Northeastern (46th Annual) and North-Central (45th Annual) Joint Meeting (20–22 March 2011)

Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 10:30 AM


ALLMON, Warren D., Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, NY 14850-1398, ROSS, Robert M., Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, NY 14850 and DUGGAN-HAAS, Don, PRI & its Museum of the Earth, 92 South Dr, Amherst, NY 14226, Amherst, NY 14226,

An expansion in joint educational programming between the Paleontological Research Institution and the Cayuga Nature Center, both in Ithaca, NY, has offered an opportunity to consider development of an innovative synthesis of Earth science education (ESE) and environmental education (EE). Environmental education at nature centers tends to focus on familiarization with local natural history, and steps that individuals can take to mitigate human impact on the local environment. Yet this structure is almost always missing two elements that foster an accurate comprehension of the current state of the environment: a full Earth systems perspective, and recognition of the deep and extensive roots of human influence on most environments.

Earth system education connects influences at multiple temporal and spatial scales, and provides a deep historical perspective. Understanding existing human influence even upon what we often think of as "natural" environments informs our discussions of why environments look the way they do, and decisions about maintaining or modifying environments. Taken together, ESE and EE reveal that all human activities involve some impact, and that this impact is not just in one time and place but at a variety of temporal and spatial scales; by realizing that environmental decisions can involve complex systems, and therefore complex and nonintuitive trade-offs, individuals and communities can avoid short-sighted decisions and overly simplistic arguments.

Helping the public make effective decisions requires educational approaches that blend “traditional” nature center programs fostering appreciation of nature with a perspective of ongoing change to systems both nature and human-induced. Any natural site can be appreciated for contributions of (for example) the geological history of the landforms, and of bedrock geology and overlying soils and sediments; interaction of endemic and introduced species, and extinctions since the Pleistocene of others; deforestation and reforestation; influence of climates of the past millennium, century and decade; and impact of local human structures.