Getting to Know and Love Mother Earth
“Young people, I want to beg of you always keep your eyes open to what Mother Nature has to teach you. By doing so you will learn many valuable things every day of your life.”
-George Washington Carver, scientist and environmental educator
I teach Physical Geography at the community college level. It is a physical science requirement for students expecting to continue toward a first degree at a four-year institution. The course attempts to convey to the student an understanding of “how the earth works”, which I refer to in my class as “the earth’s lifestyle!”
The introduction to the course goes something like this: “The Earth is a unique planet. It is the only planet of its kind in our Constellation known to support life as we know it. Everything we do in our daily lives depends on products and resources derived from the earth. The earth, in turn, derives most of its energy from the sun.”
“The planet takes care of us. So we should begin by appreciating it as “Mother Earth!” In this course, we will learn about systems that cooperate with other systems to bring us a ‘living planet’. Mother Earth is a ‘survivor!’ She will survive anything we can possibly do to her. The question is: ‘Can we survive what we do to her in our present lifestyle?’”
“This course will observe four interlocking systems: The Atmosphere, the Hydrosphere, the Lithosphere and the Biosphere. But, first, we should understand the earth’s place in the solar system and its unique and vital place in the light and heat of the sun.” With this introduction, my students are taken on a journey to see the world in a “whole new light!”
We start by observing global weather patterns, examining what phenomena influence weather as we know it and studying how weather produces climates. Next, we introduce the hydrologic (water) cycle as an expression of weather and climate.
We introduce the Lithosphere by studying a mini-course in elementary geology, which centers around what we call the “rock cycle”. It is a simplified view of the three major rock classifications, igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary. We then explore how one form leads to another and another in a cycle. Erosion plays a major role in this process. Water is the primary vehicle of erosion. Thus, we study the interrelationship between the water and rock cycles.
We wrap up the course by observing the role of the first three systems in making life possible on earth. Here is where we put most emphasis on the earth’s interrelated systems and the examples we have from traditional societies who seek to live in harmony with the resources they derive from the earth.
Thus, with proper emphasis on the elements of physical geography required to meet the attendant academic standards, we observe several alternative lifestyle choices available to us to live well, in harmony with the limits of the Earth’s lifestyle.
Physical Geography and the U. S. Education System:
Many students appreciate this type of course. However, our education system is sadly lacking in preparing students for the levels of observation and critical thinking necessary to appreciate what our current lifestyle demands of earth’s resources. Teaching at the community college level exposes me to the lack of geographical knowledge that high school graduates bring to the course. These are some of our brighter students. They have done well in school, without basic exposure to the world around them. Furthermore, the current national policies, advertising and politics prey on this public ignorance, leading them to feel justified in retaining our current lifestyle.
Ours is a civilization of greed, affluence, excessive waste and a deep adherence to a belief that individual rights with minimal responsibility is sacred. We worship “science” that seeks to “improve on nature”, “control nature”, “defeat nature” and otherwise ignore the earth’s lifestyle. We talk about earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, flash floods, blizzards, etc. as “natural disasters”.
My studies in Geology and Physical Geography tell me that many of our monuments to “scientific progress” are disasters waiting to happen. Indeed many have already happened. I would like to apply some of this knowledge to my class presentations, so that students would better appreciate the range of unrealistic expectations that govern our lives today. But, alas, their previous education has failed them!
This recurring dilemma has convinced me that the work being done to bring more environmental education to our primary schools is a boon. I am overjoyed to find students who studied abroad and recent immigrants adding so much to my classes. The students who have lived in rural areas, or on farms often bring welcome insights from their own experiences. Then, there are many older students who are returning to college to complete degrees, for a better job who also add greatly to the class wisdom.
For instance, a student from Ecuador can write a paper on the volcano in his neighborhood. Similarly, the older student, who experienced a large forest fire, is happy to explain to the class how that event created widespread erosion.
In fact, throughout the course, there are many opportunities to observe and examine various natural phenomena and discuss how we can learn from these natural patterns how to choose parts of our lifestyle. For instance, developers and realtors will offer anything you want. However, with basic knowledge of natural systems and applied common sense, we learn what to look for in land forms to tell us what sites are safe from potential floods, (including flash floods), landslides, earthquakes, hurricanes. These are all parts of Physical Geography!
Review this website for assistance and direction in developing a course in Environmental Stewardship: http://naaee.org/forum/
Begin with introduction to the early native peoples of this land. Observe how effective and successful they were in sustaining the natural abundance of Mother Earth, The Ohlone example – text: The Ohlone Way, by Malcolm Margolin, Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA c1978. Examine the lifestyle, for its sense of respect for, freedom to use, cyclical sense of balance with the seasons, the animals and plants of the region, the sense of inter-related villages and easy sharing of available resources, Even accommodating the personal frailties of envy, petty jealousy, gossip, etc., these people seemed to allow these personal quirks to be secondary, in their lives, to the more important process of cooperation, mutual respect, dignity and communal wisdom.
Also discuss the yields of ancient farmers, like the Incas, forest nomads, etc.
Copyright: David L. Romain, 15 December 2004.