Lessons from the Blogosphere: Rewards and Challenges

EUS_screenshotIn my last post, I wrote about why I blog and how I do it. Here are a few observations and reflections on rewards and challenges I’ve experienced in writing my blog, Ecosistemas Urbanos Sostenibles, over the past two and a half years.

Finding My Voice and Reaching My Audience

We live in a political crisis in Mexico. Corruption and conflicts of interest between construction companies and decision-makers are common. Exposés of these practices, even those supported by videos and other documentation, are merely daily scandals that succumb to other scandals. They haven’t produced any structural change or even a legal process for redress.

Consequently, it is impossible to take a neutral approach in talking about ecosystem management within Mexico City, particularly when there is intense economic pressure to urbanize the last natural areas. My experience is that an isolated scientific approach on an issue in which there are many political and economic interests is ignored and misused. It is not possible to generate information and make statements as if scientists were objective analyzers working from the outside. This is why some of the posts published on Ecosistemas Urbanos Sostenibles navigate from solely scientific information to statements about ecological management in cities. This relationship between political statements and academic explanations is dangerous, because it is difficult for the public to separate one focus from the other. I don´t know whether this has affected my credibility as a scientist. But I still think it worth the risk, considering the urban-ecological interaction we are facing now. As a scientist I generate information that can be used for policy making. I have a responsibility to share it with society so that everybody understands the costs and benefits of each action.

Blogging has connected me with different stakeholders in the city and within my university in new ways. It has led to meetings with members of local government, who asked my opinion about management of the city’s wetland, Xochimilco; with conservationists who wanted to discuss strategies for restoring a river; with academics from other fields (including an urbanist, an economist, and an engineer); and with the federal government. The only sector that has not been interested seems to be the construction industry.

Xochimilco

Xochimilco

Observations and Reflections

My blog gets about 1100 hits per month. In tracking its performance, I’ve learned that posts with strong statements about environmental management are read more than those with outstanding scientific information. A mix of science and opinion seems to work in inspiring people from different fields to read about ecology.

Nevertheless, the post with the most hits on my blog — it received close to 10,000 in 15 days — is about police repression of a peaceful demonstration that took place in front of my house. This is not a post about ecology or environmental management, but a post showing how the local government violates human rights of people who disagree with its environmental policy. That post was the only way of responding the local government’s physical aggression toward me, my wife, and our colleagues, and it helped to show the city other views besides the official ones.

After 61 posts in two and a half years it also is clear that a love of writing is the engine of blogging. My blog has given me many academic, social, and political satisfactions, but what I enjoy most about it is writing about complex systems. It naturally fits into my schedule in one way or another, and I don’t mind writing posts on Sunday afternoons (as I am doing this one). Unless I loved it, other activities would always come first, and I would never have time to write a sentence.

Luis Zambrano, a 2008 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is a Professor at the Instituto de Biología at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. He now directs the Reserva Ecológica del Pedregal de San Ángel, a volcanic reserve within the main campus of the University. Follow him on Twitter at @ZambranoAxolote.

_________

Leopold Leadership 3.0 will be back in early January after a holiday break.

Leave a Reply