Friday, November 22, 2013

Protecting the resource

So I was able to take an hour out of my day yesterday to view the Wings of Steel movie.

Wings of Steel is an esoteric, difficult climb on the left side of El Capitan in Yosemite.  After the first ascent in 1982, twenty-nine years elapsed before the route saw a repeat.  This film follows the second ascent team as they struggle up the wall over thirteen days.

But there is more to the story than climbing.  The "assault" on El Cap was not just human vs. rock.  It was human vs. human.

You see, the 1982 first ascent team were "outsiders" to the Yosemite climbing scene.   During the many days of their ascent, local climbers became convinced that the route was being put up in bad style; that the precious rock of Yosemite was being damaged and disrespected by climbers who had not paid their dues in this almost-sacred place.

What followed was a scapegoating of the FA party as unclean.  Apparently, "everyone" knew that the route was a travesty, and the climbers underwent various kinds of public shaming and humliiation.  For years.  "We had to protect the resource", says one of those involved to the movie camera.

If you want to know "who was right", you'll have to see the movie (or read Ammon's article in Rock and Ice or, if you have a few days to spare, read the 3473 posts on the original Supertopo thread...) and then form your own opinion. That's not where I'm going here.

You see, what this got me thinking about is how much we humans tend to form our community by setting boundaries and defining who is outside them.  Even those (perhaps especially those) who identify with a cause greater than themselves.

Is the environmental cause, which wants to protect the precious resources of this sacred place, going to  become defined by who it scapegoats?

Or by who it loves?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Who is Conservation For?

Interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, following up an important theme in conservation discussions (see my earlier post of Peter Kareiva here).  What gives value to the natural world?  Some intrinsic worth? Or the sum of the "services" it provides for humanity?  The Chronicle article personalizes this in terms of the contrasting careers and goals of two scientists, Gretchen Daily and Michael Soule.  It begins:

Once, Gretchen Daily only had eyes for the rain forest.
Eighteen years ago, as a young scientist on the rise, Daily arrived at a renowned research station in the hills of Costa Rica armed with nearly 100 shellacked plywood platforms. As a student at Stanford University, studying under the famed biologist Paul Ehrlich, she had seen how large birds, defying expectations, seemed to thrive on small bits of forest spackled in the area's coffee plantations, when theory predicted their demise. On her return, she planned to spread her feeding platforms in staggered densities to test that observation; local kids promised to monitor the mesitas.
But when the morning came, so did the bees.
Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Of Math and Poopiness

horses n carsSo, I was on a panel yesterday at an all-day conference on "General Education" at Penn State. The panel members were largely faculty who regularly teach GenEd or "breadth" courses; I was included, I think, because though I have not yet taught such a course I am talking a lot about the MATH 033 (Math for Sustainability) project which will finally get going next year (yay!).

So I used my allotted to make a pitch that sustainability should be taught as a GenEd theme, and that sustainability is a quantitative matter, involving questions like "How much?" and "How long?"  As an illustration, I mentioned a question that I have heard Richard Alley ask: suppose that an automobiles excretions were solid and visible, like those of a horse - then which would be poopier, per mile of travel? Would our roads soon be covered with car poop, as they would certainly soon be covered by horse poop, supposing that the same number of people traveled by horse as currently travel by car?

It's a good question for getting a quantitative appreciation of the scale of carbon dioxide emissions; and I hope it helped us relax amid discussion of the important discussions of the purpose of education!

Afterwards, someone I had not met came up to me and said, "I really like the horse poop illustration. I could help you teach that part of your course."  And he gave me his business card.

I said "Great" - I think partnership in teaching will really improve this course.  But I wondered what this guy's academic field might be that specially qualified him to help me with this unit.  I took a look at his business card.

Professor of Equine Nutrition

I guess that would do it!

Photo by Flickr user safoocat, licensed under Creative Commons