When values seem askew at the U

By Mark Robinson

On a recent beautiful summer afternoon, my wife and I took a stroll through our St. Anthony Park neighborhood. We ended up stopping to appreciate the pollinator garden at the U of M’s Bee Lab.

A great number of bees and butterflies were feasting on the variety of native plants in bloom. We talked about how refreshing it was to hear and see this literal buzz of insect activity. We stopped to read the sign about how to help bee populations.

As we walked away we noticed the difference between the lawn at the Bee Lab and the lawn in front of the building next door. One was dotted with clover flowers and weeds. The other was clearly receiving a solid dose of herbicides/pesticides.

How could this be? How could the U of M, through the Bee Lab, put up a sign encouraging regular citizens to not use pesticides and plant more native flowers, and then not follow their own advice? What hypocrisy!

What are the values of the U? What do those values mean to them?

A quick look at the U of M’s mission statement online brought me to this quote: “We apply our expertise to meet the needs of Minnesota, our nation and the world. We partner with communities across Minnesota to engage our students, faculty and staff in addressing society’s most pressing issues.”

Perhaps the U of M doesn’t see protecting the environment as a pressing issue. I do, and I want the U of M to take quicker action on protecting our environment.

For starters, the U could examine the environmental footprint of its golf course. Even the most casual observer can tell that golf courses harm our environment. They use huge amounts of water, fertilizer and herbicide to maintain their perfect turf. The nitrogen from the fertilizer runs off into our waterways.

The U of M’s golf course could easily be restored to a natural habitat so that instead of harming our environment it could become a carbon sink and a habitat for pollinators and birds.

Perhaps some might say such an action is not necessary, too drastic. But they should consider how scientists are bending themselves over backward to come up with ways to reduce our carbon emissions, remove blue-green algae from our lakes and waterways, protect the rusty-patched bumble bee — the list goes on.

In our environmental crisis, anything that isn’t helping is hurting. This golf course is hurting.

It might take some time for a lumbering giant of an institution like the U of M to take such action, so I encourage Bugle readers to boycott the U of M golf course — and any other golf course for that matter. Just like you might think twice about taking a plastic bag at a convenience store, you should think twice about supporting golf courses.

A hard request, you say. You might be very emotionally connected to golfing. Well, I’m reminded of two things: a conversation I had with my daughter and an incident involving John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

My teenage daughter told me a story about how she was petting a pig and it started licking her hand. She giggled with delight as she remembered the incident.

Then I told her that before that pig turns one year old it will be slaughtered and turned into bacon and ham. I also told her that a pig has all the emotional intelligence of a dog and is even smarter than a dog. She didn’t like to hear that. You see, she really loves bacon. She didn’t want to be reminded of the other side to the story of the life of that pig. She wanted to stay in that pleasant memory of interacting with the pig. But, she also loves bacon. So, she yelled at me.

It’s hard to be caught in hypocrisy.

It makes one uncomfortable; so uncomfortable, one might even do all manner of nasty things. Witness John Kerry trying to dodge accusations of hypocrisy for owning a private jet. Why couldn’t he be direct and honest about the issue? The hypocrisy made him manufacture all sorts of rationalizations. None of which even slightly changed the fact that his family owned a private jet while he was the climate czar. And, that’s hypocrisy! If you stand as a defender of the environment, you should not own a private jet.

It comes down to what your values are and if you’re going to live by them. If you don’t value the environment, own and fly that private plane. If you do care about the environment, drastically limit your air travel and fly coach. If you really value how cute a pig is, don’t eat one with your breakfast the next morning.

And, if you believe that more needs to be done to rescue our environment from ourselves, put down the golf clubs. Moreover, if you’re a major educational institution with the value of educating youth and preparing them for the future, get rid of your golf course and plant more pollinator gardens like the beautiful one at the Bee Lab.

Overall, place your moral reasoning above your emotional attachment. The university might love its perfectly manicured weedless lawns throughout its campus, but it should abandon that aspiration in favor of a more noble and moral aspiration. I believe many, like those who appreciate the Bee Lab’s garden, would appreciate the gesture. 

Mark Robinson, St. Anthony Park

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