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Biology is Grief

by Olivia L. Dobbs about a year ago in Advocacy
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A Student’s Plea

Photo by Dikaseva on Unsplash

Biology has become a science of grief. It’s studying the life of a loved one from the perspective of a cell of the cancer that’s killing them. It’s a desperate attempt to hold back the growing tumor just long enough to understand organs before they’re overtaken.

The cells around us keep dividing. We keep dividing too, unable to stop the annihilation we’re bringing. It’s human nature to expand, to conquer, to take. Biology is a study of what we have yet to destroy.

The amount of death we’re seeing in nature is staggering. We’re living within one of only six mass extinction events to occur on our planet. The evidence that it is our direct influence on nature is undeniable. It’s no coincidence that scientists sometimes call this “Holocene” extinction the “Anthropocene” extinction instead.

The effects it will have on our own ability to survive are becoming irreversible. We’re attacking our planet from every angle and expecting endless growth and zero consequence. It’s unsustainable. We are destroying habitats, pumping carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, overharvesting species, throwing toxic waste into our waterways, even failing to support the less fortunate of our own species, forcing the economically disadvantaged to move to locations where they must choose between making “sustainable choices” and starvation.

I knew choosing to help this system would be hard. To weigh the pros and cons of any sustainable alternative, to strategize new ways of living in harmony with Earth is no small task. Any feasible fix must be elegantly designed, considering different cultures, economic capabilities, and even political preferences. In our diverse species, there is no one-size-fits-all to global environmental solutions.

But, instead of focusing attention on finding ways to save us, my degree has awarded me, and every other bachelor, with a lifetime of defending every ounce of information we’ve ever learned. We’re treated like the worried scientist at the beginning of disaster movies. We point to charts that spell apocalypse; half the U.S. laughs in our faces at perceived hyperbole.

Biology has become a profession of trauma. It’s common in circles of students to say, “I can’t focus my efforts on marine science. It’s too depressing.” When I once stated that phrase to a graduate student, they sadly responded, “What part of biology isn’t?”

Biology has become exhausting. Science journals report on the concerns of the mental health of their workers who so often must communicate defenses of their passions. More than half of my undergraduate biology classes featured professors enervated by defending evolution, climate change, even the safety of something as benign as vaccination.

I am a biologist, and I cannot help but grieve about what is to come. The window of hope is shutting, and we are on the precipice of environmental disaster. The new vernacular is “mitigation” instead of “prevention”. Some ill-effects of our damage are already unstoppable.

I’m begging you to give a damn. To digest the fact that collapsing the biodiversity of nature will threaten the viability of human civilization. If we don’t care, if we don’t learn, we’re forfeiting a future of progress and discovery, of well-fed children, of fresh air, of livable weather.

Biology is a science of grief. But, it doesn’t have to be. If we dedicate our efforts to improving education, inspiring our learners, and preserving our planet, it can be a science of recovery, of resilience, and of survival.

By Majharul Islam on Unsplash


Originally published at for the MWC Death Competition.

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About the author

Olivia L. Dobbs

Science Enthusiast, Naturalist, Dreamer.

Check out my science! ->

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