I was interested to see reported in the press this Sunday (7th April 2103) a number of stories with a range of headings such as those from the Sunday Times’ “Sorry, boss, you can’t deny me my fertility rites” and inside, “Vegans can milk equality rights” as they reported on the latest update to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guidelines to Religion or belief in the workplace.
The Mail on Line seemed particularly interested in vegans going by their use of capitals in their headline http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2305225/New-human-rights-rules-tell-employers-VEGANS-druids-rights-Christians-workplace.html?ito=feeds-newsxml
What struck me though was that ecologists now seem to be covered by the act and are to quote one of the examples cited in the guidelines to the updated act, “able to tell colleagues that they are irresponsible to drive to work”. Again as an ecologist, you are able to tell your employer that you refuse to fly as you believe that this will harm the planet. This latter I find particularly amusing, as most ecologists and conservation biologists I know, seem to fly all around the globe at the slightest provocation and the choice of international conference venue seems to depend on its remoteness and beauty, and not on how easily delegates can get there by rail and/or ferry. In fact, I am one of the few ecologists I know that does actually refuse to fly. I have not flown since my eldest daughter got married in Australia in 2002. In fact, slightly tongue in cheek, the closest thing I have to a bible is The Man in Seat Sixty-One http://www.seat61.com/, a site I recommend to all those, who like me, like to travel in style and comfort, and not as a sardine.
On a serious note however, how do you prove that you are a bona fide ecologist ? If you are a member of a religious organisation you can direct your boss to the relevant baptismal entry or get your local minister or priest to vouch for you as a card-carrying Christian. Presumably as a fully paid up member of the British Ecological Society, I can claim that I am indeed an ecologist, but does that mean I believe in ecology in the same way that atheists don’t believe in gods or people with religious beliefs believe in their god(s)?
Indeed, should I have the same rights as people with deeply held religious (non)beliefs to claim special privileges in the work-place. As an atheist and an ecologist, I would seem to be doubly blessed to misuse a metaphor or two. What about all those non-professional ecologists out there, people who care passionately about the health of the world’s ecological health?
How do they prove that they are ecologists? It all seems a bit odd, or, even over the top to me. Why ecologists in particular?
Why not entomologists? After all we as a group, amateurs and professionals alike, dedicate an enormous amount of time and passion to our favourite groups. And as that great geneticist Haldane, is famously reported as saying, (incidentally in a footnote of Hutchinson’s famous religiously titled 1959 paper) and I quote verbatim “There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of the distinguished British biologist, J.B.S. Haldane, who found himself in the company of a group of theologians. On being asked what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation, Haldane is said to have answered, “An inordinate fondness for beetles”
In conclusion, yes it is encouraging to know that ecology is being taken seriously by the Equality and Human Rights Commission http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/ but should ecology be regarded on a par with religion? Or for that matter should people with dietary preferences also have those rights? If so, how many other scientific or other disciplines, should be treated as articles of faith? Where do we stop?
Hutchinson, G.E. (1959) Homage to Santa Rosalia or Why Are There So Many Kinds of Animals? American Naturalist, 93, 145-159 https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/srachoot/ecoevo/HomagetoSantaRosalia.pdf