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Shades of Green: a closer look at nature

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“Shades of Green,” a column on environmental issues related to the UIC community, appears monthly in UIC News.

David Wise has been an ecologist since the first Earth Day celebration in 1970.

“Most people didn’t know what ecology was,” recalls Wise, professor of biological sciences and associate director of the Institute for Environmental Science Policy.

In those days, the intellectual divide between ecologists — who study nature — and environmentalists — who study human impacts on nature — was pronounced.

His interest in nature began with family vacations, camping in Michigan and the Sierras and staying at a cabin in the woods.

“I looked for a profession where I could work outside,” says Wise, who decided to study ecology when he was an undergrad working at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

“But I haven’t worked outside for years and years!”

Wise is co-chair of the Chicago Wilderness Science Team, which collaborates on projects related to the dynamics of social-ecological systems in the Chicago area.

The team includes colleagues from UIC, UIUC, DePaul and Loyola; the Field Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo and Chicago Botanic Garden; the U.S. Forest Service, the city’s Department of Environment, county forest preserve districts and community land trusts.

“The underlying assumption is that you can’t study nature and humans independently of each other,” explains Wise, co-chair of the Chancellor’s Committee on Sustainability and Energy.

“And you can’t construct sustainable, resilient systems without understanding ecosystem processes. This is a revolution in thinking in the last few years.”

Humans have become a force of nature and there is no “balance of nature” without them, he says, adding, “we can’t escape the moral responsibility for engineering the world’s ecosystems.”

Wise believes personal actions are important, but collective actions are more important.

“The sciences have been aware for over a generation that humans are changing the global environment,” he says.

“Sustainability teaches us that we live in a finite world. We must support painful collective action — incentives and legislation — and support politicians who are willing to make difficult decisions.”

Kate Yoshida is program coordinator in the Office of the Sustainability.

David Wise: “we can’t escape the moral responsibility for engineering the world’s ecosystems.”

David Wise

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