Conversations about the environment

So, I’m just beginning my last class at Green Mountain College. The core of the program has been conservation biology–everything about keeping the natural world intact. This included ecology, law and policy, bioregionalism, leadership, and conservation biology itself. All of this coursework, all the hours on the couch reading and at the computer researching and writing, have supposedly prepared me to work in this field. One theme in all of this has stood out to me–that scientists need to more proactively communicate the gist of their work. Now, I know most of you are not going to read Google Scholar journal articles on the fire regime in the Metolius basin in your spare time–even if you love the Metolius. So, I figure it’s my job to do this work.

But how? I really hate rabid environmental extremists, and here in Oregon, that’s the stereotype that comes when one even mentions the words “the environment” in polite conversation.

What a paradox, no? I say paradox because most of the people I know spend their non-work time doing something outside. Every Oregonian I know claims to love the out of doors and nature. Some hike, some climb rocks, some hunt, some ski. Same-same. Few of them, and to some extent myself included, spend much time taking care of that giant playground.

With all of this in mind, I constantly think about how to o’erleap (I love Shakespearian conjunctions) the bad impression we all have about extremists so that people will hear what I have to say. I’ve never really worried about this type of thing before, so this is a new thing for me to ponder and deal with. Then, last weekend, I realized environmental conversations aren’t that hard to have.

I went boating on Puget Sound with my good friends. I had to work, so hitched a ride with the parents, who were headed out on Saturday. While making our way to the group, my friend’s dad asked me what I was doing, and after I told him, he asked me what I thought about global warming. I told him. Then we talked about polar bears. Later during the trip, my friend asked me what I thought about creating habitat for fishes–he’s a scuba diver and often sees human-placed articles underwater that are meant to replace destroyed habitat, especially reefs.

Damn, I had a third example, but have forgotten it…

My point being, or my grand epiphany, is that people want to know what’s right action in our relationship with nature. It’s just that we are creatures of habit, and with change comes an element of fear, possibly even guilt.

I’m not the person who is going to join Greenpeace and climb Mt. Rushmore with a banner challenging the President to act for climate change (though it was an effective stunt, and you can watch it on Youtube). I am the person who can let the conversation drift and unfold so that we all have a better sense of how humans can use natural resources without being destructive to ourselves and other members of the biota.

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