Tony McDowell


The Earthplace Executive Director presented the Y’s Men with an environmental perspective.  He stated that the ultimate goal is “global sustainability”, which is defined as meeting present needs without compromising future generational needs.  There are three component parts to global sustainability: economic, social and environmental.  Mr. McDowell focused on the environmental.

The base line question he asks is, how are we doing?  Over the previous 100,000 years of man’s existence the spotlight has to fall on the last 250 years (known as the period of great acceleration) with even more emphasis on the period since 1950.  During these relatively recent years there has been an explosion in population, urban growth, real GDP, energy use, water use and telecommunication use.  At the same time there has been a huge increase in fertilizer use, generation of carbon dioxide and methane gas and a rise in surface temperatures.  

These changes have presented us with risks, which include: increased melting of the ice caps; increased ozone in the stratosphere, the over fishing of oceans, acidification of oceans, reduction in tropical forests and an explosive increase in coastal nitrogen, which kills off reefs and protective coastal grasses. All this has resulted in the extinction of more species than occurred in the Jurassic period when dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid colliding with earth.  

To fight against these risks we need education.  This has to be based on the “Theory of Change”, which starts with long term goals and then works backward to the steps that lead to those goals.  The first step is developing a sustainable community where a conscious regard for nature guides action.  After that we need to set a goal for net zero emissions (2050 for Westport).  Then we must reintroduce natural species into the community and finally we must reduce the amount of nitrogen loading into the watersheds.

And this all begins with education for kids where we make nature fun.  This is turn leads to intellectual impact and action, which leads in turn to shared thinking in the community.  Places like Earthplace and the Outward Bound have programs structured to do this.


Q.  Westport residents have a large environmental footprint.  How do we change this?

A.  We need community programs that emphasize these values like developing the windmills in Amsterdam and 2/3 of the Copenhagen residents biking to work each day.

Q.  Aren’t we lacking in geography education in our schools that would teach the importance of various environments?

A.  I can’t speak to that, but perhaps it’s something that should be raised with the Board of Ed.

Q.  What can we do to get more government involvement?

A.  The states are doing a lot.  It is already happening, but more on the local level than the federal.

Q.  How does Earthplace raise its money?

A.  Donations are important.  We also have programs like our nursery school, which raise money.  The Town of Westport gives us about 5% of our budget.

Q.  How serious is the world about the Paris Agreement?

A.  We can’t say with any certainty, but it’s important that all the nations signed on and also signed on to adjusting the goals every five years.

Q.  How can we get away from our heavy car use in rural places?

A.  We have to figure it out and we may be helped with innovative technology.