By PAUL STEURY Columnist
---- — Every year we jump on the Amtrak in Elkhart and take our Merry Lea environmental education graduate students on a “field trip” to our nation’s capitol. This past week we visited with Rep. Marlin Stutzman, Rep. Jackie Walorski, Sen. Joe Donnelly, Sen. Debbie Stabenow from Michigan, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island and Rep. John Sarbanes from Maryland, to ask them about what they think of environmental education, their opinions of climate change action plans, what they feel are the benefits of wind and solar vs. coal and oil, and if they can help support small family farms grow our food.
We also met a variety of environmental organizations, including:
• the Natural Resource Defense Council, to find out what they defend;
• the National Family Farm Coalition and their successes of helping family farms;
• WE ACT that works on environmental justice in the D.C. area;
• the Climate Reality Project that is working on educating the public about the strongly-debated-yet-confirmed reality of climate change, and
• the North American Association of Environmental Education that is working on networking and unifying the environmental educators around the world.
We also met with the Environmental Education office of the Environmental Protection Agency to hear their frustration of the lack of systemic change of the pressing issues, the Secretary of the Interior’s staff to find out how they lead 70,000 employees, the Council on Environmental Quality to discuss what the CEQ does, as well as the first lady’s office to hear about the success of the first lady’s Let’s Move campaign and how they get kids outdoors.
The goal of the field trip is to integrate the classes the grad students take and their knowledge they’ve acquired while at Merry Lea to discover why environmental education is so political.
During the trip I was constantly contemplating the lack of concern for our planet.
Pondering the ecological footprint of that powerful city is frightening. The ecological footprint is basically the amount of the environment necessary to produce the goods and services necessary to support a particular lifestyle. DC’s impact is enormous daily.
Sen. Donnelly flies back to Indiana every weekend. I know he’s thinking about the importance of family and his constituents but that alone uses an enormous amount of fuel. According to Blueskymodel.org, “A plane produces about 244 pounds of carbon dioxide each mile it flies. An average plane carries 218 passengers, so that’s about 1 pound of carbon dioxide per passenger per mile in the air.” From South Bend to Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport is around 600 miles, which then equals 1,200 pounds of CO2 each weekend for Sen. Donnelly’s home visit.
We were told by Chitra Kumar, environment protection specialist from the CEQ (who is from Granger, Ind.) that the word “environment” is only used in two federal offices — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Council of Environmental Quality. Personally it feels like a dirty word at times, which is so ironic since the environment keeps us alive.
I cannot eat, drink or breathe money.
Why do we as citizens allow this insensitivity?
The why is listed in the paper “Mind Gap”: individuality, responsibility and practicality.
Individuality — This lies within the person, their attitude and temperament.
Responsibility — People do not feel they can influence the situation or should not have to take the responsibility for it.
Practicality — Social and institutional constraints prevent people from acting pro-environmentally regardless of their attitudes or intentions. Lack of time, lack of money, lack of information, lack of support from organizations a person is part of, and prioritization of the long list of things that muddy our day to day life.
This whole precious thing called life is complicated, tangled and “political,” which has many definitions. People think of it as governmental responsibility, but to me it also means personal accountability vs. lack of accountability, knowledge and wisdom vs. ignorance and stupidity and action vs. inaction.
Thinking and being “political” is imperative.
Most importantly to me, being “political” means talking over supper about what’s happening in this magnificent world of ours, perhaps letting Sen. Donnelly know he only needs to fly home every other weekend or thanking the mayor for walking to work.