Picture provided by the Nicholas School of the Environment
Post written by Kenneth Xu
On October 18th, 2016, we attended renowned biologist Paul R. Ehrlich’s talk on “Surviving the Sixth Mass Extinction” at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. At 84 years old, an age that he humorously emphasized, Professor Ehrlich serves as the Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University and President of Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology. In 1968, he published the controversial yet best-selling book The Population Bomb, which launched him to fame and paved the way for a career full of prestigious awards for leadership in biology and environmental research. He is both venerated and criticized for his unwavering devotion to his predictions of the Earth’s future.
We immediately noticed Dr. Ehrlich’s amusing personality and youthful vigor. He spoke passionately about not only overpopulation, but also more broadly about how to convince the general public and government to take action on environmental issues. He emphasized the importance of psychology, economics, and public policy in the environment movement, which piqued our interest in the role of social sciences in environmental action. The questions that he raised were similar to ones that SEEC had previously been wondering about: How can public opinion of environmental problems be changed? How do citizens convince politicians to represent their wishes? How can environmental education be implemented effectively?
SEEC serves as a direct response to these questions. At a time when environmental education is left in the hands of non-governmental organizations and grassroots nonprofits such as our own, we believe that the very existence of SEEC and the necessity of its mission reflects on the federal government. Given that even serious environmental problems are hotly debated, it’s unsurprising that the U.S. government largely ignores environmental education. Because sustainability is erroneously considered partisan by many Americans, which Paul Ehrlich constantly reminds us, political barriers are obstacles that SEEC has to deal with on a daily basis. How do we convey to parents that we are not only educating their kids on important issues but also giving them a jumpstart on their STEM education and transforming them into future leaders? We only have an inkling of an idea, though you can bet that we’re trying our best to inspire other young people and bring about tangible change. As Paul Ehrlich leaves the spotlight, SEEC is working hard to take his place.