Environment fueled inquisitiveness for Meyer

scott meyer

I'd like to beg your indulgence to share a few personal thoughts today that were inspired by the recent passing of my friend Scott Meyer. Scott ran the Merritt Bookstore in Millbrook, and was one of the most inquisitive and optimistic people I've ever met.

Scott loved science, so reflecting on his life reminded me first about how wonderful and mysterious our world is. Over the centuries, scientists, naturalists and regular people have figured out how our planet was formed, where hummingbirds go in the winter, how diseases harm us and how they might be prevented, where to look for iron ore, how spiders catch their prey, and a million other things that improve and enrich our lives. Bookstores and libraries are filled with wonderful books by writers such as Mary Roach, Steven Jay Gould and John McPhee that share this knowledge with us.

A reader of these books might be excused for thinking that the era of scientific discovery is over, and that every detail about our world has now been set down in a book (or maybe Wikipedia) somewhere. But there is so much that is still unknown. Scott's enthusiasm for science arose not just from the discoveries that have been made, but for the knowledge that great discoveries remain to be made. I always had the impression that Scott woke up every day thinking that today might be the day when the next great discovery about our world would be made — a new dinosaur or a subatomic particle, or a tiny lemur deep in the forests of Madagascar. It could be anything!

Scott also was a great optimist and believed that it was always possible to make the world better, and that the way to do so was to join hands and work together as a community. Sometimes, his ideas for getting people together and improving Millbrook didn't bear fruit, but I never saw him decide not to try to fix something because it looked hopeless.

Sometimes when we look at the state of the environment, it is easy to believe that the world is being run (and run into the ground) by "Big Oil" and corrupt politicians. Certainly, books like "Merchants of Doubt" show the powerful and corrosive influence of money on environmental management. It would be easy to give up on the environment as a lost cause. What can one person do?

But of course that is just what Big Oil and corrupt politicians are counting on. If we decide not to engage, then their money and insider's knowledge of politics will always carry the day. But if we cannot match them dollar for dollar, or scheme for scheme, we can outnumber them in votes and good hearts. But this can only happen if we get up off the couch and engage.

I think it's correct to think that it's hard for just one person to solve a big environmental problem, but as Scott understood, you never actually have to solve these problems by yourself. If you don't like the way the environment is being managed, get out and join with others who share your concerns. There are many such groups, from your town's Conservation Advisory Commission to big groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists or The Nature Conservancy (and there are lots more).

So in this humdrum world of jaded cynicism, Scott's passing has reminded me that it is our rare privilege to live on an endlessly fascinating planet that has not yet given up all of its deep secrets, and that it is always possible to take action to protect it. Of course, we will be up against powerful interests, and of course we will lose some battles. But I think that Scott would have reminded us in the end that the world is filled with good people and that joining together can magnify our strength tenfold.

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

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