Environment Education

with Chris Summerville


by Chris J. Summerville

(Valedictorian Speech presented to 12,000 students, parents and faculty members at the 1983 Commencement Ceremony of the University of California, Davis in June, 1983)

     We live in an age where more rapidly than ever before, old certainties and familiar patterns are breaking down. Once 'unlimited' resources, our air, water and earth, so long taken for granted, are proving unable to withstand the onslaught of humanity. Here, and throughout the world, violence, death and famine are everyday events. We have inherited a world that despite incredible advances in every area of life still relies on death and destruction as a means of settling disputes. However, history does not stipulate the future. War, and the other crises we face, are of our own creation. As students we should know by now that with the right formula, all problems can be solved.
     To do this, we must reverse a tendency of becoming so engrossed in our field of specialization that we rarely look beyond to its effects on a society where the arts, science and humanities blend together. We must go beyond our field's immediate application and use our education to seek its fullest potential benefit in a changing world, realizing that duties to the self, the family, country and the world are not independent of each other.
     We Americans must remain constantly informed of the issues of the day so that we can act in an intelligent way.  A democracy is not a state in which people can remain unaware and act like sheep. Democracy takes effort and involvement in society, for there can be no distinction between the actions of the government and the will of the people. We, therefore, must take responsibility for nuclear weapons, intervention in foreign countries and the protection of the environment. No other country has the freedom of time and the levels of communication to stay abreast of world events. No other country has the wealth of documentation and level of educational facilities to study the wisdom and faults of the world throughout history to help to bring about change for the future.
     This 'Global Awareness,' however, requires that we take the time to go beyond our borders and attempt to understand the cultures of the world of which we are such a young part. We must link all of our academic studies of their art, religion, politics and literature and see how they reflect on the living populations of these countries. Only then will we come to understand why they live in the way they do, why there is famine, oppression or war. We cannot continue to act politically on the international level until such a broad global and social understanding exists. Democracy, equality and freedom cannot be bought at the point of a gun; they rely on trust, love and understanding.
     Instead, we must look forward to closer ties with other countries by more exchange of students, faculty and technical experts and by more overseas courses and field research. We must be willing to learn as well as to teach. Only then can we claim to be doing our part toward the achievement of our mutual goals of world peace, prosperity and brother/sisterhood.
     Likewise, the peace of the world cannot continue to rest on the threat of its destruction by one of the  two superpowers. It is a hypocrisy to decry war in other countries and claim to represent peace and yet continue to make twenty-one billion dollars a year in overseas weapon sales. We must begin to teach, on both a political and personal level, by example, not force.
     In our everyday lives this means seeking a way of life closer to sustainable self-sufficiency and further from a dependence on other countries, which often necessitates the unjustifiable military and economic exploitation of foreign cultures. Here, in Davis, California, we have made bicycles, recycling, solar energy and community involvement  an integral part of everyday life. This needs to be taken out to other communities so that these practices and others become the norm and not the exception.
     We must begin to live, therefore, as we do in our families; in a non-violent, respectful interaction with the planet and its peoples. In our schools, we must make peace education and alternatives to violence a priority, beginning to take seriously the values we profess to cherish.
     For today, more so than at any other time in the history of the world, the future is in our hands and it is up to us to make sure that there is one.