Week 10: Synthesis #2 – We are Environmental Leaders!

As the year draws to a close, I look back at the “How well do you know your place?” test from The Axe Handle Academy that we took on the first day of class. I chuckle at the apparent ignorance scrawled on the paper. To think that the writing is mine boggles my mind. I…nay, we have come so far in the span of a semester.

In their article, William Dennison and Jane Thomas argue that environmental champions exhibit knowledge, power, and passion. I think that over the course of this semester we have acquired those characteristics and are well on our way to becoming environmental leaders of our own accord.

“Knowledge refers to the scientific understanding of the ecosystem that individuals can bring to bear in environmental assessment and management.” I think we can all agree that we have learned a lot over the past semester, especially for those of us that came into the class with little background about the James, environmental issues, etc. I can now identify 25 types of trees that are native to Virginia. I can define a watershed and explain how humans have altered these natural boundaries. I can identify sources of pollution and describe their effects on the ecosystem. I can describe how urbanization affects the environment. I can give an overview of the historic events that have made Richmond what it is today. Yes, we have read countless articles and papers, but more importantly we have participated in field-based and community-based learning in addition to classroom-based learning. From our trips to Brown’s Island, Pony Pasture, the Wetlands, and even our Fall Break trip up north to the Potomac, we got to visualize and experience what we were learning about. Hearing from experts like Ralph White and Ikal Angelei gave us information few have access to. These hands-on opportunities took us beyond the classroom, beyond the pages of a book, and have solidified our knowledge about the environment, specifically the James River.

Power refers to the ability of individuals to motivate change in human activities or behavior…manifested within government, non-government organizations, academia, or community groups.” While none of us are off changing governmental policies at the current moment, I think we have each acquired a form of power. In a paper by Don Forsyth, we read about the Awareness-Appraisal Behaviour model which suggests that individuals will be more likely to help preserve the environment if they are familiar with it and recognize that it is in need of help. In other words, motivation to act can be stimulated by mere distribution of information. And isn’t that the goal of our final projects? To create James River accessibility maps that in and of themselves are accessible to the public, in hopes of increasing awareness of the resources that the James River has to offer. Creating these accessibility maps is just the first step, albeit a significant one, in encouraging individuals to utilize the River more and to do so in an environmentally friendly way. And isn’t that a form of power? Additionally, I would like to argue that volunteering is a form of power too. As I mentioned in my blog on community-based service, seemingly insignificant tasks do their part to help build a better park. And as Hilary mentioned, the Splash N’ Dash was “an excellent way to raise awareness of environmental issues, raise funds to support the River, encourage health and wellness, and [promote] community.” Helping put on an event like the Splash N’ Dash, does in fact make a difference as it spreads the word and encourages utilization of the James River Park System in an environmentally-minded way. Isn’t that motivating change? Isn’t that also power?

Passion refers to the expression of caring about the environmental issue or ecosystem.” I think we can all agree that we all joined Earth Lodge, at some level or another, because we are all passionate about the environment. However, I know that this passion has changed and grown for each of us over the semester. Reading through everyone’s blogs over the weeks has revealed an emergent trend to each of us becoming more aware about the James River and what it has to offer. But at the same time, we are recognizing exactly how healthy/unhealthy the James is. By Forsyth’s Awareness-Appraisal model, this suggests an increase in passion for keeping the River, our River clean. This is evidenced by the amount of volunteer work that we have done and will continue to do. However, our passion goes beyond this. It extends to the passion for learning that we have when we pass a tree and ask each other “What tree is that?” It extends to the passion for environmental issues on campus that we always discuss as we walk along the Richmond side of Westhampton Lake as it is devoid of all riparian vegetation. It extends into the passion for being as environmentally friendly as possible as evidenced by the reusable water bottles and full recycling cans.

In the end, I think that the knowledge, power, and passion that we have acquired over the semester demonstrate that we make some pretty darn good environmental leaders.

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