An Unexpected Encounter

I spent this past weekend in the Highlands of Scotland. We started out at a farm with sheep and 28 sheepdogs! The dogs were incredibly intelligent. The shepherd whistled and made other noises to signal the dogs to go right and left, crawl, lay down, or run faster as they herded the sheep. We even got to hold some of the puppies that were only a few weeks old.

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After he showed us how to shear a sheep, the shepherd went on an unexpected rant. It was about how much he detested environmentalists in the government and professional people who call themselves “conservationists.” He was angry about how people in the environmental offices of Scotland passed a law, after making an agreement with the farmers, to decrease the amount of sheep (who graze on the hills) in order to help an alpine plant that lived in their grazing areas. Apparently, decreasing the amount of sheep only let the grass grow wild and choke out the alpine plant.  He said, “We’re all conservationists at heart,” to indicate that there wasn’t a need for anyone to call it their job and be paid for it. He ranted on how people getting degrees in this area are “corrupting the tites” by telling them that “cows are evil” and teaching them about global warming. He then went on to say how people are starting to realize how important agriculture is and that he expects his business to become more prosperous in the near future.

I was taken aback and defensive. I wanted to raise my hand and say, “I’m one of those people you’re talking about.” Here we were on this beautiful farm, surrounded by lush green hills. “I only leave here to get the post,” the shepherd said proudly. Well, that’s it, I thought. He must not be educated about the outside world. First of all, he was basing his argument off of one mistake that the government supposedly made about the alpine plant. Secondly, if he doesn’t think global warming is happening, then why does he think people are starting to appreciate agriculture more? Climate change and the need to feed the booming world population are directly related- and the consumption of meat (those “evil” cows) are a big part of it. Even more confusing to me was the fact that it is often environmentalists who support local farms and agriculture. Was his argument structured in any way? Does he say this to everyone who tours his farm?

Further perplexing to me was that despite my knowledge on environmental issues, I wanted to believe this man. After all, who could ever know the land better than he did? He spent all of his days in fields, working with the animals and the environment itself. Was I wasting my time? Was I contributing to “wrong” side of environmentalism by potentially pursuing a job in the EPA?

I would have loved to have had a long conversation with the shepherd or even ask him a few questions in private, but unfortunately the opportunity did not arise. I’m still a bit confused by his perspective on things. I guess everyone has to stand up for their lifestyle and income and if the Scottish government took sheep away from me when my livelihood depended on it, I’d be angry too. Still, that was one bold speech that he made.

I’ve been thinking about the shepherd a lot. I know that there is a lot of controversy about climate change and environmentalists and a lot of stigmas come with the degree I’m pursuing, but I’ve decided that I’m not ashamed of my studies in environmental science. I’m proud of it. Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that  global climate change is happening, and anyone who is educated on the topic understands why.(1) I’m also proud to be a pescatarian (the only kind of meat I eat is fish). I don’t think cows are evil, and I can still support local agriculture in a variety of ways even though I don’t eat meat. The planet can’t support enough livestock to feed 7 billion people.(2) I hope to set an example for the rest of America by choosing a pescatarian diet that benefits the environment, livestock, and my own health.

There’s one point that the shepherd made that I do agree with. He said that “we’re all conservationists at heart.” Whether everyone realizes it or not, the environment affects them, from personal food, water, and air to the existence of our species. In the same way that we all want to know the basics of how our economy, education, healthcare system, and bodies work, we need to know how our environment works. Our environmental issues are scientifically and socially complex. While I love the taste of meat and the energy that fossil fuels provide, as many people do, I want to share my opinion and the knowledge I’ve learned that supports the need to preserve the world’s resources today. I have yet to meet someone who wants a polluted Earth. It’s time to realize that we’re all in the same boat, on the same planet, rooting for the same place.

Feeding the sheep

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Sources:

1. Rice, Doyle. “Report: 97 Percent of Scientists Say Man-made Climate Change Is Real.”Science Fair. USA Today, 22 June 2010. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. <http://content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/post/2010/06/scientists-overwhelmingly-believe-in-man-made-climate-change/1#.UlQ5T5UuhSU>.

2. World Population Clock. Worldometers, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. <http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/>.