Pat Costner, an environmental warrior armed with
Mention Greenpeace to most people and they recall television images of
protesters in rubber rafts alongside a cargo ship, chaining themselves
to logging machinery or waving banners in a protest march. But behind
the passionate and highly-publicized exploits performed by Greenpeace
activists is a systematic organization of committed individuals backed
by mountains of scientific research.
Pat Costner, a Senior Scientist with Greenpeace International's Science
Unit, knows only too well that keeping abreast of the latest environmental
and chemical research from around the globe is a full-time job. With an
arsenal of hundreds of scientific papers, reports and journals at her
disposal, Costner has developed a reputation amongst her peers as an invaluable
source of information, and for using ISYS to manage that information.
Talking to Pat Costner, it doesn't take long to realize why she's one
of the world's leading experts on waste management and Persistent Organic
Pollutants (POPs) - chemicals that persist in the environment and pose
a risk of causing environmental and human health problems. She has played
a key role in establishing and maintaining policies and goals for the
Greenpeace Toxics Campaign, and spends a great deal of energy collecting,
analyzing, summarizing and disseminating scientific information relevant
to the Campaign's objectives. She also serves as a Greenpeace delegate
to several international treaties such as the Basel Convention, which
aims to reduce the generation of hazardous industrial waste and control
its movement across international frontiers; and the Stockholm Convention,
which aims to protect human health and the environment from POPs.
Costner is an avid collector of any information relevant to methods of
incineration, methods of disposal of intractable materials, sources of
dioxins and other POPS and their occurrence and effects. She sources this
information via access to electronic journals, government reports and
various environmental conventions and conferences. This abundance of reference
material, totaling around ten gigabytes, is kept on Costner's hard drive
and carried around with her wherever she goes. Like a walking environmental
and scientific encyclopedia, she can respond to any requests for scientific
information in seconds, using ISYS to interrogate her stockpile of facts
"I don't know that I could do my work at all without ISYS,"
said Costner."I can be sitting at home and the phone rings, and it's
someone from the UK media needing quick and accessible material about
Polychlorinated Biphenyls, for example. I can quickly pull up a few usable
quotes and fire them off by email. Within an hour a press release has
been written and proofed and they're able to turn out an informative news
Costner first heard about ISYS through a colleague. "An environmental
lawyer who was consulting with me on an issue had ISYS and gave me several
demonstrations," said Costner. "I was struggling with information
retrieval and was desperate for an effective tool - that was and is ISYS.
Now I may make a hundred or more searches in one day."
Interestingly, one of the things that Costner doesn't like about ISYS
is the speed and efficiency it has helped make her famous for in environmental
circles. "It has enabled me to be so effective in responding to requests
for information that I sometimes fear that my colleagues and our allies
depend on me too much," she said. "In a week I'll typically
get up to two dozen requests from campaigners in Greenpeace and other
environmental organizations for advice or specific information - it's
actually a bit of a burden!"
Perhaps the most satisfying function of ISYS for Costner is the ease
with which it allows her to back up Greenpeace's statements or contradict
those of its adversaries with hard data. "I can do a search while
I'm sitting in a meeting and return a relevant scientific study with citations
and figures that either counter what's said by industry reps or to support
our position." ISYS is helping Costner to concrete the image of Greenpeace
as more than just an organization of banner-wielding activists. "It
makes my work easier, more thorough and thereby more convincing,"
said Costner, "and that makes us look good".