You can hear it in her voice, during a breakfast-time conversation about her attention-getting research on the unseen and unacknowledged relationships between humans and nature. An ecosystem ecologist jointly appointed to the Bieler School of Environment and the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, she’s up early and deep into a description of the data-gathering she’s doing for Canada’s Census of Environment, the first-ever national register of the country’s ecosystems and the services they provide.
Bennett is the principle investigator for NSERC ResNet, an interdisciplinary network of Canadian researchers and other specialists who examine the many different facets of our country’s ecosystems (she also chairs ResNet’s scientific committee). Along with her ResNet colleagues, she is busy developing new ways of understanding and assessing the present state and future possibilities of the country’s highly complex landscapes. She hopes to make useful contributions as Statistics Canada prepares the census (she was asked to join the external advisory committee for the census).
But as she homes in on a specific local problem of what should be done with Nova Scotia’s costly, vulnerable dikelands, which have long separated encroaching sea water from developed agricultural areas, she realizes she’s hit on an issue that both bothers her and excites her about the limitations of big-budget scientific research on the national scale.
“In helping to nudge Canada’s Census of Environment towards being as useful as possible to as many decision-makers as possible, one thing we’ve been thinking about is finding ways to engage actors at a very local level and assist their decisions even as we are also collecting national-scale data. How do we provide data that’s useful to federal and provincial decision-makers, but also useful in a very particular way to these local decision-makers?
“Scientifically I don’t think we know how to do that yet,” she adds, and now the measured, pensive delivery of McGill’s Canada Research Chair in Sustainability Science suddenly takes a passionate and intellectually impulsive turn. “And anywhere that I hear ‘We don’t know how to do that,’ I think, Oooh, that’s a neat idea.”
“Neat idea” may not be an official term…