Sunday, May 20, 2012

#140 / Students

Last Monday night I heard Elizabeth Kolbert speak on climate change. On the Tuesday morning immediately following, I heard Dr. Michael Kraft speak as a guest lecturer in the class I am teaching at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The class I am teaching is called "Environmental Law and Policy," and is double-listed by both the Environmental Studies Department and the Legal Studies Department (ENVS 149 / LGST 149). Dr. Kraft talked about how contemporary politics in the United States has resulted in the kind of policy gridlock that Elizabeth Kolbert mentioned, too.

After Dr. Kraft's lecture, during my office hours, one of the students in the class came to talk to me, and we ended our conversation with his observation that sometimes Environmental Studies students get discouraged, because they find out a lot about the environmental problems that challenge us, and they also find out (as from Dr.Kraft) that our political system doesn't seem to be capable of doing anything about them. This double dose of education results in a kind of "doom and gloom" perspective that tends to be both discouraging and disempowering.

In terms of the environmental (and other) challenges that face us, I admit to being a kind of a "doom and gloom" sort of guy, myself. Pretending that everything is OK doesn't work for me.

On the other hand, and I hope I'll be able to convey this to the students in the class, I am actually quite optimistic about our ability to change political realities. My own experience, in Santa Cruz County, indicates that radical changes in direction can be accomplished, and while I know it's hard to "scale" the techniques we used here to larger venues, I consider the environmental history of Santa Cruz County to be a kind of "proof of concept." Like Zenobia Barlow, the Executive Director of the Center For Ecoliteracy, I am sticking with what might well be called "active hope."

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