The science of ecology aims at understanding the deep complexity of life at several embedded scales: temporal and spatial at least, but also from micro to macro and from material to conscious. Biological complexity is manifest in relationships among the organisms themselves, in interactions with their biotic neighbors, and with the physical environment. The study of nature also involves the ‘human sciences’ like art, language, ethics as well as decisions about how and what to value about this complex world. Knowledge about this complexity cannot be contained within the mind of a single investigator. The sum of our understanding and expression of nature is a collection of many minds, each taking a small, manageable piece of the universe and investigating or clarifying or making it piece and part of human expression. This information is often transmitted, cataloged, and made available through writing (although, to be clear it is not the only way). While each person can only focus on a small part of the universe, the sum of that effort can be found archived in the journals, books, and dissertations of those who have made these contributions in understanding and appreciating nature. Writing then gives permanence and substance to our ideas. It clarifies our arguments, and exposes both our mistakes and the correction of those mistakes. Writing is how we contribute to the great conversation taking place at many scales, with many people, and at many levels about nature and why it matters. It takes place between scientists doing ecological research; among people interested in understanding nature; among community leaders, politicians, and local governments, among those adding beauty and expression to the world through poetry or prose. You have undoubtedly read the conversation taking place in letters to the editor, in school assignments, and in other outlets of the popular press.
Is it any wonder than that in learning about the environment, learning to write and express ourselves about Nature is given such emphasis? Writing is how the information about what others have gathered comes to us and it is how you will join the great conversation should you desire to participate in the dialogue
But writing about the environment goes beyond such grand themes and issues. Even if you are not interested in Nature per se, the understanding gained in learning to put thoughts and expressions on a page is a skill the importance of which cannot be overstated. You will be judged on your writing throughout your life. Regardless of what path you take, learning to express yourself clearly, forming cogent and well thought out arguments, and communicating your ideas, are invaluable skills. Ideas kept inside your mind will eventually die with you. Ideas, once written, have the potential to live forever. And change the world.