USF's Museum Blog

Living on a Shrinking Planet: ecosystems, sustainability and the promise of museums

The good news is that people are living longer, healthier lives. As a result of technological shifts, the human species is more numerous and powerful than ever before. The flip side of that equation is that as a species we are draining our planet of arable land, potable water and livable air. But there is hope. Museums and universities, especially if they work in partnership, are perfect places to tackle these problems and help to change human behavior so that we will leave a healthy planet for the future.

 

Chris Brooks, Jonathan Foley, Melissa Zabel and Paula Birnbaum

Chris Brooks, Jonathan Foley, Melissa Zabel and Paula Birnbaum

This was the fundamental message Dr. Jonathan Foley, director of the California Academy of Sciences, offered as the honored speaker and guest of the University of San Francisco College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Lecture Series on November 2, 2015. The lecture was the closing event of the Thacher Gallery exhibition Interwoven: Native California Basketry Arts from the Missions Forward which featured baskets on loan from the Academy.

 

Melissa Zabel introduced the discussion.

Melissa Zabel introduced the discussion.

Museum Studies professor Paula Birnbaum and graduate student Melissa Zabel (MA, 2015) played key roles in organizing and hosting this event. Dr. Foley was introduced by USF’s Associate Dean of Sciences Chris Brooks who lauded Dr. Foley’s scholarship on ecosystems and welcomed him to San Francisco (Dr. Foley and his family moved to the City in 2014 from Minnesota).

Dr. Jonathan Foley poses at on the California Academy of Sciences' green roof.

Dr. Jonathan Foley poses at on the California Academy of Sciences’ green roof.

“Environmental scientists don’t get invited to a lot of parties,” Dr. Foley quipped, “because we often talk about doom and gloom. But look at the facts. Between 1945 and 2010, the earth’s human population will have doubled and our food and water consumption will have tripled. We are running out of good arable land and our water resources are collapsing. These sources are not infinite. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

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Icepacks around the globe are melting at an alarming rate.

The California Academy of Sciences has committed to taking a leading role in both educating the public and conducting significant research. “People trust museums and it’s time for museums to ‘spend’ some of this social capital by taking a stand and being a platform for change. Unlike corporations and governments, museums and universities are used to ‘paying it forward’ and thinking about being stewards for the future.”

As the world’s first “sustainability museum,” the Academy will focus its research and educational work in three areas over the next decade. The first is coral reefs; the Academy is one of the world’s leading centers for growing coral in artificial environments; this will be increasingly necessary as natural coral environments become more endangered.

The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park is a leader in growing endangered coral.

The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is a leader in growing endangered coral.

The second focus is on tropical rainforests, exemplified by the Academy’s central exhibition. And finally, the Academy will be looking at increasing knowledge about the eco-systems right here in California.

The California Academy Science's popular four-story tropical rainforest exhibition

The California Academy Science’s popular four-story tropical rainforest exhibition

“I was very inspired by Jonathan’s talk,” said Melissa Zabel. “He spoke in a way that gave me hope and made me even more committed to how museums can be active players in science education.”

Dolma: a sustainable snack!

Dolma: a sustainable snack!

University of San Francisco thanks Dr. Foley for his time and hopes he enjoyed the reception of “sustainable snacks” in Thacher Gallery with our museum studies community.

For more information on USF’s Museum Studies program, click here.

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