Our relationship with the Earth is changing at an unprecedented rate. The pace of change is accelerating not only from our advancing technology, but from world population growth, economic growth, and increasingly frequent collisions between expanding human demands and the limits of the Earth’s natural systems. It appears that catastrophe looms ahead unless major changes are made in a short period of time. Or does it?
Fortunately, human beings are capable of changing their behavior and values, which are then reflected in changes in national and international priorities. Such changes happen when people are confronted with new information or new experiences. I believe that every citizen should be exposed to such information and experiences and should, at the very least, develop a level of environmental literacy that will allow them to meaningfully contribute to meeting the challenges of the 21st century. The goal should be for every citizen to become fluent in the principles of environmental science and have a working knowledge of the basic grammar and underlying syntax of environmental wisdom. TCU’s Institute of Environmental Studies was established with this goal in mind.
It is also my conviction that environmental issues must be approached in a multi-disciplinary manner. Currently, the dominant mode of addressing these issues, at least in Western society, is through a combination of pure science and economics, partly because of the ease with which information can be quantified in these fields. I contend, however, that adequate solutions to environmental problems require the addition of well-informed ethical, aesthetic, and cultural perspectives.
Many of our initiatives are strongly driven by the Genius Loci concept, which translates simply as the Spirit of the Place. I believe that unusual off campus environments can catalyze effective learning experiences. In some specific areas of knowledge, for example biology, geology, ecology, geography, cultural sociology, and certainly environmental studies, the genius loci adds significantly to the overall impact of the educational experience. Through the IES, our students get to experience this firsthand, either at our research station in Costa Rica or the game reserves of South Africa.
A core emphasis in our programs is environmental stewardship, an increasingly important hallmark of the educated and responsible citizen. The concept arises from the recognition that the dynamics of modern society have placed limits on the growth that our planet can support. Responsible citizenship requires that these limits be accurately identified and understood and that they be factored into ethical decision making by societal leadership. A key outcome, therefore, is that students understand the basis for and the need to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to the development of the planet that we all share.
I encourage you to join us at TCU in this important endeavor.
Dr. Michael Slattery
Director, TCU Institute of Environmental Studies
Professor in the School of Geology, Energy & the Environment