If you have more than a causal interest in environmental issues
and are looking at the possibilities of developing an
environmentally related career you need to know that "environment"
is fundamentally different from many other fields of study. If I
had to express only three thoughts about environmental ideas to
today's college student I would be sure to include the
- Environmental Studies (or as it may be called elsewhere
Environmental Science, Environmental Education, Natural Resource
Management etc.). is an interdisciplinary field. Hence, No single
field is sufficient to solve real world environmental problems. The
biologist, the chemist, the land planner, the legal advisor and
many more disciplinarians, has an important role to play . Since no
one person will be expert in every field, environmental
professionals need to be fluent and to appreciate what each of
these fields brings to the table. We need expert thinking but we
also need to counter balance this with systems thinking and
analysis. What use is a solution, you think is absolutely perfect,
if it turns out to be economically unfeasible or socially
unacceptable? The moral, political, economic and social dimensions
of environmental issues must be addressed, along with the more
obvious scientific and technical parts of the problem.
- Education is the long term key to sustainable environmental
progress. Almost all citizens are supportive of environmental
progress and many have a real affinity for the beauty of the
natural world. However, they often lack a true understanding of
issues and a background necessary to make informed, rational
decisions about environmental affairs. This "problem of perception"
is something that will always be with us, to one degree or another,
but it doesn't mean we can do nothing about it. We must always be
prepared to answer people's questions and concerns. We need to
bring them along with us on the road to environmental improvements.
Taking the time and effort to make them part of the solution is a
long term investment and will make for better long term solutions.
Showing them how their own lifestyle choices and consumer choices
affect the environment is also important. Every person has a
personal liability and responsibility for many of our current
problems. Every person must be involved in their
- Although we have made progress on some of the more visible
environmental issues from the 1970's to the 1990's (especially in
the United States) most of the really important issues are global
in character and most of them are still ahead of us in the
beginning of the 21st century. I don't assume ecological
catastrophe, Nor do I presume a road to ecological Utopia in the
years to come. What we face is the dawn of a new era -an
unprecedented time in the history of humanity. Much of what is
happening today cannot continue indefinitely without some kind of
radical restructuring of basic human and ecological systems.
Today's college students will live most of their adult lives in
this critical period. We desperately need young leaders well versed
in the issues to take charge and make the difficult decisions that
will protect the natural world, while allowing human society to
progress in sustainable ways. This is an extremely difficult thing
to ask but we really have no choice in the matter. Either we will
rule the events as we see them happening or they will rule us and
we will be swept by a rising tide of ecological crises. We need
every college student today to be fully informed and cognizant of
what lies ahead and to realize how they can actively contribute to
a better life for all in the coming century.
I hope that you will ponder these points as you think about
Environmental Studies as a possible academic field of study. We try
to embody this kind of thinking in our curriculum and courses and
in all of our students. Please contact me directly if you would
like to comment on any of the above statements or if you would like
information about Environmental Studies at St. John's.
With much hope and concern for the future and with a strong
faith in you.
Sincerely William Nieter, Director Environmental Studies