The Watershed Institute held its 3rd Annual New Jersey Watershed Conference, an educational event that aims to advance knowledge and communications on issues related to water quality and quantity across the state. The event included a variety of presentations from local experts on watershed management, stormwater, and problems and solutions related to the health of New Jersey’s watersheds.
During the conference, Princeton Hydro’s Marketing Coordinator Kelsey Mattison, a St. Lawrence University graduate with a degree in English and environmental studies, lead a workshop that explored binaries in environmental thought and how to break through those limiting thought processes in order to advance a more productive and shared understanding of our natural world.
The presentation, titled “Flipping the Script on American Environmental Thought,” discussed how black-and-white thought processes (a.k.a. binaries) cause us to view issues as one or the other, leaving little to no room for the possibility of blending the two.
Historically, American thought has viewed environmental issues through a binary lens: either we favor human society, or we favor the environment, and this juxtaposition has rarely allowed for integration between the two perspectives.
Take, for example, the two concepts of preservation and conservation toted by John Muir and Gifford Pinchot, respectively. Muir’s concept of preservation argued that humans should set land aside to leave untouched to preserve its natural beauty, while Pinchot’s concept of conservation advocated for a responsible use of the land’s resources. Both are forms of environmental advocacy, but neither leave much room to combine the two ideas, ultimately creating a black and white binary surrounding human responsibility to the planet. This makes it difficult to then make any compromise on issues related to managing or utilizing our natural resources.
The workshop also explored answers to the important question of: “How do we flip the script to be more inclusive?” Participants discussed ideas around utilizing Values-Based Communication in order to connect with people from different groups/with different values. A few of the communication strategies Kelsey presented, include:
- Finding Common Ground:
When groups are telling such different narratives, it can be hard to see that their goals might actually be completely in line. By first identifying what each group’s priorities are, we can better understand their needs in order to help fulfill them. This allows people with seemingly conflicting beliefs to work towards a common goal.
- Seeing More than Two Sides:
Generally, people default to thinking there are only two sides to an issue, but no conflict is ever truly just one thing or the other. Even if there are overtly two options, the issue is always more complex. When resolving conflict, it’s almost always possible to find at least one thing the two sides have in common.
Overall, Kelsey’s workshop emphasized the importance of open-mindedness and inclusion in our approach to environmental action in order to bring people together and foster real change. If you’re interested in learning more, click here for a free download of Kelsey’s full presentation.
The New Jersey Watershed Conference, of which Princeton Hydro was a sponsor and exhibitor, also included presentations on topics ranging from urban flooding to microplastics in our waterways to green infrastructure. Dr. Fred Lubnow, Princeton Hydro’s Director of Aquatic Programs, presented on the “Causes and Impacts of Harmful Algal Blooms.” To view the complete agenda, go here.
Princeton Hydro is a proud supporter of The Watershed Institute, a nonprofit organization comprised of policy advocates, scientists, land and water stewards, naturalists, and educators. Focused on the Central New Jersey area, the Watershed Institute speaks out for water and environment, protects and restores sensitive habitats, tests waterways for pollution, and inspires others to care for the natural world. For more information, or to become a member, go here.