Natural history once a natural subject, keynote speaker tells environmental symposium
Many children in our age are more likely to recognize a Palm Pilot than a palm tree, said Robert Michael Pyle Thursday at the O.C. Tanner Symposium.
The title of the three-day symposium, which attracted renowned authors and educators from around the country, was "The Search for a Common Language: Environmental Writing and Education," and Pyle was a perfect choice as Thursday's keynote speaker.
Pyle has a doctorate in ecology from Yale, and has authored books on a wide range of subjects, from monarch butterflys to Bigfoot. In addition to writing, Pyle also lectures and teaches to make ends meet. He was a visting professor at USU this semester, teaching two classes that primarily focused on environmental writing.
Pyle's speech drew from an incredible range of sources: from granola bar wrappers to a poem he'd written in the fourth grade to famous writers such as Vladimir Nabokov and Gary Snyder, to cartoon figures Calvin and Hobbes.
Illustrating the declining respect our culture gives to naturalists, Pyle cited a granola bar wrapper that referred to naturalists as pretentious people who head into the wilderness eqipped with portable espresso machines and scare away all wildlife in their vicinity.
Pyle went on to say that the "institutional turning back from natural history," had played a part in creating "an era of immense natural ignorance." He said most people no longer knew the names and addresses of their local plants and animals, but that at one time "everyone was a competent naturalist or died."
One of the huge problems associated with this ignorance, Pyle said, was the way it contributed to the ongoing destruction of the world's ecosystems.
"How do you save something you don't know?" he asked. "People who care, conserve. And people who don't know, don't care."
A local extinction can be just about as bad as a global one, he said, because it creates a loss in direct, intimate experience with nature, which he said was crucial to understanding the natural world.
In closing his speech, Pyle acknowledged that environmental education is facing an uphill battle in many ways, but he quoted fellow writer and symposium speaker, Bill Kittredge, who said, "We must go out, away, into the world with hope."