Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Key West: A Professor's Hammock Reflections on the Plight of the World
Stretched out on my hammock, thoughts of the fate of mankind fill my mind as I rhythmically rock and sway back and forth, staring up at the tree limbs overhead. I had earlier attended an afternoon pool party, the outcome of which continues now to haunt me.
I met a gentleman who, during our conversation, asked if I was involved with The Venus Project. I told him that I had no knowledge of such a project. Based on the topic I had been discussing with him all along, he found my response to this question incredible. He said he would have bet good money that I was heavily involved with the project.
In short, he informed that the project was attempting to educate, as well as promote action concerning the need for the world to convert from a profit-based economy to a resource-based system, in order to better provide for the needs of the growing world population. This immediately struck a chord with me, bringing to mind a recent personal experience that I went on to share with him.
In 2008, I had the pleasure of teaching an introductory course for the Business and Technology Department at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore campus; one, that in the process, widely opened my own eyes, and taught me more about the present condition of the world than I had previously taken the time to notice.
The course, Society and Technology, explored the impact technology has made, is making, and will continue to make on society and the planet. It presented the possible perils humanity would inevitably have to face, if no grand scale action was undertaken now to help reverse, and ultimately stave off the all-to-real negative consequences that "the wheels of progress" have placed in motion.
Shy of two weeks into the semester, my students were quick to voice that the course material was causing them some serious concern. It was not my instruction, but the subject matter that was such a downer. It took extra self-motivation and convincing to muster the mental fortitude for them to attend the class. They admitted feeling "bummed out" the whole day afterward.
I assured them, that I too, was equally bummed out, if not more so. After all, I was having to prepare the lessons, which required extensive reading, forethought, and gobs of personal energy. And, I had to deal with all the pensive looks on their faces during class. It distressed me having to field their very valid questions (and there were many), most of which I could offer no satisfying answer. They were damn right the stuff was depressing!
Every class they heard information concerning how the world population was growing at an alarming rate; how the planet had limited resources; and, that its biophysical carrying capacity had already been greatly exceeded. Furthermore, from an engineering perspective, the maximum sustainable population for the United States was just over 100 million, and for the world, just over 3 billion. Both had already exceeded double that amount. Oh, and then there were the issues of increasing air pollution, water pollution, and chemical contaminants in our processed foods ~ all the result of technological progress. God! They had me convinced not to come to class!
Over the weekend, I paced and pondered over what to do. The answer: get them involved! We spent the next class session in discussion, debate, mediation, what have you, to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. I needed the job. They needed the credits. We all needed to survive the semester.
The exchange was very lively. It pleased me greatly that they actually all showed up, and that they were so sincerely and deeply engaged. I reminded that I had told them in the beginning that the course was about their world. They didn't create the problems, but they were going to have to use their young, fertile minds to come up with the solutions. The fate of their futures, their children's, and their children's children would depend upon what they did from now on as responsible citizens, independent of their majors, and regardless what directions their careers took them. I reminded them that being forwarned was forearmed, and that a good offense was better than a good defense. I stressed that ignoring the issues, regardless of how distasteful and depressive they might be to deal with, would not make them go away.
I left them on their own to discuss what outcome they felt would be to all of our best interest, what would make them continue coming to class, and what would help them get the most out of the semester.
The debate that ensued was loud and high spirited, but surprisingly remained well focused. They reached a working solution with minutes to spare. It was agreed that the subject matter was a bitter pill to swallow, but that, in the end, they knew they would be better off facing the issues head on.
I praised them for having done an excellent job, and that it was my wish that each class be conducted just like the present session. I would introduce the topic as listed on the syllabus, and they would come to class prepared to openly share their thoughts and opinions in an engaging fashion, but keeping it as civilized as possible. I've never had a more satisfying teaching experience!
Now, slowly swinging here, back and forth, I cannot believe that I had never heard of The Venus Project prior to the pool party. Had I been living under a rock? What a great response having known would have provided to their challenging questions. What a difference it might have made in some, if not all of their lives. What a difference knowledge of it might make on the future of the world!
I strongly recommend everyone's taking a little time to learn about The Venus Project, if for no other reason than pure personal enlightenment; and of course, to arm oneself with a better answer than the one I had, if ever asked the question at a pool party. Either way, I'm convinced you'll be glad you did.
I don't know about you, but in a world filled with so much pending gloom and doom, it's comforting to know that there may be a working solution...there may still be hope.
Here is the link if you'd like to check it out now: