restaurants and their chefs are preparing food using locally grown produce, poultry, and livestock. At the same time, however, most of the commercial goods being sold in this and other areas have been imported through global markets and the fuel we use to power our vehicles comes from far away. I would have to say that while we are making some progress in realizing local independence we remain globally interdependent in most ways.


Peter Lengyel Q5. It is interesting to see your involvement in a better understanding of the interrelations of religions with ecology. It seems to be too late to save this society, and the deep problems seems to be unavoidable, but there is also a need to have a hope in recovery. What is the main result of your thinking in this area?


Tom Baugh: I cannot possibly see societies with unrestricted reproduction and unrestricted development, and recognizing no limits, survive in any acceptable future. Not only will the centers not hold but the fringes are already coming apart. The culture of perpetual war seems to be in a temporary quiescence in the US thanks to President Obama but I doubt that his possibly more rational approach to international conflict will much outlive his administration. The reality of natural resource depletion, especially water, is staggering. The creeping threats of climate changes are already underway. The very real threat of biological warfare and the still disturbing possibility of nuclear warfare cannot be easily passed over. The longer we wait to address these issues the deeper the trough or troughs we will fall into, and the longer it will take to climb out the other side.  All of that said, however, I still feel that human societies, in some form or forms, will pull-through. The question is what those forms will be.


Peter Lengyel: Dear Tom, thanks for your time and thoughts, and I hope we will continue this discussion somewhere, sometimes in the future!


© Peter Lengyel, Tom Baugh


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Un răspuns la Transdisciplinary Ecology & Conservation Biology

  1. Chris Rostron via World Wetland Network zice:

    Thanks Peter and Tom,

    A very thought-provoking interview highlighting the importance of people’s attitudes to conservation; without significant changes in how we live, it is hard to envisage a sustainable future for wetlands, their wildlife or humans. Something for all of us conservationists and scientists to bear in mind.




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