Curing Our Nature Deficit

December 6, 2012—As President of Georgetown’s Center for the Environment, Biology Professor Edd Barrows educates individuals about the natural world in hope of curing our nature-deficit disorder.

A term coined by journalist Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods, nature-deficit disorder refers to the negative consequences that can arise from less contact with the nature. “A lot of people don’t know about the nature world,” Barrows explained. According to Barrows, this isolation from nature can also lead to a disconnect from science in general. “There’s a feeling among scientists that too many people are safe from science,” he continued.

An expert on the biodiversity of the Hilltop, Barrows introduced readers to the flora and fauna of Georgetown’s main campus and its environs in his book Nature, Gardens, and Georgetown (2006). For the book’s next edition, Barrows has studied the biodiversity of Georgetown’s international locations: Villa Le Balze in Florence, Italy, and the School of Foreign Service in Doha, Qatar.

Barrows has also been conducting his own long-term research on the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve (DMWP), one of three national parks located near Georgetown. DMWP is located just south of Old Town Alexandria along the Potomac River and Georgetown Washington Memorial Parkway. “The DMWP has thousands of arthropod species not yet named by scientists and [other] rare species,” he explained. Arthropods are small invertebrates with segmented bodies, such as spiders, scorpions, and butterflies.

“These arthropods are a major part of DMWP’s ecosystem, including its food web. My lab’s study is one of only a few surveys of arthropods of rare tidal, freshwater marshes,” he continued.

When he is not at Dyke Marsh, Barrows introduces students to the biodiversity around Georgetown through courses like Forest Ecology. “I think that all students should take an excellent course in sustainability and earth stewardship, in which they learn to live truly green lives,” he said. An understanding of earth stewardship and the natural world, Barrows believes, would lead to better engaged citizens and voters. He notes that this generation is already amenable to change. “There’s a movement among young people that they see the environment as a [priority].

“At the Center for the Environment, I have six [undergraduate] interns, and I learn a lot from them. They are wonderful for enlightening me,” he said. “They’re teaching me, and they are trying to teach others.”

Along with a minor in environmental studies, the center offers a wide range of events throughout the year. Barrows and his student interns have hosted prominent speakers, such as renowned journalist and environmental activist Bill McKibben, planned gatherings for student leaders, and co-sponsored environmental film screenings and art exhibitions.

Barrows plans to continue his work through the Center for the Environment and also through Georgetown’s new Environment Initiative. Launched in November 2012, the initiative is a university-wide effort to advance the interdisciplinary study of the environment in relation to society and stewardship of natural resources.

“I am currently going to the Environment Initiative’s scientific talks by researchers and others. After the talks, the initiative has a roundtable in regard to enhancing environmental education and research at Georgetown,” he said. “I hope that the Environment Initiative and the Center for the Environment will co-sponsor many events and projects in the future.”

But for now, Barrows will continue his work encouraging people to stop and look around. “Learn about organisms and ecosystems," he said. "Nowadays, there is so much information about these things on the web that it is easy to find information about these subjects. Take more interest in the natural world around us.”

—Elizabeth Wilson