Hiring an Environmentalist

It happened again today at my work.

I am in a meeting with a guy who wants to do some land improvements on his property that will impact riparian areas. There are Provincial laws around this, and to be complaint with those laws, he needs to get some advice from a Qualified Environmental Professional.

It is kind of like if you want to build a bridge, you need someone trained as a bridge engineer, licensed to practice, and carrying professional liability insurance to sign off that the bridge will not, in her professional opinion, fall down. Similarly, if you need to build something in fisheries habitat, you need someone trained in ecology, licensed to practice, and carrying professional liability insurance to sign off that the works won’t, in his professional opinion, kill fish.

This guy understood this, he assured me. “I hired an environmentalist to check everything out”.

There is a definition problem here.

I’m not even sure where you would hire an environmentalist. “Environmentalist” is not a job description, it is a political philosophy. It is like I asked him to verify his business plan and he replied “I hired a Libertarian!” It doesn’t make sense. But surprisingly often I am at a drilling site, or in a meeting with developers, or talking to my mom about work, and I am called the “environmentalist”.

This is OK, as I happen to be an environmentalist (in that my political philosophy includes considerations for protecting the natural environment, for a variety of reasons). However, in these settings, it is rather more important that concomitant to my philosophical positions, I am an “Environmental Scientist” by training, and an “Environmental Coordinator” by trade. That means I have a lot of specific training and experience in environmental protection, the administration of Environmental Law, environmental engineering, and other subjects that can be loosely bundled together under the subject of “Environmental Science” (to be specific in my case, “Environmental Geoscience”, since I am a geologist, not a biologist or ecologist or chemist, etc.).

This is not semantic. Environmental Scientists (and especially “Qualified Environmental Professionals”) are not all environmentalists, and the vast majority of environmentalists have no training whatsoever in Environmental Science.

? ?

This is not an Environmental Science conference

So when this fellow said he hired an “environmentalist”, I picture Paul Watson standing in his driveway yelling about whales, then I politely correct him and say “Environmental Professional”.  If in a professional setting I am introduced as “the environmentalist”, I often make a joke about “how do you know how I vote?”, then again politely say “I’m the Environmental Coordinator who is working on this file.

So Mom, you can stop calling me the Environmentalist in the Family. At least when talking about my work.

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