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The Costle Lecture

This past Friday, VLS presented the first Douglas Costle Chair lecture. William Rodgers, the first Douglas Costle Chair Visiting Professor delivered the lecture to a room filled with students, professors, and members of the public.

The lecture was one of the funniest I’ve been to in quite some time. I found myself laughing regulalry, along with most of the audience. Prof. Rodgers identified 5 major problems with the environmental laws of the 1970s. To illustrate each problem, he used examples from history of other bad ideas that exemplified each problem. For example, to demonstrate the problem of a double-edged sword, he told us about the Davy Crockett Nuclear Bazooka, a weapon designed to launch a nuclear warhead a mere 400-600 meters. For the problem of complexity, he told us about Smell-O-Vision, which was an idea to release various odors during a movie that corresponded to the images on the screen. Apparently the odors were often mistimed, too strong, or too faint (leading to lots of loud sniffing noises), and the idea promptly failed.

It was probably a good thing that the majority of the lecture was so light-hearted because the message at the end wasn’t all that uplifting. Essentially, Prof. Rodgers said, there are even more serious environmental challenges facing the world today, and that it was up to the upcoming generation (read: the students at VLS) to meet those challenges. Prof. Rodgers said that with the major tasks ahead of us, the least he and his colleagues could do was to share with us what they had learned. Though that’s certainly nice of them, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a little unfair and a lot overwhelming. It was sort of like being handed responsibility for making peace on earth, and someone saying, “Oh, by the way, I find it really helps if you smile at people.” Gee, thanks.

Maybe it was a good wake-up for me — I’ve been feeling less aggressively passionate about environmental issues, mostly because that seems like a recipe for burnout and eventual failure. But it also has to do with the fact that I feel we now have an Administration that seems likely to make progress on these issues. That alone has probably made me feel that the situation is less dire, but I should be careful not to let it lead to complacency.

Anyways, the lecture was a welcome departure from the more intense and academic classroom discussions. I think the best piece of advice, though not explicitly given, was that it’s important to keep things light, not take yourself too seriously, and to laugh. It certainly makes any task seem less burdensome, and it just makes you feel good.


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