What did I learn at Base Camp Earth? I learned that teaching environmental science is about teaching critical thinking, just like any other science. It is not so much about the rightness or wrongness of an action. Less blame and more self analysis would probably produce admirable results in all of us.
Base Camp Earth conveys the idea that for now, we've got this planet and we need to understand it and ourselves. Technology helps us measure our impact on the biosphere, but it also increases the rate at which we are capable of destroying that biosphere. The ecological footprint analysis allows a tool for each of us to assess the difference between the two and choose accordingly. I try to reinforce the concept that access to information is what enables decision making. If I can teach critical thought that way, people end up sorting through their lives carefully, weighing consumption patterns and necessity.
Technology isn't inherently evil; it's the implementation of it or dependence on it that's problematic. Jeff, Meriah, Chrissy, Aria, and Ivy discovered how quickly vital information could be transferred via their palmtops, but they also discovered that if they grew totally dependent on the information in their palmtops, they were in trouble when the batteries died. If we approach technology, our consumer habits, indeed the rest of our lives with a little parsimony, we have a smaller footprint and a better outlook.
I grew up in Alaska and learned early the delight of wild places. However, I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, where the Cuyahoga River had so many industrial solvents dumped into it that it used to catch on fire. I believe environmental science provides a sort of playground where I can simultaneously address both sides of my heritage: the preservation of wild places like Alaska and the remediation of our society to prevent things like the Cuyahoga River fires from happening again.
Jeremy Littell is a graduate student in MSU's Land Resources and Environmental Science department. His Master's Thesis project is to study how climate change has influenced forest fire regimes in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. He has decided to pursue a career in ecological research, but tries to temper the academic side of his work by teaching environmental science with people from communities outside the university.
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