Building a man-made structure to house a garden of exotic plants may not seem like a strategy to help protect the environment, but it is. Specifically utilized as a physical accompaniment to environmental and ecological learning, it is a strategy that directly exposes people to experiences they can feel and smell and see for themselves. Because people are naturally attracted to greenspaces, our Biodome plan presents an opportunity for environmental learning enhanced far beyond the capability of literature or other media. Envisioned as a multi-use activity center, the repeated visits allow for incremental exposure to information and give people a chance to expand their own understanding. It is also an informal setting to make acquaintances, or friends and for community building. What people learn from each other is second only to personal realizations in terms of motivational capability and lasting impact. An advanced center integrating social activities, ecological education, and a wonderful natural setting is an ideal recipe to turn around the present state of the environmental movement.
Environmental activism today takes place in a conceptually receptive milieu, but one in which sectors of the society are still fixated on unrestrained economic exploitation of natural resources. Under these circumstances efforts to protect the environment could be characterized as responding to individual brushfires in a piecemeal fashion. A proactive strategic approach would be far more effective in quenching the rampaging fire of environmental destruction. An effective plan is needed to allow people to become enlightened through their personal experience of nature's rejuvenating energies. The resulting shift in values would create an enhanced quality of life based on a new standard, of living in an environmentally integrated way. This would then set the stage for counteracting the present environmental damage being fed by uninformed/insensitive drive for economic gain and development by local/regional planners, contractors and private corporations.
Many people are sympathetic to efforts to preserve the environment because they respect the lives of other creatures, they enjoy the beauty of nature, or they recognize the clear link between the condition of the world around us, and our health and mental well-being. Unfortunately these broad recognitions may not result in a commitment to a plan of action.
A single walk through a greenhouse won't change peoples' lives, but a few minutes can be thoroughly restorative for both mental and physical health (see Appendix F). It is the opportunity to frequent the nearby nature of the Biodome that reinforces the effect beautiful living environments have on mind and body. Intentionally pointing out the importance of interacting with nature makes conscious the significance and real impact our living environment has on our own lives. These recognitions are usually only feelings passing over us behind the veneer of thoughts and daily distractions. The combination of having people in an environment experiencing nature, with an attention focusing emphasis on the value of natural inputs to the quality of our lives, while providing educational information on local and world events, is the formula to spark passion for protecting mother earth's precious supply of nurturing and rejuvenating life energy.
Many students today are majoring in environmental studies or ecological botany or horticultural therapy. They have a love and familiarity with plants and an appreciation of nature that fascinates them. They wish to share their excitement with others. At a recentMSU Botany Club meeting the students were excited about getting people to understand the amazing strategies orchids use to coat pollinating insects. The club president recommended a fantastic movie that showed these antics and stated how Michigan had it's own native orchid species. In retrospect it seems very odd that in Lansing, Michigan, a vast marshland only a hundred and fifty years ago, you can't go out in your own back yard and watch the amazing intricacies of orchid pollination first hand. Now your best bet is to see a film.
What do you do when the next orchid filled wetland is slated for another housing development? How do yo get 90% of everyone else that doesn't know or appreciate the intricacies of little flowers to know and care?
The most successful strategy would be to have the local community already aware of the value of environmental diversity. This could be accomplished if there was an opportunity to plant a seed of experience and appreciation for the uniqueness and amazing details of other living things before any issues arose. Then instead of an incident related initiative and educational effort there could already be an understanding and sensitivity in place when a situation of environmental concern occurred.
The Student Greenhouse Project's Biodome is just one seed for one community, but through time as the students come to MSU and then spread across the nation and world it would have a great impact.
Our strategic plan is to build an available, accessible garden of rare beauty and a wilderness-like design in a free-span dome. It would be dedicated to ecology and preserving the environment. Intentionally planned as a place people come to often and spend time. It would create a repeated opportunity to present small, short bits of environmental learning. It'll be a fun place, a center of activities, performances and entertainment, a place to go and hang out, instead of just walk through, look and leave. By alternating the active times with quiet, it would provide an opportunity to study and soak in the surroundings. People learn best what they learn themselves. Experiences, feelings, aromas and sights speak louder than words. If you want people to learn about orchids, or great trees, or tropical rainforests show them, bring it to them.
Research has shown that trees and green space with grass, flowers, etc., draw people to those areas. One study in public housing developments, "Where does community grow?" (Coley et al. 1997), found increasing amount of trees correlated with larger groups of people and a greater mix of age groups utilizing those areas. The increased social interactions provided by a conducive place to gather produced familiarity, enhanced social relationships and lead to a greater sense of community.
Nearness and accessibility also factored into utilization in the above study. In a study by Rachel Kaplan, "Nearby Nature" (1989), when travel time (by various modes) was less than three minutes there was a significant increase in frequent visits and time spent in 'nearby nature'.
This is a plan that creates an opportunity to engage a large number of people and provide nearby nature through out the year. It creates an ecological center full of living ecology. For example, a walk of a few paces, from outside to inside, could provide the direct knowledge of the smell of a city compared to the smell of a forest full of flowers, blooming to carry on their own lives and activities. Those kinds of experiences of nature through the five senses build an appreciation and bond with nature.
Present and past, youthful experiences in natural environments form a motivational basis to protect nature because of an emotional affinity engendered by those experiences. (Kals et al. 1999) The importance of a nature oriented student activities center on this campus reaches the level of imperative if we are at all serious about creating sustainability in this society. In a society of more than 95% urbanites, having a plot of inspiring nearby nature is an avenue to appreciate and be drawn to the greater natural environment at large. If we wish to chart a new course for ourselves, and others, to follow to a brighter, and lasting future, here beckons an opportunity.
This plan would be a way to shift many people into a more environmentally active stance and build a new societal consensus prioritizing improved quality of life through a healthy environment.