Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

HOME PAGE                             
    Philosophy and Religion
    Ethics, Moral Issues, the Law
    The Environment

On Politics
    The Crisis
    Foreign Relations, War, Peace
    The Media
    The Elections
    Civil Liberties and Dissent
    Republicans & the Right
    Democrats & the Left
    Lies, Propaganda & Corruption
    Culture War & Religious Right
    Coup d'Etat, 2000

Published Papers

Unpublished Papers

Reviews, Lectures, etc.    

Internet Publications


Lecture Topics

Conscience of a Progressive
    (A Book in Progress)

A Dim View of Libertarianism

Rawls and the Duty to Posterity
    (Doctoral Dissertation)

The Ecology Project

For Environmental Educators

The Russian Environment

    (Critiques of Post Modernism)

Notes from the Brink
    (Peace Studies)

The Gadfly's Bio Sketch

The Gadfly's Publications

The Online Gadfly: Editorial Policy

The Gadfly's E-Mail: gadfly@igc.org

Classical Guitar:
"The Other Profession




Wapalanne: A Glance Back,

and Guidelines for the Future

Ernest Partridge

October, 1999

During Easter weekend in 1949, The Gadfly, then a young schoolboy, visited the site of an old CCC camp in Stokes State Forest in northwestern New Jersey. He was brought to that site by his father, the President of Montclair State College, who was to establish there the New Jersey School of Conservation. In the fifty years which were to follow, the School has served over a quarter million students and teachers.

On October 17, 1999, The Gadfly had the privilege of presenting at the School of Conservation the following keynote to the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of its founding.  (The first section is excerpted from "Wapalanne: Contrasts and Continuities," Journal of Environmental Education, Summer, 1982. Portions of the remainder were "borrowed" from the two Hulings lectures and "Yes Virginia, there is a Real World," on the safe assumption that the audience was not acquainted with these unpublished items. We apologize to our readers who might thus experience deja vu "all over again").


To tell the truth it didn't look like much that Easter weekend of 1949 - our first encounter with the old Skellinger farm and the CCC camp at Lake Wapalanne. Too late in the winter season for the crisp clean mantle of snow and too early for even a hint of the coming spring, neither the weather nor the season had arranged an auspicious introduction. Slabs of broken ice quilted the lake; clods of old windblown snow and drab patches of weedy turf marked the overgrown fields. A gray sheet of sky and gust of bone chilling wind reminded us of nature's indifference to our arrival.

Then there were the buildings. On the near side of the lake we found rows of standard, government issue, pine clapboard barracks abandoned by the CCC crews.

"What's all this?" asked the bewildered teen-ager.

"The college is going to set up a camp next summer," replied his father, the director-designate.


The director's assenting disappointment was ill-concealed by his silence.

As another cold breeze chilled his bones, the teen-ager stamped his feet, buttoned his collar, and shoved his hands deeper into his coat pockets. The very last thing on his mind that day was that he might some day be addressing the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the School of Conservation.

The initial letdown was eased somewhat when we inspected the other side of the lake. There, the buildings were thoughtfully placed alongside the mountain, away from the busy road and on the quiet arm of the lake, carefully crafted and sited to have minimum physical and visual impact upon the natural environment. We began to suspect that the place might have possibilities after all.

Two months later, on Memorial Day weekend, nature had performed her routine annual miracle. With the oaks, maples, birches, lindens, and beeches leafed out, the cabins receded into the woods. In this context of life renewed and life in process, nature was prepared to offer her lessons - much more to the point, we were ready to learn. The most profound and enduring lessons, we were to discover, were not in the curriculum.

During those first few years, the founding director -- correction, the co-directors, De and Nell Partridge -- and his staff set themselves to the tasks of building a field campus, a curriculum, and a tradition. Significant parts of those tasks were "rebuilding," "unbuilding," and "non-building" as some CCC structures were landscaped and redesigned, the row barracks were razed and their sites returned to the forest and temptingly "developable" plots were deliberately left in their natural state. The initial shock of disappointment was forgotten as the attractive campus evolved on the field side of Lake Wapalanne. The curriculum was built out of the accumulation insight, experience, and, be sure, trials and occasional errors of the staff and students. The building of the traditions was unplanned - and irresistible. Traditions thus built are the only traditions worth having.

In August of 1977, after a decade of absence, I returned for a visit. After a warm greeting and briefing, Director John Kirk wisely left me with my leisure time, my good two feet, and my memories. The greatest changes, I gratefully discovered, were wrought by nature, not by developers. The wooded, residential side of the lake seemed indistinguishable from what I had known decades before. On the field side, nature's work was more evident. The trees at Piney Point, planted by the CCC, were approaching maturity. A previously footworn meadow, now sectioned off, was displaying plant succession and hosting a rich variety of wildlife. And the forest's repair of the site of the row barracks promised a climax stage that would deceive the most acute archeological eye.

Nature was also politely altered to make room for a few additions. Noteworthy among them was a carriage house, first built in 1813 and saved from a farm believed to be doomed to inundation by the subsequently deauthorized Tocks Island Dam. After patient negotiations, Director John Kirk arranged to have a group of Montclair State College Industrial Arts students dismantle and move the building, and then, using pegs and pioneer tools, meticulously match the 5000 pieces and reassemble the structure at the edge of the activities field. No state appropriation could have accomplished what devoted attention and persistence brought to that site. And across from the carriage house, but a bee-line spanning the activities field and, in a sense, the history of the school, stood "Chief's," the craft house - a sow's-ear of a CCC shack, transformed in those early years into a silk purse of a cabin by the skilled and dedicated old hands of the late Joseph "Chief" D'Angola.


If the founding Director [DeAlton Partridge] were here tonight, he would be getting impatient with his son. "Enough of this looking back," he would say. "What of the future? After all, that's where all of you will live the rest of our lives! Besides, after all that we invested in your education, surely we are entitled to some of your philosophical reflections on environmental ethics and education."

Very well, I will try not to disappoint the shade of De Partridge.

Tonight I propose to you that a sound environmental education should address the following five themes. Surely more, but these at least:

  • Homo Sapiens is a natural species.

  • Homo Sapiens is a species with a difference: Moral Agency.

  • Science and scholarship are the best means of finding truths - but not all truth.

  • The virtues of humility and tolerance are vices in excess.

  • That which can best be learned in the outdoors, should there be taught. (L. B. Sharp)..

Homo Sapiens is a Natural Species.

Now that even the Pope has given Charles Darwin absolution and has accepted evolution, it behooves us to seriously consider the implications of our natural endowment.

I submit that our naturalness is beyond reasonable dispute. We breath natural air, we are nourished by natural food, we respond naturally to the rhythms of life, and eventually give back to the earth the matter which it gave to us.

And yet the larger significance of our naturalness has only recently been examined in depth and with appreciation. The biologist, Hugh Iltis writes that "like the need for love, the need for [the] diversity and beauty [of nature] has a genetic basis." He continues:

... the best environment is one in which the human animal can have maximum contact with the type of natural environment in which it evolved and for which it is genetically programmed without sacrificing the major advantages of civilization... Every basic adaptation of the human body, be it the ear, the eye, the brain, yes, even our psyche, demands for proper functioning access to an environment similar, at least, to the one in which these structures evolved through natural selection over the past 100 million years.(2)

More recently, the eminent Harvard biologist, Edward O. Wilson, has given the theory the name of "biophilia. He writes:

The brain evolved into its present form over a period of about two million years, from the time of Homo Habilis to the late stone age of Homo sapiens, during which people existed in hunter-gatherer bands in intimate contact with the natural environment. Snakes mattered. The smell of water, the hum of a bee, the directional bend of a plant stalk mattered. The naturalist's trance was adaptive: the glimpse of one small animal hidden in the grass could make the difference between eating and going hungry in the evening. And a sweet sense of horror, the shivery fascination with monsters and creeping forms that so delights us today even in the sterile hearts of the cities, could see you through to the next morning... Although the evidence is far from all in, the brain appears to have kept its old capacities, its channeled quickness. We stay alert and alive in the vanished forests of the world.(3)

Biophilia lends depth and credence to the notion that we are natural creatures, for it adds to the unquestioned biotic requirements for human life, the intriguing notion that nature is required to satisfy genetically programmed emotional and psychological needs as well -- since, as Iltis suggests, nature has selected our genes.

But the "nature" that effected this selection, is a nature that is fast disappearing due to our carelessness and greed, so that we may at length find ourselves in world to which we are ill-adapted. Thus it may be a deadly error to treat nature solely as a mere resource for our use, for to do so is to commit the deadly sin of pride -- the hubris of regarding our artificial needs as of more fundamental value than the nature which, in fact, is continuous with ourselves. Science tells us otherwise. We are nature, and nature is us -- "the world is our body."

However, an environmental ethic based exclusively upon the principle of human naturalism to the exclusion of the next principle, moral agency, will demoralize and devalue our humanity. If we, like the late B. F. Skinner, contend that we are different from his laboratory rats only in degree, and not in kind - that we are in toto the sum of our "contingencies of reinforcement" - then we must conclude, like this behaviorist, that we are "beyond" (he should have said beneath) "freedom and dignity."

Homo Sapiens is a species with a difference: Moral Agency.

Mark Twain once said that "Man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to." That observation was more wisdom than wit. Blushing is a response to the moral sentiments of shame and guilt. These sentiments, along with the positive sentiments of pride and approbation, issue from our concept of self and from our knowledge of good and evil - from the bite of Eve's apple.

We blush, and need to, because we evaluate. We rank things as good or better, as bad or worse. And when we evaluate morally, we evaluate ourselves and other selves. Our capacity to evaluate, combined with the knowledge discovered by our sciences and the capacities gained by our technology, place upon us the inalienable and portentous burden of moral responsibility.

Accordingly, to affirm that we are natural creatures, and then to say no more, is to utter a pernicious half-truth. For we are natural creatures with a difference: we are creatures who have evolved through and past a momentous transformation -- the transformation into moral agency. Through our acquisition of articulate syntactic language, and our accumulation of culture, we have become self-conscious, deliberative, and thus responsible for our behavior. Our religious traditions refer to this endowment as "possessing a soul." In this sense we are, to the best of our knowledge, unique in this regard. Thus, while we might "retrain" disobedient animals, we do not hold them morally responsible and put them on trial. Because this claim of the uniqueness of moral agency to our species has provoked many long and stimulating discussions in my classes, I am eager to make myself clear.

By "moral agency" I mean a cluster of capacities, including:

  • sentience, or the ability to feel pain (shared with many animals)

  • consciousness of external objects and events.

  • reasoning -- the ability to solve problems.

  • self-motivated activity.

  • the capacity to communicate through the use of a complete, syntactic system of significant symbols (i.e., a language).

  • a concept of oneself as a being continuing through time.

  • a capacity to conceptualize and choose among alternative futures.

  • a capacity to act on principle -- to deliberately govern one's behavior according to rules.

  • recognition of the personhood of other persons.

Notice that there is no mention here of biological concepts such as species membership. There is thus no logical reason why aliens or machines might not also be moral agents. The "Star Trek" series is lavishly populated by alien and cybernetic "persons" such as "Worf" and "Data." And we may yet discover that dolphins or other creatures are moral agents. Given the above list of criteria, we know how to recognize them if we find them.

The significance of moral agency can scarcely be overstated, for on a planet without moral agents, there are no rights, no duties, no justice, no virtue or vice, and no responsibility, though on a personless planet with a flourishing ecosystem and sentient beings, there will be values and value-potentials.

With our acquisition of moral agency, we have also acquired the capacity to recognize, celebrate, enhance nature, and thus the responsibility to protect and preserve the natural values around us. We should be ever mindful that with these capacities for recognition, knowledge and celebration comes the burden of responsibility. For as we come to recognize the value in nature, we also recognize its vulnerability. We are responsible for nature because our science has given us some understanding of the processes at work in nature, and our technology has given us the capacity and thus the choice either to preserve or destroy our natural estate. And finally, as noted earlier, we recognize the values within nature. These four conditions, knowledge, capacity, choice and value significance, entail our morally responsibility.

Responsibility, let us remember, is a burden, since, given knowledge and capacity, the choice to do nothing is a dereliction; having taken up the burden of responsibility for nature, we are not morally permitted to set it down again.

So we are both natural, along with our brother creatures, and unique in our possession of the capacities which define our moral agency. I daresay that the gravest errors in environmental ethics arise from the failure to acknowledge and incorporate both our naturalness and our agency into a system of ethics -- to settle for either half of this full truth. On the one hand, by "denaturalizing" ourselves we give ourselves license to objectify, and thus to utilize and exploit, the nature "out there." On the other hand, by depersonalizing ourselves, we divest ourselves of moral responsibility for nature, for we thus come to regard ourselves as "objects" totally captivated by and helpless in the stream of "natural" cause and effect.

Science and scholarship are the best means of finding truths - but not all truth.

With a tone of dogmatism unbecoming a philosopher, I would propose to you that science is the crowning achievement of Western civilization. In science, humanity has, at last, come upon a super-personal and super-cultural modality for discovering, verifying and accumulating objective knowledge of the natural world in its chemical, physical, biotic and cultural manifestations.(4) Unlike the dogmas which it supplants, science is public (i.e., its procedures are explicit and its experiments replicable), it is cumulative, it is self-correcting, and it is, in principle, fallible. That last quality, fallibility, which sounds more like a weakness than an asset, deserves special mention. It simply states that no hypothesis has scientific credibility unless we can describe precisely what it would be like for it to be false -- unless, as the jargon goes, it is "falsifiable in principle." In other words, scientific verification, as Sir Karl Popper so brilliantly put it, consists in a relentless but failed attempt to disconfirm a hypothesis which could easily be seen to be wrong, if only the world were not the way it is. This quality of fallibility thus builds a foundation for humility into the very methodology of science -- a humility which is often overlooked by scientists when they exit their laboratories to make bold pronouncements on public policy. Science is not arrogant, although there are some scientists who are.

In the face of these manifest strengths, the philosopher has long-since ceased to be a rival of science and has, instead, become its admirer, commentator and collaborator. In addition, the artist, the historian, and the humanistic scholar all have an important role to play in the advancement of science, for art, intuition, literary perspective and practical experience have all proven to be extra-scientific sources of scientific insight. For example, James D. Watson reports that his childhood encounter with the staircase in a New England lighthouse led him to the double-helix model of the DNA molecule. And we all know about Newton and his apple. But extra-scientific insight is one thing, and scientific verification is quite another, and it is an essential objective of both scientific and liberal arts education to understand the distinction.

But if science is the crowning achievement of our civilization, then the technology born of science is the greatest threat to that civilization. For technology, which has enriched and extended our lives beyond calculation, now threatens us with either the bang of nuclear annihilation or the whimper of ecological collapse. Through the cumulative insights of a few geniuses and the piecemeal work of an army of ordinary men and women extraordinarily trained, science has transformed our world and our world-view. And because our moral vision and social institutions have proven to be woefully unequal to this accomplishment, scientific technology, fueled by our greed and acquisitiveness, threatens us all.

If, through recognizing the technological threat to the natural world, we elect to turn our backs on science, we will be making a grave tactical and even moral miscalculation. For if the champions of ecological sustainability and environmental morality turn their backs on science, they will surrender the field of debate and public policy to their adversaries, and hand over their most powerful weapon in defense of nature and the future. As we noted, science does not entail arrogance: the arrogant feed selectively on science, and they ultimately subvert science. Scientific knowledge, combined with an acknowledgment of human incapacity, leads not to arrogance but to humility and forbearance. It was the emerging science of wildlife management that taught Aldo Leopold his Land Ethic. Hard science combined with literary skill in the hands of Rachel Carson slowed the chemical assault upon the biotic community. List the most significant figures in the environmental movement and the most robust arguments in behalf of environmental restraint and sustainability, and you will encounter the names of scientists such as Aldo Leopold, Barry Commoner, Garrett Hardin, Paul Ehrlich, Rachel Carson, Edward Wilson, and James Lovelock. Clearly, scientific evidence and methodology provide us the strongest foundation for the case for environmental responsibility which we present before our fellow citizens and our legislators.

However, science does not encompass all knowledge. Science, born of particular observation, is abstract, general and theoretical. Literature and art informs and inspires through particulars. And science, by its fundamental rules, is value free in content (though not in methodology - a point which I cannot elaborate here). Therefore, since science cannot of itself yield ethical conclusions, it cannot, of itself, settle policy questions. It cannot do these things not because science has failed to master these fields of human inquiry but because the very logic and language of science forbids it. What science does, it does supremely well. What science does not do, namely evaluate, it forbears due to the rules and the conceptual vocabulary of the scientific enterprise.(5)

The virtues of humility and tolerance are vices in excess. (Aristotle).

Here I speak of an alarming development in education and scholarship: "post-modernism," also known as "deconstruction." This attitude, however, is scarcely new. It is the same sort of radical relativism and skepticism that were rampant among the sophists in the time of Plato, and ever since.

It seems that one cannot teach the humanities in any institution of higher learning, except perhaps a seminary, without encountering that universal undergraduate shrug, "Who are we to say?" For example, I have often asked my students, "Is it true, as the seers of India claimed, that the Earth rests on the back of an elephant?" "Well," they reply, "its true for them!" That response, affirming what is not at issue, namely the existence of an ancient belief system, totally evades the issue and even the concept of objective truth. Or again, "The ancient Aztecs thought it was their civic duty to sacrifice their first-born sons to the Sun God. Was this Good?" Reply: "Well, it was good for them!" Again, while we agree that the Aztecs approved of sacrifice, the relativist abolishes the issue of morality by fiat -- paradoxically exhibiting a kind of dogmatism by means of relativism.

Unfair? Then consider these authentic questions and remarks from students at an "environmental college" that I recently served:

  • "Perhaps it is only our thinking that makes things real. For example, how do we know that the earth was round before we devised the thought that it was not flat? Do concepts such as gravity exist only because we think them real?"

  • "Wouldn't reality be what each individual perceives as being real?"

  • "If I make the statement, "I know," then I know. Why would someone make the statement if they didn't?"

  • "Isn't reality what is real to us, even if it isn't accurate scientifically?"

  • "Don't questions of morality have to be answered by how people actually feel?"

  • "If a person does something which he or she believes to be morally right, is it so?" 

  • "Even if psychic visions are self delusions, wouldn't that make them real and true for the people experiencing them? And if so, wouldn't this count as knowledge for them?"

  • "How can you prove or disprove a [psychic] channeler's "knowledge" if s/he believes it? It is true for him/her and it is justified for him or her. Is one's subjective experience enough to know something?"

When I encounter such radical relativism and skepticism, I think of Aristotle's ethics, wherein virtue in excess can become a vice. From this perspective, an exuberant youthful rejection of dogma combined with an unconstrained embrace of the virtues of humility and tolerance, can lead to a denial of all knowledge, and of all grounds for preferring one course of action to another -- which is to say, a morality. But of course, radical relativism and skepticism are more than undesirable: they are impossible. The most determined skeptic applies the brake, not the accelerator, when he chooses to stop his vehicle, and everyone has some pattern to his preferences, which is to say at least a rudimentary ethic.

Need such radical relativism concern us, as environmental educators? I submit that it should. As a referee for a few educational journals, I frequently encounter radical relativism in its current guise -- as "deconstruction." It appears that more than a few scholarly camp-followers seem to think that relativism is still the "in thing" to do.

Recently I refereed (and rejected, of course), a strange piece (but, alas, not untypical), which contended that "post-modernism" was just the thing for training "environmental leaders and educators." So as to leave no doubt where he or she stood (it was a blind review), the author opened with this remarkable quotation from Paulo Friere: "Education ... denies that the world exists as a reality apart from men." I demurred, of course:

Suffice it to say that "post modernism" has little to offer environmental educators, seeking to prepare their students to deal with the environmental crisis. Quite the contrary. According to the author of this piece, no warnings about the deteriorating condition of the natural environment -- pollution, extinction, population -- are to be taken seriously, since no such "stories" are to be regarded as "truer" than the reassurances of the cornucopians.  Scientific expertise, we are advised, must be dismissed as "oppression." "The Land Ethic" and the ecological conscience, by this account, can claim no moral superiority over the views of the most ruthless exploiter and polluter, since these are all "valuable contributions to be respected," and values are not to be evaluated, much less criticized and rejected, only "clarified." [Quoted words are those used by the author].

There is a different view which, I submit, the environmental educator should defend: namely, that it is his task to present hard data from an independent real word -- data about conditions that threaten the biotic foundations of our very lives, and the shared and mutually validated values of our culture and tradition -- conditions which demand intelligent, principled and collective (which is to say political) action. The so-called "environmental leaders" emerging from the program sketched in this paper offer our endangered species, and its coming generation, not a shred of scientific, technical, or moral foundation for their putative "leadership."

"Deconstruction" promotes the disease of which environmental education should be the cure. Educators should be the curators of all that is precious in our civilization, and worthy of transmission on to the next generation: our sciences, our arts, our literature, and yes, our loyalty to the planet. The approach to "environmental education" presented here deprives us of any grounds whatever upon which to identify and cherish our heritage, or to regard it as of any value to our students.

Of late, I have become much more tolerant of radical relativism and skepticism, as I have come to regard them a useful stages in intellectual growth -- awkward, painful, but instructive nonetheless. But let us be alert: there is a danger that by opening one's mind, one's brains may evaporate. Radical skepticism and radical relativism, as final states of mind, are not expansions of the intellect: they are abdications of intellectual responsibility and integrity. If they fail to move on, the students' relativistic shrug, "Who are we to say?" is a cop-out -- just a precarious step away from "Frankly, I don't give a damn!" since to give a damn is to have, at least implicitly, an ethic. If I were an exploiter of the Earth I would ask no greater favor than that all my environmentalist enemies be radical relativists. For then my opponents would have no ground whatever on which to stand, and no leverage of argument from which to demand reform. If there is no reform, then things stay just as they are and continue in the same direction, and this is all that the exploiter asks for -- to be left alone.

In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle teaches us that there is a mean between the extremes of dogmatism and relativism. That mean resides in what the American philosopher Charles Peirce called "fallibilism," whereby we claim entitlement to our beliefs if they are grounded in evidence and strong inference, and if we are in principle prepared to admit ourselves wrong in the face of better evidence. The fallibilist position is available to us as we become acquainted with scientific method, with the canons of critical thinking, and come to appreciate the progressive liberation and expansion of the human mind through the course of history. All these lessons and skills are securely sited in the tradition and curriculum of the liberal arts. Fallibilism, which is both a product of liberal education and, as we have seen, a fundamental tenet of scientific method, appropriately liberates us from the opposing traps of close-minded dogmatism and rudderless relativism.

That which can best be learned in the outdoors, should there be taught. (L. B. Sharp).

In a celebrated and oft-quoted letter, Wallace Stegner writes:

Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams... So that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the natural world and competent to belong to it.(7)

Just what will we have lost? Nothing, replies Martin Krieger, in his notorious paper, "What's Wrong With Plastic Trees?" After all, we are "plastic people" -- that is, infinitely malleable. We can adapt to anything, and like it:

My guess is that there is very little wrong with [plastic trees]. Much more can be done with plastic trees and the like to give most people the feeling that they are experiencing nature. We will have to realize that the way in which we experience nature is conditioned by our society...(8)

If Krieger is right, then perhaps Governor Byrne should have shut down this School in the early eighties. And you know I don't believe that!

In rebuttal to Krieger's de-naturalized humanism, we presented the biophilia hypothesis of E. O. Wilson - the contention that, in the words of Hugh Iltis, "like the need for love, the need for nature, the need for its diversity and beauty, has a genetic basis." The biophilia hypothesis is compellingly plausible. If true, it tells us that a human life entirely detached from nature suffers an experiential amputation. Moreover, biophilia bears profound educational implications, for it supports the contention that an artificialized education comprised of abstract and isolated facts, confines the understanding and the imagination. To illustrate this point, consider something as ordinary as a rock.

When tossed on a table in a geology lab, the student will appropriately attack that rock with an iron nail and a piece of glass to determine its hardness, then a couple of drops of HCL to test for calcium, following which he will reach for other diagnostic chemicals, then take it to a water tank to measure its specific gravity, and so on. If he is a competent student, he will correctly identify its mineral content. If he aspires to become a mining engineer or even a concert pianist he will likely have spent the hour most profitably, for he will either have moved closer to professional competency, or will have been "liberally educated" in the methods of scientific analysis.(9)

But let him encounter the same rock where it was found - on a mountain ridge, or by a brook, or on a talus slope at the based of a cliff. Once he has applied the nail, glass and acid, the student might then explore the natural contexts of his discovery, whereupon he will become more than a student of geology. What formation did the rock fall from? What are the immediate neighbors of that formation? Where did they come from? How? When? How do the materials in this rock affect the soil, the plants, and the wildlife of the area? How does the mountain from which it came alter the prevailing weather conditions? How have the wind in his face and the water by his feet carved the mountain to this shape? In the laboratory, the student will duly mark the word "sedimentary" and, if asked the age of the specimen, will put down some digits with several zeros after them. At the site of the discovery, he sees the ripple marks of an ancient sea near the mountain top. Or he looks a thousand feet up a sheer cliff that has been cut by this little river, calm enough now that the can see the trout poking at the bottom. In a book, time and space are abstracted and coded into numbers. In nature, they may be encountered in close interrelationship and with profound implications. Time is manifested in the spatial depth of this canyon. Space is measured by the time the light of that star began its journey to our retina. The immensity of time and space are personal to us in the wilderness: as personal as hiking across or paddling through a canyon. As personal as gazing at the starlight in the moonless mountain night sky.

The rock, encountered where it lay for millions of years, belongs to no department. With it, from it, one feels the immensity of geological time; but one also learns of weather, of plants, and of resources. One sees nature as a community in which a change in one part changes the whole.

Science has enormously and permanently expanded our knowledge of nature. It is a lens and an analytic grid which makes sense of that which, encountered naively, is full of sound and fury, yet signifying nothing. Aldo Leopold makes the point vividly when he contrasts the modern scientist's encounter with nature to that of Daniel Boone, who's reaction to the outdoors

depended not only on the quality of what he saw, but on the quality of the mental eye with which he saw it. Ecological science has wrought a change in the mental eye. It has disclosed origins and functions for what to Boone were only facts. It has disclosed mechanisms for what to Boone were only attributes.... We may safely say that, as compared with the competent ecologist of the present day, Boone saw only the surface of things.(10)

Science, then, is indispensable to our understanding of nature - but it is not, by itself, sufficient. For science is an artificial construct of technical vocabularies, of theoretical structures and of methodologies. To paraphrase the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, the artifice of science without the natural is empty, while nature encountered without scientific hypothesis (or artistic expression) is encountered blindly. Nature is nothing less than the pre-existing and co-existing reality from which the scientist endeavors to abstract his knowledge. And nature is a reality which the artist proposes to interpret and express;. Homo sapiens is necessarily and at times gloriously artificial. However, as we human beings directly encounter, respond to, elaborate, and glorify our natural dimension and estate, our artifice becomes powerful, profound, and marvelous.

Herein I refer to the simple distinction between knowledge and appreciation. Yet the educational implications of that distinction are clear and compelling, and provide a philosophical foundation for outdoor education. We must restore and enhance our contact with the Earth both by understanding the earth through the sciences, and by appreciating the Earth through direct encounter outside our artificial doors. Knowledge is intellectual, and appreciation is the esthetic, emotional and moral supplement to the knowledge that leads to action. The heavy smoker knows that he is taking a risk: appreciation comes too late, with the diagnosis. We know that the tropical rain forests are disappearing at the rate of an acre a second, but do we appreciate it? The National Geographic will teach us that the Grand Canyon is a mile deep and two-hundred miles long; appreciation comes from sitting on the south rim, feet dangling over a thousand feet of sheer drop, looking across to Bright Angel Canyon. Books will tell us of the eras and periods of geological history; appreciation comes as we leave the rim of that canyon and walk down through the strata of frozen time toward the Phantom Ranch in Granite Gorge. Star Trek's Spock and Data have knowledge, but lack appreciation. Captains Kirk and Piccard have both, and thus they are appropriately in command. The same can be said, of course, for Director Kirk.

In my environmental ethics classes and in throughout my publications, I discuss the theory of Biophilia -- the theory that we have a genetically coded affinity with natural landscapes. But it was my own biophilic appreciation, nourished during my youth in these New Jersey forests, and later in the rivers of Colorado, the deserts of Utah and the mountains of California that led me to my career and thence to those classrooms and pages. And it was the same appreciation, nourished in that same Utah and California wilderness, that inspired and motivated the founding directors of this School.

I rather doubt that any amount of scientific knowledge, or scare stories about the consequences of our environmentally evil ways, will suffice to save our natural world and thus ourselves. If we preserve nature, and with it ourselves, it will be due to our love for it and not simply our need of it. And that love must come from direct encounter.

And so we have at last, but by no means least, articulated what is potentially the most important, if insufficiently valued, of your contributions to Education here at the New Jersey School of Conservation: the humanization and activation of knowledge through appreciation.. Sadly, the need of our youth to encounter nature directly is increasing, just as the opportunities, the demand, and the places for such encounters are shrinking. We need in the public, and especially among the youth, a constituency for the earth, and for that we need professional educators to lead the youth away from the tube, out of the classroom, and into nature's realm.. "In wildness," wrote Thoreau, "is the preservation of the world."

May your good work, and that of your students and theirs, continue so long as the rivers run to the sea, and there are moral agents worthy of our good Earth.

Copyright 1999 by Ernest Partridge 


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .