Science College Teaching/Research
Steven G. Hall, McGill University, Quebec, Canada
Greetings, fellow young ASA-ers!
During my first few weeks in Quebec, I have had a chance to recover a bit from completing my doctorate. I have seen some beautiful and challenging parts of a unique culture "next door," met a variety of interesting and enjoyable people, and really started to consider my callings and hopes for the future.
I have been blessed to find a quiet campus with much natural beauty (and wonderful weather, for the most part!). The people here have been supportive and friendly, and my French is slowly improving. I have made one public presentation about my modeling and experimental work with composting, and have submitted two papers for review. I have visited farms, academics, downtown, local Anglophone and Francophone homes, and churches where I have met interesting students, politicians, and local Quebecois folk. I have enjoyed hiking in the mountains and listening to belle musique. And I have been fortunate to be staying with Roger Samson, a local organic activist who puts his money where his mouth is - we eat tasty, healthy, fresh-this-minute greens, spices, mint tisanes, and lately succulent strawberries. All this for free. In short, I feel healthy, and I am meeting interesting new people.
While I continue with academic work and begin to feel more at home, one of my most important callings now is clarifying my direction: envisioning clearly what it is that I hope to do here, and learning to express a vision for the future that is true, compelling, and sincere.
I am working on several "thought paper" or "position papers." In a sense, I feel I have the luxury of considering the future direction of my life, and I hope to use this opportunity wisely. In short, I am beginning to recognize the level of significance that local and, more consistently, global environmental concerns truly have.
I also see the ideal role of people, not as users or abusers of the earth and other species, but as stewards, as creatures with a special ability to act as rehabilitative and reconciliatory agents or as destructive agents in the ecosystem. Historically we have played both these roles for thousands of years. The areas around the Mediterranean, for example, were largely deforested and, in many areas, deserts and bedrock have been the result. However, in areas where wise stewardship of native and agro-ecosystems have been practiced, deserts and rocky hills have been converted to forests, productive, stable farmlands, and habitats for both humans and native species. Our modern western society has taken the notions of domination, short-term use, and extractive technologies to new extremes, in many cases to the detriment of local and regional ecological systems, and ultimately to our detriment, since we depend upon these systems for food, resources, and even for the air we breathe. Yet the phrase which continues to strike me about much of this waste and abuse is that it is "sad and unnecessary."
With about six billion people on the planet, and continued increases in both population and resource use on every continent, the responsibility to care wisely for the resources of creation is more critical than ever. We need to wisely use our resources with ingenuity, available technology, and a compassionate heart. When our time horizon is measured in weeks or months instead of decades or centuries, we are unlikely to leave our children the kind of legacy we might hope to receive. This linkage between the personal and technical aspects of environmental concerns is near the heart of our current dilemma. Furthermore, the consideration of long-term dynamics and possible plausible transitions to not only a sustainable agriculture, but a sustainable future for all, is critical to our survival and the renewed health of the biosphere upon which we depend.
Biting off a small bite of this huge project is my present challenge. Technically, this will include energy and resource engineering and ecosystem modeling of long-term system dynamics. I am also recognizing the significant interpersonal, political, and spiritual aspects of the environmental crisis, and am trying to assess my own strengths, interests, and callings in order to respond wisely to this clear message of both concern and hope. I believe communication via writing, speaking, and even music is a strength I possess. In addition, I realize that my scientific and engineering background allows me to converse with others on some of the intertwined technical issues involved. I hope you will feel free to advise me as to what you feel my strengths and weaknesses are, what you see as critical issues, and to offer feedback and prayer as you feel called, on these or other issues. I wish you much joy and clarity of vision.
God bless you.