Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 20, 1995

Faculty Make Environmental Study "Tasty Intellectual Stew"

By Ken Keatley

     The 10 professors teaching "The Logic of Environmentalism"--
from such disparate disciplines as economics, religion and
paleobiology--dispel the myth that too many cooks spoil the
broth. Instead, they have each brought their own special
ingredients to the undergraduate course, culminating in a tasty
intellectual stew.

     For one class this semester, Kyle McCarter, a professor of 
Near Eastern studies, interpreted the Book of Genesis to explain
the Judeo-Christian origins for contemporary discussions of the
environment. During another, paleobiologist Steven Stanley traced
the history of biodiversity, and noted how the value humans place
on species can impact and often disrupt ecosystems.

     Among the other lecturers weighing in on the topic this
semester are historians Ronald Walters and Stuart Leslie,
geographers Gordon Wolman and David Harvey, economist Ali Khan,
sociologist Andrew Cherlin and environmental engineers John
Boland and Charles ReVelle. (Historian Sharon Kingsland is away
this semester, but has been an active participant in the past.)

     "It's interesting, because we're getting such a wide range
of views on environmentalism, things you wouldn't normally think
about," said senior Charles Cheung, a chemical engineering major.
"You dig a little deeper in this class, questioning the morals
and ethics involved. I'm not used to that."

     That comment makes Dr. ReVelle smile; he is one of the
creators of the elective course and its coordinator.

     "Most environmental courses begin with 'protect the
environment' as a given. But the question of this course is why?
What is the basis, the rationale, the logic for our environmental
concern?" Dr. ReVelle said.

     Now in its third year, "The Logic of Environmentalism"--
initially funded by a Hewlett Foundation grant for innovative
undergraduate courses, which was channeled to the course by
President William C. Richardson and Provost Joseph Cooper--has
evolved into a favorite for students and the participating

     By exploring the philosophic, mythic, historic, biologic,
economic and social underpinnings of the environmental
imperative, the course has generated a fruitful dialogue that
would not have been possible had this multifaceted collaboration
not taken place.

     "It is enriching for everybody," Dr. Khan said. "Especially
during the last class, a forum when all of the faculty members
get together and the students ask questions. It is wonderful how
our answers get modulated and nuanced."

     Dr. ReVelle said that the course came to life following
informal discussions involving him, Dr. Wolman, Dr. Walters and
political scientist Matthew Crenson.

     "Each of us felt we had something to say that was different,
and that individually we could not offer all of these
perspectives," Dr. ReVelle recalled. "And the reality is so much
better even than what we envisioned. It's fascinating how our
interests have dovetailed."

     Jennifer Walker, a junior majoring in English and Writing
Seminars, said the course has been enlightening in that it
doesn't approach the environment from a solely scientific point
of view.

     "The best thing is that this course wants students to think,
and that makes you more impassioned about the subject," Walker
said. "It's more exciting when you look at more than just raw
data and facts."

     Sophomore Rebecca Justice, an international relations major,
said the multidisciplinary nature of the course has encouraged
her to rethink her views on the environment.

     "With most environment classes, you mainly get the
(standard) political line," Justice said. "Here we get so many
different perspectives."      

     One is Dr. Wolman's lecture titled "Protecting People or
Protecting Nature," in which he gives as an example the
continuing struggle to control the breeding of black flies that
transmit the disease river blindness in West Africa. Because
pesticides can potentially damage aquatic ecosystems, a complex
trade-off is continuously required to balance human and ecosystem

     In another example, Dr. Wolman noted that draining wetlands
reduces disease-carrying mosquitoes, but wetlands are important
environments for wildlife, fish and water quality.

     "His lecture illustrated the tension between human health
and welfare, and the environment," Dr. ReVelle said.

     During the first two years of the course, the lecturers and
teaching assistants Alan Wood and Mary Burke discussed it every
Wednesday over lunch. Those meetings, along with the
opportunities to sit in on other lectures, were illuminating
experiences for the professors.

     "Ali Khan's lecture on economics or Steve Stanley's on
evolutionary theory--those are topics pretty far from what I do.
Sitting in on these lectures has been very positive for me, and I
would imagine for the other professors," Dr. McCarter said.

     Dr. Stanley agreed. "I'm very impressed with the quality of
the lecturers and their  commitment," he said. "There is a
vibrancy about the students as well. They are engaged in a way
you don't often see. We need more courses like this that can draw
out that component."

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