If you’ve been following this blog or my Twitter feed over the last few weeks, you’ve surely noticed a few references to A.L.E.R.T. – the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers. You might also have asked yourself, what exactly is ALERT, and is it something I should pay attention to?
Today’s post attempts to explain this new organisation, and hopefully convince you that the answer to the second question is ‘yes’.
Several months ago, a slightly cryptic e-mail from eminent conservation biologist, Bill Laurance, arrived in my inbox. It asked – what do you think of this logo (see associated image)? A few e-mails later and a couple of minor tweaks, and we ended up with what I thought was a pretty cool logo for this new ‘ALERT’ thing. It wasn’t until quite some time later that I finally understood what Bill was attempting to create.
Is ALERT a news aggregator, a blog, an advocacy group, a science-communication resource or a science-policy interface? Why, yes it is!
Indeed, ALERT is all of these things. First and foremost, and if I’ve interpreted Bill’s intentions correctly, ALERT is exactly what it asserts to be by its title – it is an alliance of some of the leading voices in conservation science today. As such, it can be thought of as a go-to place for expert synopses of important conservation issues. I’ve previously blogged about a similar venture coordinated by the Ecological Society of Australia – their Hot Topics in Ecology. In a lot of ways, the two endeavours are complementary – both gather the scientific consensus on issues of particular pertinence in policies directly influencing conservation, form a statement that intends to guide policy based on scientific evidence, and then formally advocate that perspective. Two examples to illustrate this approach from both organisations is the statement on the scientific evidence refuting claims that livestock grazing reduces fire risk, and how a planned mega-canal joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans will devastate Nicaraguan biodiversity. The only remarkable difference between the two is that ALERT embraces international issues, while ESA’s Hot Topics covers mainly issues within Australia.
Yes, scientists often disagree, but when it comes to major environmental issues like climate change and confronting stupid policy decisions to ‘relax’ legislation designed to protect our ecosystem services, then the consensus is typically strong. By formalising and reporting this consensus, these alliances make it very difficult for vested interests to claim the contrary.
In a sense then, ALERT is also an advocacy group. Some scientists shy away from advocacy because they believe it might compromise their objectivity. Well, that’s a weak and blinkered excuse, as far as I’m concerned, especially in this day of conservation crisis after conservation crisis. When the evidence and consensus are strong, it’s time to take a political stand.
ALERT also serves to highlight policy-relevant research that often does not see the light of public day until many years following publication. By blogging about hot issues (much like I do here on CB.com), we hope to get the science to the policy makers much faster.
Finally, ALERT intends to make it easier for real journalists to do real journalism and research the issues facing our society via strong, evidence-based scientific consensus. Making journos aware of these issues and the science underlying them might let a little more objectivity into so-called public debates.
Thanks, Bill, for the initiative. If evidence-based conservation advocacy is important to you, I highly recommend that you at least check out the ALERT website.