As we worked to define what engagement means to us, as a class, we came to acknowledge it as a search for a co-production of knowledge. Many of us are coming into this class with strong personal opinions that are derived from our unique and diverse backgrounds. These opinions and beliefs may differ from one another and will certainly differ from at least some people in our larger communities including that of Lewis and Clark campus, the city of Portland, and the region of the Pacific NorthWest. It is important to accept the fact that there might be a plurality of truths. It is just as important to accept that other people have beliefs that differ from ours as it is to have a strong handle on our own beliefs and why we believe them. Engagement is the act of having a conversation across differences in order to make strides towards action. It is important to listen to other perspectives in order to reflect on our own. A melding together of principles may be needed in order to compromise on a decision on how to take action.
Hands on Learning
To kick off ENVS295, we started the semester with a two day field trip. During this field trip we had the opportunity to listen to, learn about, and talk with local actors who engage with the environment in different ways. This included, but was not limited to, native peoples of the Columbia River Gorge and the settlers that came after them, current farmers of the land, and members of the US Forest Service. As we got to learn about what was important to these actors there became clear differences of priorities between the different groups. We had the opportunity to see first hand that not every interest group has the same interests. Learning about the different motivations, necessities, and problems that the groups face as they engage with the land in their own unique way makes the reality of diversity clear. The obvious prevalence of diversity forces us to reflect on how people engage with each other in order for their needs to be met.
The US Forest Service gave us a good example of what engagement and collaboration across differences can look like. In order to accommodate the needs and wants of the local, state, federal, and tribal governments they have created the Hood River Forest Collaborative to come together to have discussions about how best to manage the local ecosystems. The collaborative discusses their different interests in wildlife, watershed, land use, recreation, and the timber industry.
In order to come to agreements and decisions the representatives have to find a common interest by putting their egos aside and thinking as a group. Pulling the resources from all the agencies can make achieving goals easier. Conversing with people who truly want to be involved makes working towards a common goal successful even if it’s among people who might have different opinions on how to achieve those goals.
Engagement Beyond the Classroom
I have been exploring what global engagement looks like by taking a close look at Green Empowerment and the work that they do around the world. Green Empowerment is a Portland based NGO whose mission is to implement the means to and create access to clean water and renewable energy in communities across South America and South East Asia. As a third party force in a foreign country it is important that they collaborate with the communities that they are trying to help. Creating infrastructure in countries without the input of locals can quickly become problematic because the actual needs and lifestyles of the beneficiaries can become ignored. Green Empowerment overcomes this by partnering with organizations that are local in the countries that they are working in to make sure that the work they are doing is being implemented in a sustainable, beneficial way. They use their resources to provide technical support, training and education to ensure that the projects that they are implementing can have long term viability.
Engagement Deep Dive
Not everyone agrees on what the best way to engage is. One point of view that we explored in class is that of “effective altruism”. Effective altruism is the idea that charitable giving is the best way to contribute to the most important problems. While participating in effective altruism, one must assess the charities that they are giving to against three criteria. The first criteria is that the issue must be great in scale, meaning that it must affect many people’s lives. Secondly, it must be a highly neglected issue, meaning that not a lot of other people or organizations are working to address it. And Lastly, it must be highly solvable, so that the donated resources will make a large impact and do a great deal to address it.
Effective altruism discourages small action and might lead to smaller, but still very important issues, to be overlooked. With an emphasis on charitable giving, it is exclusionary to people who cannot afford to donate money but still want to help. It can create a sense of moral imperialism because it allows people with money to have decisions about what the most important issues are without necessarily including other voices. This can minimize the struggles of the unrecognized communities.
When thinking about the issue of climate change it is very glaring that, in America, there are many opposing opinions and levels of concern about it. In class we explored a few different ways that these differing ways of thinking can be categorized. One of these ways was “Global Warming’s 6 Americas”. This is a simple multiple choice quiz that, based on your answers, places you into a category based on how alarmed or dismissive you are about the issue of climate change. Looking at the results of our ENVS295 class it seemed like most of my peers were placed in one of the two most worried categories, “alarmed” or “concerned”. It is not surprising to me that most of us are worried about climate change, as it is probably one of the motivating factors for taking a class such as this.
However, the Heterodox Academy, a higher education collaborative, points to the importance of diversity. When having discussions, especially about something controversial like climate change, it is crucial to have representation of different ideological perspectives in order to come up with a comprehensive and inclusive solution. Diversity also encourages creativity in problem solving because it forces people to think through their perspectives thoroughly as they try to express them across difference.
After addressing the many different beliefs that people may hold it was important to address what to do about these differences. We explored a few models such as the deficit model and the framing model, these emphasize the need to educate the masses. However, these models did not prove to be the most comprehensive. Suggesting that the reason that people might disagree with you is simply because they are uneducated is not very inclusive of the potential diversity of backgrounds and experiences that peoples differing beliefs may be rooted in. A dialogical model, though not perfect, is more inclusive. Dialogue involves two way communication, which inherently includes listening to the other person’s point of view and reasoning behind their beliefs. The dialogical approach emphasizes the importance of the sharing of experiences through a conversation towards action in order to create mutual learning.