Maps & Footprints
(Author’s Note: I recently read an estimated 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 do not exist in 2018. That’s only twelve years from now. 12 years! Today’s elementary students and those kids who aren’t even in school yet will face a whole new world and workplace. The way we raise, teach, and prepare the future adults of 2030 must also shift as we bridge the gap between the industrial age and the digital age. Conservation will occupy a fundamental piece in this shift and STEAM will have to rise to the forefront to meet the challenges. Think STEAM literacy and philosophy are important now? Over the next decade, they will become considerably more vital to the education of our young minds. The future that rests in the hands of the kids out in the playground today depends on how we manage our limited resources. We need STEAM thinkers and we need to crank up their STEAM education. It’s up to us to make sure they are ready for the challenges that lie ahead. 12 years will be here in the blink of an eye.)
There are two ways of looking at conservation. Conservation from an ecological point of view means we work to preserve our resources. Animals, plants, land, soil, materials, culture, etc. are generally the common resources targeted by conservationists. In the majority of these cases, these projects are undertaken for either efficiency or ethical reasons. For example, plant and agricultural scientists look to protect the biodiversity of existing foodstuffs by preserving seed varieties deep under the ice, such as at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
The second way to look at conservation is through the physical science lens—the nuts and bolts science that underlies the way our world works. Conservation of mass, energy, and momentum all state that some property (matter, energy, momentum) in an isolated system doesn’t change over time. The old “matter/energy cannot be created or destroyed” principle many can probably recite in their sleep.
Conservation of a system
Our world is an interconnected system. Planet Earth is an isolated system, but we are not isolated within the system. One of the most important thought shifts, as we move forward in the field of conservation, will be to recognize interconnected systems and how the pieces and parts of the system function together.
- How does protecting this one factor affect the entire system?
- How does one behavior cascade down, around, over, under, or through the behavior and well-being of others?
Take an electric car in the year 2018 as an example. Big environmental impact? Not as much as you might think. Sure the emissions are down, which is great.
But how was that electricity generated? Fossil fuels or solar or wind or hydroelectric?
As you can see, the system matters. The conservation issues, both the ecological and the physical parts, must be studied for the entire system in order to develop long-term and successful solutions.
In order to develop long-term solutions to our local and global conservation issues, we need to develop system thinkers. Problem solvers who are able to attack problems from a systemic approach and look at all the parts of the whole.
In short, we as parents, teachers, librarians, authors, and scientists need to develop STEAM thinkers!
Last month, Heather gave us an excellent exercise for making sound maps. I like this exercise both as a writer and as a scientist. It’s a simple, easy, take-it-anywhere method to develop observational skills. This month for a conservation slant, work those observational muscles by repeating the sound map exercise several different times at several different places/locations (Preferably completely different places, like a park, a busy intersection, a mall, a sports event, a pasture). To this map, add additional details of the system. People, cars, workers, stop lights, animals, weather…whatever interacts with this small system you are observing in the time in which you are observing.
Take your detailed map from the above exercise and think about all the observations that were recorded in that system. Now the fun part. Make a list of those moving or static interacting parts and consider the ecological or physical footprint of those parts within your mapped system.
- How are energy and mass being incorporated in this system?
- What story do they tell?
- What are some of the reaching effects happening in this system?
Here’s a quick example from what’s going on outside the laboratory today with a construction crew patching potholes on a busy street leading into a high traffic flow intersection.
- What effect does the construction have on the traffic flow? Traffic congestion.
- How does the intersection system benefit when the construction crew is finished? Improved traffic flow and increased safety due to the poor quality of the road causing vehicles to swerve out of the way of monster pothole leading into the busy intersection.
- What’s the economic impact of the work? The workers make money which they spend at local businesses. They patch that monster pothole and save potential repair costs on hundreds of vehicles that pass that way every hour. The area businesses around the intersection may experience a temporary lull in business due to the construction which will return to normal quickly.
- What’s their environmental impact? The trucks and asphalt produce harmful emissions in their use and disposal but traffic flows smoother which allows travelers to reach their destinations within the system more efficiently.
What are points to consider as conservation efforts move forward taking into account the systemic effects?
Laws of supply and demand. The economics of conservation is perhaps the single most important force either blocking or promoting conservation efforts. Economics from both the supply side and the demand side are important pieces of the puzzle that need respect and consideration in the solutions
Management and design. Great strides have been taken over the past few decades in these facets of conservation. Smarter buildings, transportation systems, and energy production have made and will make a difference. But these things take time and money so patience and persistence are important.
Saving the planet vs saving ourselves. We need to get a little selfish but in a smart way. Conservation, at its core, is about us protecting the things important to our survival and wellness as a species. Our needs, our values, and our histories all matter. The planet will probably be here long after we’re gone, let’s make sure we don’t force ourselves out before our time.
Matter and energy in a finite system are neither created or destroyed. This is something we’ve been taught in about every physical science class since our latter elementary school days. We’ve heard it so many times, we probably don’t even consider its power and its importance in the field of conservation. Perhaps, it’s time for the Laws of Conservation of Matter and Energy to step outside the classroom and into the minds of every action we take.
In a finite system, we only have so much of a resource so we need responsible and system-sensitive solutions to conserve and/or replenish these resources. We need a STEAM generation that understands the systems and can develop solutions to improve conservation with the entire system in mind.
The goal is to develop a STEM/STEAM generation that pays attention and understands their maps and their footprints.
THE O.O.L.F. FILES
This month, The Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files look at conservation from several different angles, including systems, space, art, failures, and the laws of conservation.
- Future Out Loud Podcast on the Future of Energy Systems. Former Ford scientist and current energy sustainability researcher Mike Tamor talks about current and future economic and policy challenges associated with local, state, and national energy systems.
- Giving Roots and Shoots Their Space: The Advanced Plant Habitat on the International Space Station’s Advanced Plant Habitat (APH)
- Conservation Laws at Britannica.com
- Conservation of Art pamphlet from the Metropolitan Museum
- Conservation Fails
By MIKE HAYS
Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports-related topics at coachhays.com and writer stuff at mikehaysbooks.com. He can often be found roaming the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.