DO THE BOTANICAL GARDENS, UNIVERSITY BOTANICAL DEPARTMENTS, AND THE BOTANICAL
SOCIETIES OWE ANY RESPONSIBILITY TO THE LARGER ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNITY AND TO
THE FLORA THEY STUDY AND FROM WHICH THEY PROSPER?
Botanical Gardens get a lot of money to study the flora of the world and of our local area. The botanists of these botanical gardens and associated universities who do these studies get money, publications, prestige, and career advancement out of the flora they study, but do they do anything for that flora: To protect it? To promote interest in it? To encourage others to protect it and promote interest in it?
I am afraid that the answer is a resounding no.
Botanists are largely academics (including museum academics) with academic degrees who do studies of flora that are large kept secret except for what is written in one or more of their articles and/or book. Most of the material such as plant lists is kept secret and never disseminated to anyone in the large environmental community who might be able to make use of the material.
Indeed, one could say that there was a method to President Reagan's madness. Reagan's embracement of the tax revolt left not only our botanical institutions begging and whining and dining our rich citizens (and grown so much richer thanks to Reagan and those who think like him), has not only left Democrats weary and scared, but even more so the botanical gardens, the universities, and the academics.
What for instance does the NYBG do for the larger environment? They help green-up the Bronx but that is about it. They have no environmental programs that reach out to the larger environmental organizations and community. Instead of writing about environmental issues, much of their newsletters read as if they were Society pages.
What does the BBG do? They have a project on the metropolitan flora but this is not open and readily accessible to non-academics or even academics doing general research. The BBG is sponsoring a Reconstruction Ecology Institute for which they will get lots of money but this is designed primarily to help local/state/national governments try to undo some of the horrendous damage they do to our local flora in their projects for which they cared not a whit for the flora (except when demanded so by environmental regulations).
Do either the NYBG or BBG have any real contact with the larger environmental community at all? Or are they too scared of losing money from the rich men and women who sit on their boards and who they do not want to offend? Having the president of Con Edison sit on the board of the NYBG is not reassuring to those concerned with the environment when they might one day want to protest some environmental disaster Con Edison want to pursue. Remember the struggle over the huge water reservoir the electric company wanted to put on Storm King?
And what do the botanical societies do that is any better? Recently there occurred a controversy within TBS because one of the former presidents of the organization did not want to see any environmental "radicalism" even though there was never a hint of any real "radicalism." Who are the Council members of TBS afraid of? Did President Long come down and tell them that he did not want anything that smacked of "environmentalism" on his watch? Did the president of Con Edison come down and scare them into never doing anything that in the least could be considered friendly to the environmental community. Most likely not and the Council members are so afraid of what might happen that they end up doing nothing at all on the environment.
The same kinds of concerns can be said about the universities themselves (from which the Botanical Societies primarily derive their leaders). They do their little scientific studies on a park here and a park there finding out that one of their variables has an impact on the growth rates of a particular species of tree, while the overuse of that very same park by mountain bikes and all-terrain-vehicles is tearing up the park and drought is so killing of the trees that the invasive plants are taking over and running off our native plants. But, at least, no one will ever call these academics "radicals" for not noticing what's happening to the forest for the trees.
Do we even have freedom of speech in the United States when all our academics and academic institutions are too scared to speak out on the destruction of our flora? Have the money boys and girls got us so scared that we just do these small, almost meaningless studies on growth rates of species while the forests are going through astounding changes and no one seems to really notice or pretend they don't notice?
Have our academics ever done any studies on the overuse of our parks by such villains as ATV drivers? Has anyone criticized the parks departments for not being able to adequately protect our parks form the many persons who want to use the parks as their primary sources of personal recreation? Are they even aware of these issues? Probably not or they pretend not to be aware so they don't have to given the problem any consideration.
Frankly, most of our academics are getting big bucks starting cancer studies or other similar health related studies. Most of them are becoming botanical chemists, not botanists. Hardly any of them or their graduate students ever come out in the field to notice what is happening to our parks and our flora. And their former graduate students are found on the scientific committees of the local developers who are all set to tear down our parks, providing the developers with the necessary pseudo-scientific proof that it is o.k. to "pave over paradise and put up a parking lot."
The people who are supposed to know the most about our plants seem to be the least willing and the most scared to try to save some of that flora.
Is there not one way in which these plant "experts" can help the larger environmental community to arm themselves? Apparently, the plant academics don't think so.
If they, these servants of the rich, are not ashamed of themselves, they should be. But I'm afraid they are not, thinking themselves so proud to have doctorates in the plant sciences.