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Dean's Blog: The race to save our planet

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

Thought I’d take a new approach to the blog this week by connecting various quotes from famous environmentalists and runners to celebrate our planet, characterize the race we, including our faculty, staff and students, are running to save it, and why it matters.

Some of us have never heard of Gaylord Nelson yet we’ve been celebrating his visionary idea each year since 1970. The former governor of Wisconsin and U.S. Senator is credited with founding the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 as a way to bring environmentalism into the national agenda. Some would say the idea worked as within the year, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed and more than fifty years later, we still celebrate our planet. 

“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.” ~ Gaylord Nelson

Nelson also shared that,

“Every person has the inalienable right to a decent environment. The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” ~ Gaylord Nelson

Ojibwe tribe member, author, and environmental activist Winona LaDuke frames the necessary mindset shift in an interesting way.

“I would like to see as many people patriotic to a land as I have seen patriotic to
a flag. Across the continent… common people with uncommon courage and
the whispers of their ancestors in their ears continue their struggles to protect the land and water and trees on which their very existence is based. And like small tributaries joining together to form a mighty river, their force and power grows.” ~ Winona LaDuke

There is a lot at stake.

In the coming weeks we have opportunities to celebrate our colleague and climate crusader, Thomas Lovejoy for all his efforts to save our planet. After decades of work to understand and explain the biodiversity of our world and why it is important to sustain it, Lovejoy helped us understand that

“Natural species are the library from which genetic engineers can work. Biodiversity is important not just to understand who and what we are, but also allows scientists to build a foundation for what can be.” ~ Thomas Lovejoy

Lovejoy also provided context for our important efforts as conservation scientists,

“Conservation is sometimes perceived as stopping everything cold, as holding whooping cranes in higher esteem than people. It is up to science to spread the understanding that the choice is not between wild places or people, it is between a rich or impoverished existence for man.” ~ Thomas Lovejoy

Jane Goodall, world renown for her scientific work with primates, is considered by many to be one of the most influential environmentalists alive. On one of her visits to the Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation, she shared the following thought:

"The biggest difference between us and chimps and other animals is the explosive development of our intellect—how bizarre that the most intellectual creature to ever walk the planet is destroying its only home." ~ Jane Goodall

Lovejoy offered context to our global predicament,

The planet is about to break out with fever, indeed it may already have, and we (human beings) are the disease. We should be at war with ourselves and our lifestyles. ~ Thomas Lovejoy

Last year, when releasing the UN’s report detailing global climate change solutions, Thomas Lovejoy told us,

 “When you add it all up, it’s really not a pretty picture. But it’s really important to get that message out there and everybody take it seriously.” Thomas Lovejoy

I take his wise words to heart. As a runner, I can’t help but offer the analogy, we are in a global race for the future of our planet. The first women’s Olympic marathon winner, Joan Benoit Samuelson characterizes the shared view of both climate activists and marathoners,

“…For me, there has always been a place to go and terrible urgency to get there.” ~ Joan Benoit Samuelson

As a scientist, I understand our challenges and what is at stake. Whether you have served on the environmental front lines like those I’ve quoted here or you are just learning of the situation by reading this blog, John Bingham offers a running analogy call to action for each of us.

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.” ~ John Bingham

If you care about our world, it is time to act. This Earth Day, regardless of where you are in this race, take time to better understand the issues and what we each can do to address the grand challenge at hand. And join the race.

“Let us be the ancestors our descendants will thank.” ~ Winona LaDuke

Here are wise words from Kenyan environmental trailblazer Wangari Maathai, the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree,  Kenya’s first female professor, and the first Black African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize,

“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.” ~ Wangari Maathai

Jane Goodall gives us both motivation and hope,

"Hundreds and thousands of young people, like you, around the world, can make it a better place."

"Together we can, together we will!" ~ Jane Goodall