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First Look: An Excerpt from PLANTING AN IDEA


Just Think About It

Why write this book? And why now? For us, as environmentalists, the answers to these questions are black and white. From our perspective, we are at a critical time in the history of our planet. We are at a tipping point that is leaning toward disaster. But we also believe that we can stand up for the environment, and we can straighten out this calamity.

To some, this response might sound a bit—perhaps a lot—optimistic. But it is vital. In the planet’s long history, concern for the natural environment has never been more important. Today, a strong argument can be made that no corner of the globe is immune from environmental degradation, as evidenced by widespread climate change impacts. Across the world, we face water quality and quantity concerns, land use conflict, air quality degradation, rampant species loss, and food insecurity.

As a result, we are calling for bold collective action based on facts that inform critical and creative thinking about solutions. But we greenies cannot do this alone. We need people from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds; of different genders, ages, educational background, and affiliations; and diversity in all areas of human nature. We are at a time when policy makers, politicians, environmental organizations, and individuals must work ever harder and together to protect the future for our grandchildren and the generations who follow.

Yet, never in our lifetimes have we seen such dramatic divisions between those who want to protect the environment and those who wish to exploit it for its monetary return. In the 1960s, when environmental protection was a topic for widespread discussion and action, both conservatives and liberals worked together to fashion legislation to improve and protect water, air, land, and wild creatures.

Since the Great Recession (2007–2009), policy makers have taken sides—often extreme sides. On one side are certain conservatives who view the environment as an impediment to economic development and job creation. On the other side are certain liberals who wish to protect the environment at all costs. The two groups are at loggerheads, with considerable emotion and strong opinions shared and debated, often with the facts of the matter ignored or manipulated to fit a particular point of view.

What is needed, in our judgment, is for both groups to stand back and examine their basic beliefs and values about the environment and do some critical and creative thinking, followed by action. We also need long-term planning that ensures environmental and economic policies are centered around health needs—both ours and the planet’s.

While we come from different genders, educational backgrounds (Natasha has studied mass communications and biology, and Jerry holds a PhD in education and rural sociology), life experiences, and generations, we agree that thinking without action accomplishes little. And action without careful thinking is dangerous and often futile.

Aside from the various groups that have taken sides for and against the environment, each one of us, every last person, has an individual responsibility for caring for the environment. Belonging to an environmental group is a good idea. But concern for the environment goes beyond concerned groups. It is everyone’s responsibility, whether working alone or working with others.

We don’t mean taking some willy-nilly action without first examining the position you are taking. It does not mean joining a group that appears to agree with your position when you have not carefully examined what your position is.

This book is designed to help you figure out what your position is on a particular environmental problem, and ultimately not only know that position but also help provide evidence to back up your position. And not just any evidence, but accurate, verifiable evidence from reputable, reliable sources. So, in a way this is a guidebook for examining, and thinking critically and creatively about the important environmental problems that face our planet today.

We have both contributed to each chapter of this book, but have divided up the primary writing responsibilities for those chapters based on our experiences and expertise. Here is the lineup of who was the primary author for which chapter.

For chapter 1 (“The Environmental Movement: Providing a Brief History”), Jerry has set the stage by writing a brief history of the environmental movement and how we’ve gotten to where we are today regarding the country’s concern, or lack of concern, for environmental problems. For chapters 2 (“All About Thinking: Evaluating How You Know What You Know”) and 3 (“A Game Changer: Combining Critical and Creative Thinking”), Jerry delves into the meaning of, and how to do critical and creative thinking. We believe that by carefully examining environmental problems through the lenses of these two types of thinking, progress can be made in helping solve many of the issues facing our natural environment today. Jerry is also the lead author for chapter 5 (“Agriculture: Growing from a Complex History, Facing an Uncertain Future”), as well as chapters 6 (“Forests: Discovering Deep Roots and Branching Out”), 7 (“Water: Riding a Wave of Complex Issues”) and 8 (“Energy: Building Up Steam for Sustainability”).

Natasha wrote chapters 4 (“Climate Change: Finding Our House Is on Fire”), 9 (“Air Quality: Finding It’s Too Soon to Breathe a Sigh of Relief”), 10 (“Natural Resource Issues: Where Enjoying Meets Exploiting”), 11 (“Land Use: Seeing the Need for Resilient Road Mapping”), 12 (“Endangered Species: Going, Going, Gone”), and 13 (Biodiversity: Protecting Healthy Ecosystems).

We share the writing of this introduction and the concluding chapter (“Just the Beginning”). There is an extensive references section, with books that describe in great detail how to do both critical and creative thinking, as well as books that tackle the various challenges currently facing the natural environment.

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