Devil Fish

The Block Schedule and the Consumer Versus the Citizen
by Emma Kelley -- January 29th, 2015

Here in Beaufort, we are all settled into our final spring semester at the Nicholas School. For the second-year CEMs at the Duke Marine Lab, this last spring will be a bit different. We’re on a block schedule. This means each student will take up to four classes, one at a time, each lasting about a month. As a student who has never experienced a block schedule before, I love it. It’s very different only having one course to focus on. With that said, the workload of a normal, semester-long class has been condensed down into a month, so we’re all pretty busy.

Not to worry! I still had a bit of time to get outside and enjoy the sunny weather we had last week.

mud flats

The view from the end of Front Street, looking out over the mudflats at low tide. Photo Credit: Emma Kelley

During this first block, I’m in Conservation and Development with Lisa Campbell. After taking Lisa’s Political Ecology course last semester, I was not going to miss another opportunity to learn from her. She’s a fantastic instructor who gives directed feedback to each of us, which has helped me grow as a student – something I did not expect to happen during my final year of graduate school. We’re well into our third week of the course, with our final exam due the first Friday in February. I told you the classes were short!

The course has covered interesting topics, starting with a general introduction to conservation and development, followed by an exploration of the environmental discourses: survivalism, green consciousness, economic rationalism and green politics, just to name a few.

During these lectures, an interesting discussion developed on the idea of the Consumer versus the Citizen. Here’s the basic scenario: A development company is interested in building a ski resort in a pristine forest. Would you support the resort being built in the first place? What if the resort already existed? Would you go there? Would you accept an all-expenses-paid visit there?

These questions provoked some thought for me. Like the majority of my classmates, I would not support a resort being built at the expense of the forest. In my opinion, we already have plenty of ski lodges and resorts (keep in mind, I’m a terrible skier). With that said, if the ski resort already existed, I would probably use it. In fact, I have – I’ve been skiing with my family at lodges that must have required cutting down forests.

I’ve encountered this dilemma more frequently in the tropics. For example, I would not support the coastal development of mangrove ecosystems on small islands to support tourism; however, I’ve traveled out to more than a few islands as a tourist and seen remnants of the mangroves that once stood where my favorite hostel is now (remember Caye Caulker?).

This is the debate between The Citizen and The Consumer. As citizens, we have certain values. Mine include the sustainable use of environmental resources. Based on these values, we may or may not support certain activities, such as the destruction of a forest for a ski lodge or the cutting of mangroves to develop a small island. As consumers, we want goods, and usually we want them at the lowest price possible. As a consumer, I might like to go skiing or stay in a hostel on an island and I shop around to find the lowest price I can do this for.

The best solution I can offer to this dilemma is to find a balance. As a simple example, the consumer in me wants a cup of coffee every morning and my favorite place to get one is Dunkin Donuts. The citizen in me can strike a deal with the consumer. I’ll buy my beloved cup of joe, but I’ll put it in my reusable mug. As a student in the MEM program, I see my classmates make these trade-offs daily. Many students walk or ride their bikes to class, but may have a car for longer trips. Some of us may eat fish, but are aware of what kind of fish we’re eating and how it was caught. Everyone has to find this balance for him or herself. Good luck!

Stay posted for exciting blogs this semester. I’ll be returning to Belize in March, but I’ll also be traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico to study community based environmental management. At the very end of this semester, I’ll be off to Gabon to study tropical ecology and conservation. It’s going to be a wonderful spring!

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