Numair Masud – The Applied Ecologist


Happy Pride Month! Join the British Ecological Society in this annual, global celebration as we share stories from STEM researchers who belong to the LGBTQ+ community.

This post is by Dr Numair Masud (he/him), Bioscience Research Associate at Cardiff University.

Pride in a conflicted world

Dr Numair Masud (he/him) is a Bioscience Research Associate at Cardiff University, investigating how anthropogenic stressors impact freshwater organisms.

When we reflect upon the challenges facing mankind – military onslaught in Sudan generating millions of refugees, the continual horrors of the Israeli-Palestinian war, the ongoing tragedy of the Russian-Ukraine war, Western extraction of conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Afghanistan turning into ruins or the rise of right-wing populism across Europe – they have something in common: ideology.

Ideology is a system of ideas that can form the basis of economic and political theory, policy and then eventually, action. If you accept this definition, then you will appreciate the power of ideas; the power to influence, instigate, motivate, and corrupt. This gives researchers and educators an ingress to making a difference in an ideologically divided world. This blog won’t be able to do justice to how we as ecologists and nature enthusiasts can systemically change institutions in the UK, but perhaps I can suggest a starting point.

Pride in Science

I am a gay scientist who claimed asylum in the UK. I am all too aware of how sometimes just living as oneself can be interpreted as a threat to some ideologies. As ecologists, we spend time pondering the beauty, diversity and challenges facing the natural world, but do we also wonder how we, as the collective LGBTQ+ and allied ecological science community, can address the challenges we face as a species? How do we create a legacy worthy of the label, Pride?

It is true that major historical achievements have been made in progressing LGBTQ+ rights in the Global North but it is also true that these achievements are fraying at the margins.

The US, which is considered the crowning jewel in western democracy, proposed 546 anti-LGBTQ bills in 2023 in US state legislatures. An appropriate quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson seems fitting here ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance’.

There is typically a positive correlation between LGBTQ+ rights and an increase in democratic values, particularly inclusive democracy where minority rights are always protected and enshrined. Consider how the rise of far-right populism in Europe’s Poland, Hungary and Italy are inevitably associated with anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Even on our university campuses, we are seeing academics, traditionally seen as defenders of classical liberalism, becoming hostile to Equality,

Human ideologies are central to humanitarian crisis. But I believe ideology is both the source and the solution to the problem. I recently gave the opening address at Cardiff University’s University of Sanctuary Aspire Open Day 2024. This endeavours to make higher education more accessible to those seeking sanctuary (i.e., asylum seekers and refugees), where I addressed the issue of diversity in relation to conflicting ideologies.

Climate Change

This list I start with scratches the surface of what humanity faces as it does not address what is arguably the greatest existential challenge of all: climate change.

The refugees generated from the aforementioned horrors will not come close to the sheer number of displaced people that will be knocking on our doors as climate change progresses. We must, therefore, ask ourselves a fundamentally moral question; for this Pride month what have we to be proud of?   

The battle to address climate change requires global cooperation. Anyone who has read the IUCN reporting on solutions for tackling climate change (including UNEP reporting), will acknowledge that to address climate change we have to cater to basic human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. If basic human needs are not being met, such as access to sufficient nutrition, clean and potable freshwater and access to safe housing, populations will be too disenfranchised to engage with meaningful change to tackle impending environmental catastrophes.

One meaningful change we as ecologists can make, is ensuring that we are sufficiently informed about social and political challenges that afflict societies across the UK and globally.

This must start with the most vulnerable of populations; minorities such as asylum seekers and refugees and the intersection with the LGBTQ+ community with whom basic rights must be preserved. Nominate yourself to give free talks to local charities about the value of engaging with the environment. Consider donating to community groups that are actively engaging with minority communities and government ministers to encourage political change. The list of actions that can be taken by the readers of this article is long enough to encourage one to start somewhere. No guarantee of outcomes is not an excuse for not attempting to engage in meaningful change.

This article is a call to action.

For this Pride series, we must learn to see beyond our labels and individual experiences, which though completely valid may be insufficient to encompass the complexities of the global challenges humanity faces. We must accept that a world that is now more interconnected than ever before, is struggling to deal with a diversity of opinions and thoughts, which often translates into ineffective and all too often damaging actions. In a divided world, it is our humanity that must unify us. A humanity that transcends identities, skin colour and ethnicities and focusses on shared experiences that we all, surely, possess.

It is a shared vision of humanity, grounded in preserving fundamental human rights, that must bring us together and it is this vision off which we can claim Pride.     

Discover more stories from this year’s Pride Month blog series on the BES website.

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