I’ve spent the past week or so watching red-winged blackbirds, mallards, painted turtles, green frogs, bullfrogs, water striders, water beetles, and much much more come to life at a small pond on our property in Williston. My kids and their friends from the neighborhood spent much of last Saturday and Sunday in little paddle boats floating about in the pond catching leeches. I spent Thursday morning on our deck, switching between writing a paper and looking through my binoculars at the painted turtles and green frogs. Aimee and I are enjoying the pond more than we thought we would. And I bet it’s true for our kids as well. It’s certainly true that I had no idea my kids would get pleasure out of catching leeches.
The pond on our property does more than just entertain us and provide my kids with leeches. It harbors biodiversity, obviously. But it provides an important service for our neighborhood as a storm water catchment. As you probably know, some of the faculty in our Environmental Program and the Gund Institute for Environment are world leaders in this area of scholarship – on the benefits provided by nature.
Rachelle Gould is a rising star in this area of scholarship (if she’s not already a star). Just last week, she had a novel paper published in the journal Ecosystem Services that I would encourage all of you to read. The paper points out that while “Ecosystem Services” attract lots of attention, the Cultural Ecosystem Services that nature provides have largely been ignored. Her paper proposes three new “Cultural Ecosystem Services,” based on empirical data from Hawaii. Those three services are:
Ingenuity: ecosystems aid in developing innovative ideas, approaches, or practices
Life teaching: an ecosystem’s provision of opportunities for learning life lessons and personal values
Perspective: ecosystems’ helping people to gain perspective on their place in the world, to see where they fit, or to "put things back in perspective"
The paper concludes “The benefits of creativity, perspective, and life learning arose repeatedly in our open-ended questioning and find nuanced support from a long history of scholarly work. We hope that naming them will encourage innovation in how to characterize and subsequently incorporate them into studies and practitioner efforts. The ultimate goal of ES work is to allow decision-making based on more complete information; we argue that, when the three new bodies of meaning we suggest are included, the information provided will be just a little more complete.” I absolutely agree.
On a completely unrelated note, I’m really enjoying the Senior Thesis and Honors Thesis presentations I’ve been to so far, and I’m really looking forward to upcoming ones. I’m trying to get to as many of them as I can.
Happy Friday. I’ll be sure to let you know how many leeches my sons catch this weekend.
Hi all –
One of the (few) downsides of my being the new kid on the block is that I don’t yet know a lot of students in our Environmental Program. However, good news about current and past ENVS students makes its way to me, from all over campus (and the country, actually). Today I wanted to share a couple stories with you about our current students. A couple of weeks ago, I think I shared with you the importance of talking with those outside your bubble. These are two stories of speaking up when the time is right.
The first story is about Julie Macuga. Julie speaks for the warblers. (You’ll have to read her commentary published hereto know what that means.) But just briefly, Julie and many others have opposed the development of the Vermont Gas Pipeline. Trish O’Kane inspired Julie to become a shareholder in the Quebec-based company that is overseeing the development of the pipeline just so she could go to the shareholder’s meeting and speak up about both the environmental and economic downsides of the proposed project to the other shareholders, the CEO, and interested parties. In a word, this is bravery. When I was in college, about the bravest thing I did was knock on doors in Denver and Ft Collins for the Sierra Club. I did stupid things on skis and mountain bikes that I called being brave. But what Julie did in Montreal was true bravery. And it’s also inspiring.
The second story is about Kaitlyn Morris’s ENVS002 class that made the trek over to Montpellier for the annual VPIRG Lobby Day. I’m sure that many of our students went to engage with our representatives in state government. But I loved that students in our ENVS002 classes are already engaging in important activism. Here are just a few quotes from a few of the inspiring students who went:
“Wow! Such a powerful experience to be surrounded by a group of young committed activists. It reminded me that our generation has the power and responsibility to make a change.” -Isabel Lisle
“I regained a sense of hope after observing how dedicated the younger generations are about making a positive difference in the world.” -Annie Brown
“When individuals on the ground choose to come together and express their values, it can have a great influence on decisions and policy of those higher up. -Zachary Guillian
“The experience I had at the Youth Lobby Day in Montpelier was not only educational, but inspiring as well… What I took away fro Youth Lobby Day is that knowledge and awareness are powerful tools to use in order to make change, so now going forward, I am excited to put these tools to good use!” -Victoria Nash
It’s often said that the future belongs to today’s youth (a refrain oft repeated during graduation ceremonies). But what I think our students demonstrate is that it’s not just the future that belongs to today’s youth. It’s today. Our students are effecting change all over the world. Keep it up. And keep in touch.
Happy Friday –
All - something slightly different today. The below is a letter cowritten by myself and colleagues here at UVM.
Best wishes -
Science is essential. Evidence is helpful. Facts don’t have alternatives.
We are writing to encourage you to participate in the March for Science on April 22, either in Washington DC or here in Burlington.
This is not about political parties, climate change, or funding. It’s more fundamental than that.
Science underpins our economy and our lives: more people have better medicine, technology, nutrition, renewable energy, and safety because of science. Evidence improves policy: big decisions need to account for what we know as well as what we believe. Science is discovery: the stuff we learn is breathtaking and inspiring, and we need to engage more people in that inspiration.
Others have laid out their own reasons, and we encourage you to look at the March principles, statements by AAAS, AGU, ESA, and more than100 other organizations. Also, read this powerfuleditorial by a leading scientist about his family. And a nice blog post on inclusion and access.
Here is what we hope you will do:
1. Go to the march website and register now to go to the Burlington or DC marches. Adding your name now helps.
2. Bring at least 2 non-scientists with you. This is important. This is a march for science, not for scientists.
3. Use this timely event to discuss the issues in your classes and with your peers.
4. Get together with your friends and colleagues to discuss links above, your own message, make signs, etc.
5. If you agree with this message, share it by email or with this link: http://bit.ly/2ofxIS5
This isn’t the world’s only issue these days, or the only concerning thing about our current leaders. But science is essential to continued progress in this country and the world, and it’s relevant to the mission of all centers of education and research. We hope you’ll add your voice.
Robert Bartlett – Professor, UVM
Breck Bowden – Professor, UVM
Alison Brody – Professor, UVM
Chris Danforth – Professor, UVM
Stuart Hart – Professor, UVM
Jane Knodell – Professor, UVM
Chris Koliba – Professor, UVM
Jane Kolodinsky – Professor, UVM
Beth Mintz – Professor, UVM
Taylor Ricketts – Professor, UVM
Donna Rizzo – Professor, UVM
Nathan Sanders – Professor, UVM
Stephanie Seguino – Professor, UVM
The comments or opinions here expressed are our own and should not be taken as a statement, opinion, position or endorsement by the University of Vermont.
One of the great joys of my job is that I get to travel and interact with colleagues and students all over the world. Two weeks ago, I wrote to you about some of my trips to China. This week, I’m reporting on locales that aren’t as exotic as China, but are definitely exotic in their own way: Norman, Oklahoma and Knoxville, Tennessee.
These trips within the US, especially at this time of year, always amaze me because I get to see spring emerging over and over again. Both Norman and Knoxville are at peak spring: redbud trees and daffodils were blooming in Oklahoma, and the dogwood flowers were as bright and white as I’ve ever seen them in Tennessee. We all know that spring arrives a little earlier in the southern US than it does here in Vermont.
And maybe you’ve heard that spring is coming a little earlier each year (though it might not seem like it this year in Vermont, but wait until Monday…). My friend Jake Weltzin runs the National Phenological Network which tracks all things phenological (phenology is just the timing of biological events, like onset of spring). They have some incredible data here in the US (see here for example). But the most amazing data about spring arriving earlier and earlier comes from Japan. Amazingly, folks in Japan have been documenting when cherry trees flower in the spring for hundreds of years. If you look at this striking graph, you’ll see pretty clearly that, sure enough, spring is coming earlier and earlier each year.
But so what? Isn’t it good that spring is coming earlier and earlier? I know I’ve heard some folks grumbling that they’re ready for spring here in Vermont. What are the consequences of earlier and earlier springs? One answer is that not all species are responding to changing climates in the same way. Some species are being triggered to migrate earlier in the year, even though when they arrive at their spring destinations, nothing is actually available for them to eat; that is, ecological systems are becoming uncoupled, and we don’t really know what the consequences of that uncoupling might be, except that many of the players in ecosystems have evolved complex webs of interactions with other species and are inextricably linked to one another. If the phenology of one species is affected, it’s likely that others are as well (see this story from The Guardian, for example).
But we were talking about Tennessee and Oklahoma. Let’s go back there. It’s more likely than not that the average person on the street in Tennessee or Oklahoma isn’t concerned about climate change. However, they probably realize that spring is coming earlier and earlier and our climate system is out of whack. Though I spent most of my time at universities in Tennessee and Oklahoma, I also got to talk to three cab drivers for about 20 minutes each. Cab drivers are generally affable and like to talk and tell stories. Admittedly, they don’t always want to talk about global change or phenology, and I don’t either (as an aside, one cab driver wanted to talk to me about how to commit the perfect murder; I’m not sure she was affable). But I have been taking these opportunities with cab drivers to talk about global change and its consequences. In the backseat of a cab, I can’t rely on fancy slides or graphs or data because we’re just two people in a car talking. But I can talk to them about what they’ve seen changing where they are, how the forest behind their grandma’s house has changed since they were a kid, how invasive fire ants are now in places they never used to be, how spring is coming earlier and earlier, and some storms are more intense and more frequent than they used to be.
As I’ve said before, we need to get out of our bubbles and talk to the rest of society about what’s important to us and why. When I travel to other universities or to conferences, I talk to hundreds of people who generally see the world in the same ways I do. But in these chats with cab drivers, where I’m just talking as a human to another human, I hope do some good. I’m not pedantic, pencil-headed, or science-y. Instead, we’re just people talking. And we need more of that – just people talking to one another.
So next time you’re in a taxi, be it in Knoxville, Boston, Dubai, New Orleans, or wherever, talk to your driver about what’s important to you and why. Or if you don’t ride in taxis, talk to someone you normally wouldn’t talk to about what’s important to you and why. Don’t preach, proselytize, or provoke (though there is a time for that). Just talk.
Happy almost spring –
p.s. Tyler Doggett has been making connections with the public here in Burlington, with his public discussions about a variety of topics. Because I was traveling, I didn’t get to go, but I certainly heard great things about it.
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