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Eugene Weekly : 03.17.05

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Remembering John Baldwin

by Eben Fodor

When I arrived on the UO campus in the fall of 1990 to do graduate work in the Environmental Studies Program, it was immediately evident that Professor Baldwin was the environmental BMOC. That was the year he founded the Institute for a Sustainable Environment and began serving as its director. He had just stepped down from being head of the Environmental Studies Program, which he was instrumental in establishing in 1982, shortly after arriving at the University.

The next year he became president of the North American Association for Environmental Education and went to Rio de Janeiro for the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (still one of the great landmark environmental events) and rubbed elbows with Al Gore and other prominent world leaders.

His Introduction to Environmental Studies class was a core class for Environmental Studies, but was a popular class for all students seeking enlightenment on the state of our natural world. Most students got much more than they bargained for. John's lectures were often stunning, jaw-dropping and eye-popping. I know because I served as his GTF for three terms of IES. I watched as young minds began to grasp the scope and magnitude of our global environmental crisis.

John was an extraordinary speaker who could bring together vast amounts of information in a steady, coherent flow to make one point after another in a compelling and dynamic performance. This man should be "Oregon Educator of the Year" I thought — many times. But that's the way it often is, when great work goes unnoticed by the larger world. Thankfully, OSPIRG recognized him with an award for excellence in teaching in 1991.

He was always accessible and available to meet with students and often followed his students' progress after graduation, helping them in any way he could. He would tell me proudly about the good work some of them were doing around the country.

He studied zoology and wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the home of famed naturalist Aldo Leopold. As part of his doctoral work he helped to run a reserve for sandhill cranes. One day a station wagon came down the dirt road toward the visitor's center driven by a man with his two kids in the back seat. The car came to a stop in front of John and the man rolled down his window and asked what the purpose of this reserve was. John explained the mission of the reserve to help protect the cranes' dwindling marsh and wetland habitat. The man was unimpressed and asked "Well what are these cranes good for anyway?"

John went into a lengthy explanation about how unique the magnificent sandhill cranes are, their limited habitat, their long migrations, the vulnerability of their species, and so forth. The man was still perplexed. "But are they good to eat?" he finally asked. John leaned over to him and said, "Are your children good to eat?"

John's talents and energies knew no boundaries. His passion for protecting the natural environment took him around the globe many times — to places like Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Russia, Kyrghystan and Ukraine. His keen mind and infectious enthusiasm made him an inspiring and effective environmental leader. One colleague called him the "pied piper" of sustainable development.

He was a big picture thinker. No field of study was outside his reach, whether science, philosophy, business or politics. He knew the past and the present and brought these to bear on shaping the future. He never got lost in the details, but never lost sight of them either.

John keynoted many international environmental conferences around the world and accepted virtually every invitation to speak on environmental topics anywhere, to any audience.

John wrote the best early book on environmental planning in 1984 (Environmental Planning and Management) and co-authored Corporate Environmental Policy and Government Regulation (1994). As Associate Professor in Planning, Public Policy and Management, he taught courses on environmental planning and impact analysis, world energy policy and planning, sustainable development, and on the Oregon Land Use Program. He served twice as PPPM Department chair.

John's outspoken intellectual honesty was one of the qualities I appreciated most. He wasn't afraid to tell it like it is. For some reason, environmental figureheads often get caught up in a "feel-good" version of environmentalism. This version is intended to appeal to a wide audience by telling people what they want to hear: that we can solve the world's environmental problems if we simply switch to recycled stationary, eat fewer endangered ocean fish, have better planned urban developments, or drive smaller cars. But this is fundamentally misleading. At best, these strategies will gain us a few moments more to actually address the real problems. As long as human population and consumption keeps expanding, we will continue to push other species off the planet until our ecological support system is completely overwhelmed. John made it clear to all his audiences that the time for action is now.

"Look at your hand!" he would implore of his IES students. "Your hand is made from dirt. Your body is just a step or two on the food chain from the soil we walk on. You're a product of the earth." John was more the pragmatic realist than the sentimentalist or romantic, so I don't think he was preoccupied with matters of his own death. "Dust to dust" and the cycles-of-life where more his philosophy.

John shocked us all by passing away last Monday night (3/7/05) of an undiagnosed illness. John enjoyed exceptional health, energy and productivity throughout his 54-year life. In fact I never knew him to be either tired or sick. So, like everyone else, I certainly didn't expect a mere illness to do him in.

John made a real difference in this world and will always be an inspiration to those who knew him. We will dearly miss his clear voice, brilliant mind and hearty laugh.

 

A Memorial Service and Celebration of Life for Dr. John Baldwin will be held Friday, March 18, from 3-5 pm in Gerlinger Lounge in Gerlinger Hall on the UO campus (on University Street between 14th and 15th). Doors to the lounge will open at 2:30 pm and all are welcome. John is survived by his wife Karen, and children Erin (21), Ian (17) and Will (almost 6). For more information, contact the PPPM department at 346-3808 or by e-mail at pppm@uoregon.edu.

Gifts in memory of John Baldwin can be made to support a scholarship or fund in John's name at the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management. Contributions can be sent to:

John Baldwin Memorial Fund, UO Foundation, P.O. Box 3346, Eugene, OR 97403-0346.

 

Eben Fodor Fodor & Associates Community Planning Consulting

394 East 32nd Ave Eugene, OR 97405 541-345-8246 www.FodorandAssociates.com