Monday, November 12, 2012

Michael Lannoo Interview Part 3

Your new book has convinced me that conservation biologists trained at Lakeside Lab—and biological research stations like it—might just be able to solve today’s huge array of environmental problems. Tell us more before we forget about this summer’s extreme heat and drought.

Our current societal emphasis on the spending habits of 15-year-old girls at shopping malls means that we are culturally ill equipped to understand the things that are really important to us. Further, we retain little memory of critical events such as environmental disasters, especially when we were not directly affected or inconvenienced. At some point in the future, for civilization to continue, we will have to place our emphases on things necessary to propagate civilization. And both our resources and our models for operation will come from ecosystems. Right now, nobody understands ecosystems better than people working at field stations. These rubber-boot biologists collectively know everything that we now know about ecosystem functions and services. Lose these guys (of both sexes) and you’re left with folks trying to understand life by sitting in front of a computer screen. And life is still too complicated, and probably always will be, for us to adequately model it in any sort of reasonably predictable way. Concerning this past summer’s weather, people sitting in front of their computers and looking at their models say, “Wow, we never thought this would happen!” while field biologists are out in it looking. Getting sunburned, sweating their rear-ends off, measuring everything they can, observing effects firsthand. In science, these facts should always take precedence, and by and large it’s folks at field stations who are collecting them.

Circling back to the younger Michael Lannoo who discovered his future at Lakeside in 1977, what advice would you give to a similar nineteen-year-old taking a course there for the first time?

Become a sponge; look, listen, and absorb. Know that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Also know that the first rule of life is living. Have a good time—but not so good that your fun gets in the way of learning—and know that human memory functions best when experiences are tied to deep emotions. Lakeside has always been a place where you can discover who you are and what you’re about, if you’re open to it. Right now our society sets us up to be clueless, and to be absolutely serious about our cluelessness. So much better to know yourself, and with this knowledge learn not to take yourself so seriously. During that first summer at Lakeside you’ll become knowledgeable, you’ll become competent, and if you want, you’ll begin to understand who and what you are.

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