Day Eight (Jan. 25) – A Fortunate Observer’s Comments

7 days with an accomplished group of Duke Environmental Management grad students deserves a commentary. Being the fly on the wall with this bunch is like a happy flea on a dog’s back. I’ve got a great seat, lots of entertainment and plenty of food (for thought). Not only are they fun and curious, they are respectful, serious about their work and their passions and full of energy. What is a person who just started shoulder rehab a month ago doing in a bowling alley with 14 youthful, healthy friends? Why she keeps score so they can bowl without distraction. Besides, not only did she realize she had no true strength to get the ball to the end of the lane without guttering it, she forgot to bring socks for the oft used bowling shoes she was using!

Policing for marine debris exposed old US Naval trash dump under albatross nesting grounds near runway.
Policing for marine debris exposed old US Naval trash dump under albatross nesting grounds near runway.

As an observer participant on this remarkable journey and as a long-time member of Duke’s School of the Environment board of visitors, watching the program evolve and participating in that evolution over my 18 years, what keeps me involved and committed is the value I see that this program adds to addressing the burning environmental conundrums we all face as world citizens. If we as a country see ourselves as leaders then we need to admit we are also the leaders in consumption and sometimes thoughtless, destruction of natural resources. It follows then that to be the leaders in defining the problems this creates for the world as well as to be leaders in designing solutions, addressing the multiple trade-offs these present and training the leaders of consequence to make this happen. Duke’s environmental mission is alive and well in Midway.

The research professors, associate professors and the profoundly intelligent and committed students I see at work each time I am in a meeting, masters presentation, field trip, seminar or even over a meal reinforce my belief in the importance of what  this Duke program is doing to train leaders of consequence to ensure a sustainable future for ourselves and those who follow in this devilishly complex endeavor.

Here in the Main Hawaiian and Northern Hawaiian Islands we see the overlay of many competing agendas that come into play when addressing and prioritizing the claims and needs of plant species, mammals, birds, apex predators (humans being the apex of the apex), politics, strategic security, history, cultural traditions, jurisdictional claims and economic constraints and demands. The challenge is far too large for any one manager to tackle alone. The collaboration and education it will take to make places such as this work is monumental. But this stretch of water, land and atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean can be an evolving solution laboratory for many water/land puzzles wherever they might exist on earth.

The impressive young people who are on this trip (and their teachers) are our earth’s emerging leaders and as I watch and listen to them work, discuss, learn, question and inspire one another, I am excited to think that this earth is soon going to be in their caring and capable hands. The high level of excellence, energy, thoughtful inquiry, concern, joy, seriousness, and focus abiding in these Duke students needs to be applauded and supported in every way possible. They are not afraid to challenge convention, question people in power, suggest alternative directions—all supported by hard science, research and earnest investigation. The thoughtfulness of their inquiries is perhaps the striking difference I see after listening to so much pettiness and so many thoughtless talking heads on 24-hour news cycles that spout only one viewpoint and only converse with like-minded cohort.

My faith in youth is immense after being with this group for an intense week and with many others at the school over these 18 years. Congratulations to all parents, spouses and significant others who support them in their work.