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Austin: The Ecology of Hope and Devastation

Dr. Gary Machlis from the University of Idaho, and who is the science adviser to the National Parks Service, recently visited Linfield, and gave a lecture entitled: The Ecology of Hope, and Devastation. His lecture tied perfectly into the Program for Liberal Arts and Civic Engagement (PLACE) theme this year, which is Legacies of War. Last week, there was a screening of a film relating to warfare ecology, and it really set the tone for Dr. Machlis’ visit to campus.

The documentary caught my attention right away. Images of veterans memorials, waving flags, and victorious music, flapped across the screen, and were contrasted immediately with horrific images of not only civilians running from agent orange, but also of giant forests being destroyed in Vietnam, oil spills reaching across oceans, and left over bombs scattered across fields after an “armistice” is reached. The film called attention the what it called “the silent victim of war,” the environment and citizens harmed for many generations to come because of warfare.

Dr. Machlis’ lecture focused first on the Ecology of Hope, that is using Ecology to solve the world’s problems, and he did this through connecting the dots between many different things that you would never expect to be related. For example, cocaine trade and the water quality of the Colombia river, or the lack of light in refugee tents in South Africa to the rates of rape of young women, lack of education, and harsh poverty facing those refugees. It was amazing how these comparisons brought to our attention the interconnectedness of issues, and how the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, all overlap to solve, or create problems.

This morning, Dr. Machlis visited my Principles of Ecology class, and participated in a discussion with our class about his career path, as well as his role in society. He talked about his experience at Yale, where he did his graduate work, and how flunking 1 course taught him more than all of the A’s he had ever received. He then worked his way around the room and asked each one of us a class, or area of study that terrifies us, something that we are afraid of getting a bad grade. His overall advice for us was to be brave, not to let the barriers that we face in society as young people to get in the way of our success.

His call to action from both his lecture, and class discussion, were incredible. He has faith in young people, and doesn’t doubt our abilities. Dr. Machlis highlighted the parts of science that fascinate me: the fact that by investigating the unknown, and improving what has already been created, we can tackle the biggest problems facing our world today. These experiences will always stick with me, and I am so happy that I was able to be apart of this great discussion, and engage is such thought-provoking discourse.

Until next time,