From a farm field looking up 262 feet at a GE wind turbine, to standing on the sandy banks of the Wisconsin River a short walk down a path from Aldo Leopold’s shack, students participating in the inaugural Sustainability Learning Community experienced for themselves some of the complex issues surrounding human impact on the environment and the differing perspectives on these issues.
The Learning Community is made up of sophomore UW-Green Bay students who, when registering for fall 2013 courses near the end of their freshmen year last spring, committed to take three common core courses and participate in sustainability-education activities this semester.
UW-Green Bay officials say such a learning community is regarded as a “high-impact” best practice that enhances the student experience, gets students involved in hands-on learning in a favorite field early in their college careers, and has the potential to improve retention and graduation rates.
During the sustainability field trip Oct. 19, students were able to stand next to and go inside a wind turbine and truly take in the immense size of these structures. They also learned about the 86 turbine Invenergy Forward Wind installation and the strong opposition its citing in the Brownsville, Wisconsin area faced from local residents. They asked the technicians providing the tour about the common issues usually brought forward in opposition to wind turbines — bird kill, noise, and flicker. They learned about the jobs provided during construction and in continuing operations. They also learned about the escalating payments the land owners receive each year for land rental for placement of the turbines.
However, they didn’t learn what to think about this information. Rather they needed to begin to apply critical thinking skills: what’s important, the clean energy generated or the concerns of the area residents; are the costs of construction and length of operation of this wind farm justifiable; what personal values are you bringing to your decision making?
The students had some unexpected down time to contemplate these issues due to a bus computer breakdown, but once back on the road (with no speedometer), the students had to do a little mental rebooting of their own for the next stop, the Aldo Leopold Center in Baraboo, Wis.
Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), ecologist, environmentalist, scientist, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, founder of The Wilderness Society, and author of A Sand County Almanac, was and continues to be an influential thought leader on the land ethic. Students read excerpts from A Sand County Almanac and watched the documentary about Leopold, Greenfire, prior to the visit.
A tour of the Center’s building provided the students with an understanding of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification, a designation given by the U.S. Green Building Council. The building is a net zero energy building, meaning that it generates all the energy it needs to function on site from solar, geo-thermal and energy efficient building techniques.
With an excellent tour guide/docent, students walked along a path to the Leopold Shack and Farm and learned more about the land ethic, the Leopold family’s strong connection, love and dedication to ‘bring back’ the land from its over-farmed and taxed state to the natural communities that once thrived in the location. Sitting in Leopold’s small shack, walking his land and learning the values and belief system that drove Aldo Leopold’s life work connected the students in a way that adds new depth to classroom instruction.
A true interdisciplinary and 360° learning experience, Sustainability Learning Community students are taking three courses in common: Energy and Society taught by Prof. John Katers; Introduction to Philosophy taught by Associate Prof. Chris Martin; and, Business and Its Environment taught by Senior Lecturer Don McCartney. Participants come together in a common discussion section on Fridays with all three instructors taking part as they look deeper at the materials being covered in each course through the lens of sustainability. With a field trip that covered a most modern renewable energy technology and an environmental icon’s thinking of how humans and the land on which they live might coexist, students gained new perspectives to consider in their own relationship to the environment.
Written over 65 years ago, here are some Aldo Leopold quotes that seen to apply equally today:
“Civilization has so cluttered this elemental man-earth relationship with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry.” — A Sand County Almanac: With Other Essays on Conservation from Round River
“Cease being intimidated by the argument that a right action is impossible because it does not yield maximum profits, or that a wrong action is to be condoned because it pays.” — A Sand County Alamanac
“Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching — even when doing the wrong this is legal.”
“But wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: Our bigger-and-better society is now like hypochondria, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy …. Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.”
Read more information on the Aldo Leopold Center.