The environment, how it’s studied at Bowdoin and how Maine is a living laboratory for that endeavor were aspects of a conversation originating on campus and shared with listeners statewide on Maine Public Radio’s interactive call-in program Maine Calling Friday, April 21, 2017.
Before a packed crowd in Smith Auditorium, Sills Hall, a panel comprising three faculty members from disciplines across the spectrum of environmental studies shared insights while answering questions from Maine Public Radio news director and program moderator Keith Shortall ’82, as well as others from members of the live audience and from those asking questions over the phone, email and social media.
“In a way, climate change has sharpened student interest, because it is not only a threat to the biogeophysical systems of the planet, it’s a threat to our very existence,” said Matthew Klingle, associate professor of history and environmental studies, and director of the Environmental Studies Program.
“I think that underscores why we have an environmental studies program at Bowdoin and not an environmental sciences program. It’s important to realize that the humanities ask questions about value, about justice, about beauty, about significance. About how the past touches our lives, shapes us in the present and points to possible futures,” Klingle said, adding, “Environmental studies is the epitome of the liberal arts because it brings everything together around these questions that concern us and concern the entire planet.”
Maine’s geographical position on the edge of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem gives Bowdoin faculty and students a front-row seat to the ocean climate change happening in this living laboratory.
“If you just look at the water temperature, that changes about .23 degrees Celsius per year in the last ten years,” said Dave Carlon, associate professor of biology and director of the Coastal Studies Center.
“You might not think that’s a big deal, but that’s water temperature, which tends to change very slowly, so as a consequence there’s a lot of action going on. There’s a lot of movement of animals in the Gulf of Maine. Things are moving north, things are moving to deeper water, and with really strong economic impacts.”
With these changes come opportunities to teach and to learn, which manifest in marvelous experiences for students, says Environmental Studies Program Manager Eileen Johnson, as they enter into working partnerships with agencies dealing with issues such as sea level rise.
“Because in addition to the natural resources we have the human resources of many, many environmental professionals that have been incredible mentors for our students, and we like to create those partnerships and, as an institution, contribute to them.”
In the course of the conversation, the faculty members spoke of Bowdoin’s two field stations — the Coastal Studies Center on Harpswell Sound and the Bowdoin Scientific Station at Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy, “where you can live in an ecological Shangri-La,” said Carlon.