KellyOpinion1The complexities of studying the environment

Perplexing and thought-provoking, environmental studies is an intricate interdisciplinary subject, in which varies in methods and beliefs on how to tackle these sometimes daunting issues. Environmental issues, however, have been around for decades and often require urgency, thorough planning and sometimes-radical viewpoints. I often find myself asking, how do we simultaneously address development for the poor, protection of biodiversity, management of carbon emissions and population stability? What, above all, must be sustained?

The truth is that this subject is too complex to simply summarize in one article. Even though it is one of my majors and passions, I still have much to learn about the numerous aspects of environmentalism. Although, I can share my perspective from a biological standpoint. Note before reading, environmentalists do not aim to evangelize their views but rather strive to broaden peoples perspective on the implications their actions have in respect to other organisms and the earth. We need to be careful not to make rash assumptions and become well-informed.

Also, there are many types of environmentalists. Not everyone approaches or shares the same belief, in which multiple perspectives are needed in order to reflect on not only one’s own view but society too. What are some environmental issues we are facing? How did they arise? What is your role in these issues?

Planet Earth is comprised of vast complex ecosystems that have detailed mechanisms to combat carbon emissions, support life, restore nutrients and so on. Humans, however, intervene enormously via industry, technology and development into these natural cycles which causes more harm than actual good. Estimated by the United Nations Environment Programme, roughly half of anthropocentric or human made CO2 emissions are being absorbed via terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems while the rest linger throughout the atmosphere.

This is concerning, as this gives rise to climate change and alters our environments tremendously through hurricanes, massive flooding and drought. Note that there are much more to these issues than I’m portraying or meets the eye. Immense inequality arises with the poor, especially those living in rural areas, and other organisms become vulnerable when the environment in which they thrive degrades. Both rely heavily on their environment to sustain their well-being, and currently are unable to find suitable shelter, quality water and ample access to resources. Therefore, by addressing the issues of the environment, can we additionally address the inequalities of biodiversity, poverty and mitigate carbon emissions?

Ask yourself, how do your actions impact other people, organisms and ecosystems’ well-being? Do you make these connections? What could you be doing better? How as a society can we change? Are your ideas even feasible?

We often neglect to see that throughout the world, we are all neighbors, and that planet Earth is one giant community. Everything is connected, and every action has a cause and effect to some organisms out there. Social and ecological systems are intertwined. Although society has progressed in terms of technology, standards of living and ways in which we produce, this isn’t necessarily a positive development. Through avenues of progression, we have become numb to the outside world which we disconnect from our roots, lack to appreciate nature and abuse it for its resources. To quote Aldo Leopold, “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

It is from the environment where social, political and economic issues arise or stem from. It is not our job to dominate and abuse Earth for its resources. The challenge, however, is finding a balance in order to foster an environment that allows both current and future organisms to prosper and survive in harmony. We need to reevaluate our actions, ways of living and means of production for not only our sake but for the sake of the environment too. Do not assume that this ideology is simply taking humans out of the picture because realistically we cannot. But, what we can do is have responsibility to take care of the environment as it takes care of us.

How then, are our actions negative on the environment? Certainly, the way we obtain resources is often disruptive. Who though, is most affected by our needs? Do we even care as long as we can sustain ourselves?

Let’s use fungus as an example. Often ignored, fungus is the decomposer of organic material which restores and supplies nutrients to most organisms as well as soil on this Earth. Over millenniums, organic matter has been broken down and stored beneath Earth’s crust where a crucial history has been developed. These symbiotic relationships are crucial for any ecosystem to function properly. Other organisms rely on these nutrients produced in order to function and survive. Without continuous supply, other organisms diminish in health, reproduction and even existence. Soil, thus, supports all other forms of life. There is a dialogue of nutrients occurring which I find fascinating. Instead of silencing these communications, maybe we need to be more humble, quiet and listen to what nature is telling us.

What is discouraging is that big industrial corporations fail to recognize these symbiotic relationships and in response continually deplete environments in which these interactions thrive. For example, the production of weed killer, such as Roundup, eradicates mycorrhizal fungi below, thus, blocking organic matter to be decomposed. Without essential nutrients produced, life, especially plants, cannot germinate and survive. Since we depend on plants for oxygen, all connected organisms’ survival is key for our very own. We simply cannot disregard the importance of other species functions. Unless invasive, organisms should thrive in their native habitat with little to no human destruction. Note this is just one example from an ecological view. The list of issues goes on and on.

So, is there a solution? Collectively, can we make a difference? If so, what’s the best way to go about it?
As you can see, environmentalism is a complex subject that spans across a diverse range of topics that can be incorporated into any major, really. If you have a passion and want to share your view, I encourage you to submit a proposal to give a presentation on Earth Day on April 22 to the Fargo-Moorhead community, as it is a great opportunity for students to become involved. Proposals should be roughly three-hundred words in lengths and be submitted to Dr. Afzaal by March 15. If you have a solution, prove it. Let’s hear it.

Kelly T. Knutson

Kelly T. Knutson 15' is an opinion columnist for the Concordia who focuses on environmental awareness / concerns in his entries. Originally from the upland prairies of Grand Forks, North Dakota, Kelly recently transplanted to Bemidji where he calls the conifer forests of Minnesota his home. Being ecologically literate and knowing his roots comes at high importance to Kelly. In his spare time he enjoys being immersed as well as fascinated by nature through hiking, birdwatching, mushroom foraging, camping etc. At Concordia he is involved with Sea - Student Environmental Alliance, Concordia Chapel Choir, Eco-Reps as the Coordinator, 2014 Sustainability Symposium planning committee, coordinating the 2014 HILT High Impact Leadership Trip for spring break, and a Lab TA for the Biology department.

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