AUS - Gagged and grief-stricken, but not without hope
The beauty and wonder of the natural world is what keeps these scientists fighting to protect it. But a culture of suppression and self-censorship has meant that speaking out comes at a cost.
For the past 40 years, Antarctic ecologist Dana Bergstrom has studied one of the wildest places on the planet.
“Antarctica gets into your blood,” she says.
“For somewhere so cold, it really makes your heart warm.”
As a public servant with the Australian Antarctic Division, she operated inside a system where any outside communication about her scientific work was carefully calibrated, crafted and monitored.
But, eventually, that calibration went beyond what Bergstrom thinks can be justified.
“I was gagged,” she says.
Recently retired, Bergstrom is now speaking out about being silenced.
Rapid melting in West Antarctica is ‘unavoidable,’ with potentially disastrous consequences for sea level rise, study finds
By Rachel Ramirez, CNN, October 23, 2023
By Vice, October 24, 2023
“I went with it, I was a good public servant.
“But it was disheartening to not be able to tell the whole story.”
And she’s not alone. Ecologists and climate scientists have told the ABC of a widespread culture of suppression and self-censorship.
Sometimes it’s insidious, driven by the fear of losing funding or contracts.
Sometimes it’s overt, through active gagging or academic careers being threatened.
All of that for attempting to “speak the truth” about environmental damage, ecosystem collapse and climate change.
And it’s taking a toll, with scientists suffering mental anguish at their research being suppressed instead of being used to help save species on the brink of extinction, to help arrest the rapidly deteriorating state of the natural world.
As one says: “It really impacts you, because how can it not?
“You can’t look away.”
Amongst the rock and ice, one place stands out in Bergstrom’s memories of visiting the continent — Heard Island.
“It’s the wildest place on the planet. It’s 4,000 kilometres from anywhere and it’s covered in ice.
“It’s a place just for animals — humans visit there so rarely — and life goes on.”
But the wonder and awe is turning into a nightmare, as the impacts of climate change move much more rapidly than scientists predicted, or even imagined they could.
“I’ve seen in my lifetime, a glacier retreat on Heard Island,” Bergstrom says.
“I’ve seen plants go from healthy to critically endangered in three years.
“It was an ecological surprise. When I first started with climate change, we thought time scales of 50 years or 100 years, but not three.”