Rebecca Vidra, Lecturer of Environmental Science and Policy at Duke University talks about Treevival. – Spring semester has come to a close at Duke University and last week, I gathered my students around the fire pit at my home to celebrate our Treevival. Our class, Conservation Ethics, was a new course that quickly became something else: a series of deep conversations about why we do the work we do and how we are going to keep doing it, despite the long odds of real progress being made anytime soon.
We were guided by the essays in Moral Ground, taking time to consider, evaluate, and compare the many perspectives presented within. As we neared the end of the semester, though, the students’ concern began to intensify. Sure, we could have really great conversations in this class but what about outside of it? Did our peers, students and faculty alike, agree that they had a moral obligation to protect the planet? What about outside the Nicholas School of the Environment? Was this moral obligation wildly acknowledged or simply agreed upon by a few?
Thus, the Treevival was launched! My students decided that they wanted to use their remaining time in this class to have a wider conversation. To engage people in discussions about why we should protect the planet. To ask if others shared their strong sense of a moral obligation. To perhaps search for some evidence that their chosen career path has a chance of success.
Using a tree from Duke Forest, we hung 350 brown leaves decorated with the phrase “I have a moral obligation to protect the planet” and a sprinkle of native wildflower seeds. We asked people to take a leaf and plant it as a sign of their commitment and acknowledgement of their obligation. Each person then signed a green leaf and hung it on the tree, participating in the great re-vival of the tree.
As we sat together gluing seeds onto paper bag leaves with maple syrup, I was reminded of the great privilege of creating a community within a class. As I watched my students approach their peers and then total strangers to ask about their thoughts on protecting the planet, I was reminded that learning has to take place outside of formulas, lectures, and walls.
Each of the seven students posted a brief essay on their experience for the Nicholas School blog. They are gathered together, along with a brief movie of our project and photos of the tree at: sites.duke.edu/treevival
You’ll see that some of the students mention specific essays or arguments from Moral Ground. We were all very grateful for this collection of inspiring work. May it continue to ignite conversation with students and all those who are working to act upon our moral obligation to protect the planet.