An ecologist’s love life

Posted by Julia Schmack PhD student at the University of Auckland @julia_schmack

Being back in Europe for a couple of months is great. It’s summer over here, I’m visiting family and friends all over Germany and I’m freeing their gardens from Vespula wasps.

It’s a busy life since I started my PhD at the University of Auckland six months ago, but apart from collecting wasps, I’ve collected more air miles than any time before in my life. A conference in Scotland, a lab visit in Wellington, meeting my co-supervisor in Christchurch…

A giant’s footprint

The picture of a giant’s footprint in the beautiful black West Coast sand makes me swallow. How many trees would I have to plant to mitigate my carbon sins?
Naturefund’s CO2 Calculator – Flying determines:

27 trees for the return flight from Auckland to Frankfurt + 2 for the flight to the conference + 1 for driving the car up to 1000 kilometres = 30 trees



I am relieved to get such a straight forward and feasible recommendation. Also, 30 trees would be a fair start for the meadow orchard I am dreaming of; nevertheless I am suspicious about this ecological ‘letter of indulgence’.



The article How to reduce your carbon footprint in The Guardian sums it up. ”The easiest way to make a big difference [to your carbon account] is to go by train or not take as many flights.”

What a dilemma!

Do you know these situations?

The idealistic ecologist in me insists: “Stay at home, research those bored cows next door, feed yourself with veggies from the compost garden and invent international conferences using skype – nobody really needs all those handshakes and nibbles!”

Also, scientists are supposed to be more believable when reducing their own carbon footprint. It seems obvious that I should stick to the cows next door.

The love story

I love nature. But I haven’t found the catharsis in this romance yet. If nature was my lover, I would tell him “I want to spend time with you, I want to be close to you, I’m intrigued by your power and I want to understand you. I want to be there for you when you are weak and I want to protect you from harm.”



Isn’t that romantic?

Yet, he wouldn’t be too wrong replying: “But you rarely take the time to hang out with me. You always have an agenda. But the worst thing is, that you are too selfish to resist those temptations that are really hurting me. You’re creating a bad atmosphere by travelling around as if you wouldn’t have a home!”

Touché, mon amour!

Passionate intents

His words are bothering me, but they linger around in the blurry part of my consciousness – together with pictures of politicians who should never be in power to influence global climate agreements and the intent to start rebelling against them before it is too late.

As I said there is no catharsis, it’s more like real life love life – passionate intents and restrained promises.

My contribution

I’m using the bike as often as possible, I choose seasonal and regional food and I eat meat only twice a week. It might not make a big difference compared to the carbon boost produced during one flight between New Zealand and Germany, but it is what I can do right now. Also, I am going to plant this orchard one day. And love is said to be patient.

Your feedback

It would be great if you would like to share your thoughts on that topic with me. Feel free to send me an email or a message.

ny @julia_schmack

Julia Schmack is a PhD student at the Centre for Biodiversity & Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. She is researching the ecology and control of Vespula wasps, supervised by Jacqueline Beggs, Darren Ward and Mandy Barron (Landcare Research). Her PhD is funded by the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.


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