Paul Ehrlich: Ideas, Impressions, Impacts

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.

Welcome to SEEC

Welcome to the blog for the Student Environmental Education Coalition (SEEC)! We are a North Carolina-based, grassroots, non-partisan, and entirely youth-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that aims to cultivate a generation of environmentally literate students.

With 2016 marking the warmest year ever recorded, it is becoming increasingly necessary for widespread changes to be made. The quality of the environment and human prosperity are undoubtedly intertwined, so it is up to the current generation of young people to determine the future of our relationship with the environment and therefore our own well-being.

We are focusing on conservation education for a few months:

  • Blue Ridge Parkway: In 2013, the NC General Assembly cut land conservation funding by more than 40%. This harms the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC), a group whose mission is to protect land like the Blue Ridge Parkway from problems such as overdevelopment and pollution. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a beautiful National Park service that attracts more than 14 million visitors per year and contributes $300 million to the local economy. However, budget cuts make it difficult for CTNC to effectively carry out its plan to preserve the expanse of Blue Ridge Parkway, therefore one of our goals will be to generate funding in order to continue protecting the endangered species and unique ecosystems within the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • SAVE THE BEES: Recently, the endangerment of bees in North Carolina has become a pressing yet underaddressed issue. Bees are crucial to our food economy; we rely on bees to pollinate 71% of our crops, including almonds, apples, strawberries, and alfalfa. The root of this problem traces back to climate change, parasites, and most importantly, the use of neonicotinoids. These insecticides affect the pollen and nectar of plants, and because they are so toxic to bees (6000 times more toxic to bees than DDT!), bees are dying off at tremendous rates. This brings us to another one of our goals: to raise awareness about what agrochemical companies are doing and to discourage users from spraying bee-killing pesticides recklessly.
  • Butterfly Highway: The Butterfly Highway is a North Carolina project that creates more natural habitats for pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies. Not only are pollinators important to our ecosystems, but they also contribute to the production of 70% of crops in our economy! With this knowledge, our Director of Service Learning has been building community butterfly gardens in and around the Chapel Hill area, working with a diverse group of youth to create sustainable pollinator gardens.

Stay tuned for more details and events!