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ECOLOGY AND ENGINEERING

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					                                                                        statements, new learning goals, and new courses. Today, the
                                                                        apparent reduction of the Earth’s carrying capacity due to
Ecology and Engineering: Changing Paradigms                             human activities is a strong motivator for modifying curricula.
                   Ronald V. Wiedenhoeft                                While hotly debated in some quarters, in others concern that our
                                                                        current patterns of economic and technological development are
             Liberal Arts & International Studies
                                                                        unsustainable is generating new approaches. Greening the
                  Colorado School of Mines                              curriculum is underway.
                          Abstract                                           Developments troubling educators and other concerned
                                                                        citizens in the late 1990s include rapidly expanding
     Human activities, particularly in industrialized countries,
                                                                        populations, alarming degradation of the natural environment,
are placing heavy burdens on the carrying capacity of the Earth
                                                                        depletion of crucial resources, and loss of biological diversity,
and hence challenging engineers to consider new paradigms.
                                                                        all of which can be linked to impacts of modern technology,
Since Sustainable Development has become a standard against
                                                                        economics and politics. In response “Sustainable Development”
which engineering projects are increasingly measured, mission
                                                                        has become a tough standard against which consumption of
statements and learning goals for academic engineering
                                                                        resources—and hence engineering practices—has come to be
programs are being modified to reflect growing ecological
                                                                        measured. In the ’nineties, countless papers, conferences, and
awareness. Faculty members in liberal arts departments of
                                                                        programs have been devoted to the issue of Sustainability. How
engineering schools are contributing by developing courses that
                                                                        well that the concept is understood, of course, remains an open
link ecology with engineering. As part of re-examining the
                                                                        question. Nonetheless, how long depletion of our natural
undergraduate curriculum at Colorado School of Mines (CSM),
                                                                        resource capital can continue at present rates has become a
faculty members in the Division of Liberal Arts and
                                                                        widely recognized, urgent issue. Engineering education today
International Studies (LAIS) have developed a new core course
                                                                        must critically examine the “why” and the “whether,” not only
called “Nature and Human Values.” Changing paradigms would
                                                                        the “how” things will be done.
require that engineers be educated to question the sustainability
of current patterns of production and consumption and to
consider which practices need to be changed. This paper
considers principles leading to courses intended to foster new
                                                                             III. Reconsidering Missions and Goals
ecological paradigms among engineers.                                        Amazing progress of modern science and technology,
                                                                        while generating enormous wealth, comfort and other benefits,
              ____________________________
                                                                        has not been without its serious social and environmental costs.
                                                                        Technology of the chainsaw and bulldozer obliterates the
                                                                        world’s primeval forests, causing extinction of thousands of
                      I. Introduction                                   flora and fauna species every year, often even before those
     Human activities, both in industrialized and developing            species have been identified. The words “Bhopal” and
countries, are placing heavy burdens on the carrying capacity of        “Chernobyl” remind us of how the once nearly universal faith
the Earth and hence challenging engineers to consider                   that technology would inevitably solve all our problems has
paradigms other than optimizing technological performance. At           been seriously shaken. If increasing quality of life is to be the
Colorado School of Mines (CSM), as at many other                        goal, blind optimism and unchecked, rampant development no
universities, growing concern for ecological problems has               longer seem appropriate. When we speak of raising living
stimulated an ongoing search for better ways to have liberal            standards, we must ask “Who benefits?” and “At what cost?”
learning add value to engineering education. As one part of the         and “To whose disbenefit?” Furthermore, “What is the resulting
recent re-examination and revision of CSM’s entire                      depletion of our natural resource capital, upon which all life and
undergraduate curriculum, the Division of Liberal Arts and              all development depends?”
International Studies (LAIS) has designed a new freshman core
                                                                             Even those who prefer to ignore such costs and impacts
course entitled “Nature and Human Values.” The process of
                                                                        may now realize that such ignorance is likely to cause them
course design was guided by a multidisciplinary committee.
                                                                        problems, beginning with public protests, possibly including
While two of the four semester-credit-hours assigned are
                                                                        restrictive legislation and the shutting down of major projects,
devoted to developing communication skills, the subject matter
                                                                        perhaps ending with the imprisonment of corporate executives.
of the course is environmental ethics, including scrutiny of the
                                                                        Public awareness continues to grow, as evidenced by
sustainability of current production and consumption patterns.
                                                                        strengthening influence of non-government organizations
The purpose of this paper is to review some principles that led
                                                                        (NGOs) in national and international conferences on the
to the design of this course.
                                                                        environment and development. As social and political pressures
                                                                        mount, organizations of all sizes are compelled seriously to
                                                                        reflect on what the social and environmental effects of their
    II. Listening to Creative Dissatisfaction                           actions are likely to be.
     When society in general develops new social awareness,                  Thus, too, universities preparing engineers to solve the
pressures are often felt in the academic community. If there            world’s technical problems must scrutinize assumptions upon
appears to be insufficient congruence between problems society          which their curricula are based. Mission statements are being
perceives and the problem-solving engineers are being taught,           revised, some drastically, and learning goals recast. Valuing
committees are formed and motions passed. Creative                      cultural and biological diversity has entered the mainstream of
dissatisfaction stimulates innovation reflected in new mission

Journal of Engineering Education                                    1                                                 January 1999
society’s awareness. Optimizing technical efficiency or                    They should possess the critical and creative thinking
economic return no longer suffices as an argument. Non-                     abilities to solve complex, open-ended problems with non-
technical constraints on solving technical problems receive                 technical constraints.
increasing weight. Highway construction, for instance, once                They should be able to communicate effectively in writing
automatically touted as a technological marvel, now often                   as well as orally. In addition, they should be graphics- and
struggles against the stigma of disrupting nature and debasing              computer literate.
neighborhoods. Universities—and accrediting agencies—are
responding with new criteria and new curricula.                              High-profile international events, such as the United
                                                                        Nations Conferences on Environment and Development
                                                                        (UNCED) in 1972 and 1992, have influenced the changing
                                                                        awareness. Yet there is a history of educators’ insisting that
        IV. Redefining Academic Mission                                 engineers have much to learn from humanities and social
                   Statements                                           sciences. Supporting this view, CSM’s revised mission
                                                                        statement says that its graduates “should, through familiarity
     Engineering colleges are now often consciously aspiring to
                                                                        with humanities and social sciences, learn the world’s
cultivate ethical, social, political, and human responsibility in
                                                                        complexities beyond their own set of givens, gain an
their students. Expanding on these ideas, Colorado School of
                                                                        appreciation of other people’s values and ways of doing things,
Mines in 1994 articulated the following criteria for its
                                                                        think effectively about ethical and social issues, and make
graduates.
                                                                        conscious choices based on positive values.” Just what those
 Ability to appreciate diverse approaches to understanding             positive values are to be, of course, always remains open to
and solving society’s problems                                          interpretation.
 Creativity, resourcefulness, receptivity, and breadth of                   One important approach is to see the “freedom” at the root
interests to think critically about a wide range of cross-              of liberal education as liberation from the givens of one’s
disciplinary issues                                                     conventional, accustomed cultural habits. A student’s hoary
 Skills and attitudes which promote teamwork and                       argument that “I didn’t come to an engineering school to study
                                                                        English and Humanities!” is no longer valid. Refuge from the
cooperation
                                                                        complexities of human nature and human societies should no
   Ability to work effectively in an international environment         longer be found in engineering schools. However, if knowledge
   Ability to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world          were limited to our own society or even to the broader Western
                                                                        tradition, students would likely remain too myopic. One of the
 Appreciation for the traditions and languages of other                great challenges today is to get engineers to accept willingly
cultures                                                                that there are, indeed, valid paradigms other than our own that
   Appreciation for diversity in their own society                     deserve our attention, respect, and willingness to learn.
     One of the most striking changes in recent university
mission statements is an emphasis on ecological consciousness
and responsibilities of engineers, for instance, to be “good                         V. Finding New Paradigms
stewards of the Earth and its resources.” This is all the more               It helps to have a chemical engineer, such as Ronald
striking in engineering programs traditionally engaged in               Nelson, provide an answer in a distinguished engineering
extracting the Earth’s minerals and energy resources. To quote          journal to “Why Engineers Should Study the Humanities.” Not
CSM’s new mission statement:                                            only does he encourage engineers to question and challenge
   We believe that the world faces a crisis in balancing               their established beliefs, he holds out the prospect of having
    resources availability with environmental protection and            contact with philosophy develop more valid ways of reasoning.
    that CSM and its programs are central to the solution to            Humanities classes, he says, “should stimulate and stretch the
    that crisis.                                                        mind.”[1] William Bennett (then U. S. Secretary of Education),
                                                                        in his To Reclaim a Legacy, reiterates some of the great,
   Our education and research are dedicated to improve the             fundamental questions of all time that, presumably, engineering
    quality of life of the world’s inhabitants.                         students have seldom found raised in traditional curricula:
   CSM is dedicated to educating students to become good                   “What is justice? What should be loved? What deserves to
    stewards of the Earth and its resources.                            be defended? What is courage? What is noble? What is base?
   CSM is committed to the mitigation of environmental                 Why do civilizations flourish? Why do they decline? What can
    damage caused by the production and utilization of                  I know? What should I do? What may I hope for?”[2]
    minerals, energy, and materials, and to the development of               The path to new paradigm lies in raising such questions and
    processes that will minimize such damage in the future.             earnestly grappling with possible answers. Not a new dogma is
   It is further committed to the development of technologies          thereby defined, but a new intensity and breadth of searching, a
    that can reduce the world’s dependence on non-renewable             new open-mindedness, new awareness. Concerning impacts on
    resources.                                                          society, the Association of American Colleges says it for us all:
   CSM students should have the ability to self-educate, to            “So many technical problems are now also social problems—or
    continue to learn, both in their major field and in new             ethical, or political, or international problems—that some
    areas.                                                              ability to deal with them as such is just part of the essential
                                                                        professional equipment of engineers.”[3] When the United

Journal of Engineering Education                                    2                                                January 1999
Nations Earth Summit of 1992 has heads of state and heads of             ability to be at ease with suspended judgment when closure
government representing ninety-eight percent of the world's              would be premature.”[8] Perhaps the most controversial aspect
population signing an agenda for the twenty-first century,               of education in recent decades has been the matter of teaching
perhaps impacts on curricular planning ought to be profound.             ethics or “intellectual virtue,” which, to avoid problems, seem
Agenda 21[4] and “The Rio Declaration” (1992)—and the                    simply to be ignored. Business school approaches, critiqued by
pronouncements of the Earth Summit Plus Five in New York in              Paul Wilkes, might be analogous to those in engineering: “We
June of 1997—are not statements of radical fringe groups,                were producing excellent managers, but we had frankly not paid
nor—we may hope—merely vague expressions of pious intent.                attention to what kind of people they would be.… We were so
     Concepts in these documents demand rethinking our                   concerned with economic self-interest, so enamored of exciting
patterns of development and, consequently, of engineering                new concepts, for instance Japan’s just-in-time delivery. Maybe
education. Among them is Principle 8 of the UN’s Rio                     we were hoping for just-in-time values.”[9] One may wonder
Declaration: “To achieve sustainable development and a higher            how many engineering schools are still relying upon such a
quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate       hope.
unsustainable patterns of their production and consumption and                Current educational leaders may be willing to challenge
promote appropriate demographic policies.”[5] Recognizing                value-neutral education and to rediscover cultivation of
society’s impact on the Earth and engineering’s impact on both           conscience and of reason and of imagination. Consciously
society and the Earth must fundamentally influence premises of           analyzing the whole pattern of relationships among humans,
engineering education.                                                   with all other organisms, and with the entire biosphere that is
     Collett and Karakashian in their Greening the College               our home—in other words, ecology—requires coming to grips
Curriculum, summarize the need for curricular changes:                   with ethical values. Among the pressing questions we need to
“Human behavior is responsible for our planet’s current                  be putting before our students are: How has Nature affected the
predicament, and only a change in the way we think and act can           quality of human life and the formulation of human values and
begin to repair the damage and avoid future depredations.”[6]            ethics? How have human actions, values and ethics affected
Many college and university faculty are currently responding to          Nature? Which changes in behavior are required of students,
this educational challenge by teaching ways to apply                     faculty, administrators and others interested in quality
technology to save the environment. One might wonder                     engineering education, in order to attain this ideal? Curriculum
whether enough is being done to teach how to stop applying               revisions currently underway at many universities are seeking
technology that degrades the environment. Impulses, however,             answers to that question. Among themes included are
are coming to engineering schools through ABET’s                         population growth, degrading of natural resources (both
(Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology)                     renewable and non-renewable), stewardship of the Earth, and
“Engineering Criteria 2000.” Among the most relevant                     the future of human society.
mandates from ABET are the following three.                                 As the first of a series of CSM’s new core courses taking a
   An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility          systems approach, Nature and Human Values may stimulate
                                                                         new patterns of acting and thinking among engineers. The
   The broad education necessary to understand the impact of            course is organized around four units that raise the following
    engineering solutions in a global and societal context               issues as learning objectives.
   A knowledge of contemporary issues [7]                               Unit One. Where Are We Now? Objectives:
                                                                            Understand the interdependence of human beings and
                                                                             natural resources
     VI. Fostering an Ecological Paradigm                                   Understand how resources, consumption, population, and
As Agenda 21 amply demonstrates, economic and ecological                     worldviews define sustainability
problems of the late twentieth century require unprecedented
                                                                            Understand how contemporary value systems determine
international cooperation if our capacity for sustainable
                                                                             our human interactions with nature
development is to be realized. Growing resource consumption
among the haves in face of a rapidly growing world population               Understand opposing viewpoints on the “limits to growth”
of the have-nots can only lead to drastic conflicts. Dealing                 argument: the Neo-Malthusians vs. the Cornucopians =
constructively with interdependence on Spaceship Earth is                    Limitationists vs. Expansionists
crucial. Two additional principles of the Rio Declaration are            Unit Two. How Did We Get Here? Objectives:
“War is inherently destructive of sustainable development,” and
“Peace, development and environmental protection are                        See the impact of a consuming lifestyle on natural resource
interdependent and indivisible.” The least we must do is foster              supplies
international cooperation in engineering curricula.                         Understand what value systems and survival modes
    Much more needs to be done toward developing                             preceded ones presently dominant—and what modes
understanding and empathy for other peoples’ predicaments.                   modernization displaced and how the change to the present
Curricula emphasizing ecology and sustainability hold great                  values and survival modes came about
promise in “free[ing] students from unexamined assumptions,”                Comprehend the sequence of events that led up to present
as Nannerl Keohane (then president of Wellesley College) says,               conditions
“opening horizons from narrow parochialism onto the wide,
wide world.… a tolerance for ambiguity and complexity, an

Journal of Engineering Education                                     3                                                January 1999
   Develop a general knowledge of the countries where major                                 References
    industrial and scientific changes took place, what the
    motivations, means, and methods were for those changes,          1. Nelson, Ronald E. “Why Engineers Should Study the
    and what values those changes fostered                               Humanities,” Chemical Engineering, Sept. 28, 1987, pp.
                                                                         135-136.
   Understand how those industrial and scientific changes
    affected social and environmental systems and who the key        2. Bennett, William J. “To Reclaim a Legacy: A Report on the
    players were in those changes                                        Humanities in Higher Education.” National Endowment for
                                                                         the Humanities (typescript version), November 1984, p. 5
Unit Three: What Are Some Alternative Perspectives?
  Objectives:                                                        3. Association of American Colleges. An Engineering Student’s
                                                                         Guide to the Humanities & Social Sciences. Washington,
   List major criteria for defining different worldviews                DC: 1988, p. 6.
   Describe qualities that determine culture                        4. Sitarz, Daniel, editor. Agenda 21: The Earth Summit Strategy
   Explain linkages between religions and attitudes toward              to Save Our Planet. Boulder: Earthpress, 1993.
    nature and between dominant and subordinate positions            5. “The Rio Declaration (1992),” reprinted in Pojman, Louis P.,
   Describe alternative environmental ethics and how they               editor. Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and
    differ from the dominant views in the industrialized world           Application. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 1994, pp.
                                                                         501-503.
Unit Four: Where To From Here? Which policies ought to be
  undertaken, by whom, and for which reasons? Objectives:            6. Collett, Jonathan, and Karakashian, Stephen. “Turning
                                                                         Curricula Green,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb.
   List major criteria determining which human activities—              23, 1996. Their book is Greening the College Curriculum:
    development, production, consumption—are unsustainable               A Guide to Environmental Teaching in the Liberal Arts.
   Describe quantifiable methods for determining benefits and           Washington, DC: Island Press, 1996.
    disbenefits of current economic and development practices        7. See www.abet.org/EAC/eac2000.html
    to identifiable social groups
                                                                     8. Keohane, Nannerl O. “Creativity, the Classics, and the
   Explain why Gross Domestic (or National) Product is                  Corporation.” conference presentation typescript, September
    deficient as a measure of a country’s success in social,             1986, p. 5.
    economic, and ecological terms and explain what might be
                                                                     9. Wilkes, Paul. “The Tough Job of Teaching Ethics: Harvard’s
    a better measure
                                                                        M.B.A. students find ethics can get murky.” The New York
   Describe current programs that hold promise of                      Times, Jan. 22, 1989, pp. 1 & 24.
    ameliorating unsustainable activities
   Describe socioeconomic sustainability
                                                                                             Bio Sketch
   Describe ecological sustainability
                                                                     Ronald V. Wiedenhoeft is professor of liberal arts and
   Explain why we need a vision for a sustainable future and        international studies at Colorado School of Mines. Author of
    how we might achieve one                                         Cities for People: Practical Measures for Improving Urban
   Describe measures for determining Quality of Life for            Environments and Berlin’s Housing Revolution: German
    everyone.                                                        Reform in the 1920s, he was Fulbright visiting professor at the
                                                                     Technical Universities of Vienna and Graz, Austria, in 1994-95.
A serious question remains. Can engineering students who
belong to a society comprising five percent of the world’s
population, yet consuming 30 percent of the world’s energy and       Contact Information
pumping over 30 percent of humanity’s production of CO 2 into
the atmosphere, become convinced of the necessity to change          Liberal Arts & International Studies (LAIS)
their comfortable paradigm? This is perhaps our greatest             Colorado School of Mines
challenge.                                                           Golden, CO 80401-1887
                                                                     telephone: 303 973 9006
                                                                     fax: 303 973 9119
                                                                     email: rwiedenh@mines.edu




Journal of Engineering Education                                 4                                                 January 1999

				
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