The Rapidian

Moral Ground 2010: The Biology of Responsibility

Underwriting support from:

The Moral Ground Town Hall Meeting

Date: Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010
Time: 7 pm
Location: Spectrum Theater, 160 Fountain NE
This event is free and open to the public.
The evening will include live music from local folk/rock band Big Dudee Roo, brief readings from "Moral Ground" editors Moore and Nelson, and an open discussion with the audience. A reception and book signing will follow.

Event sponsors: GRCC, GVSU, and the City of Grand Rapids.
Visit: for more information.

Find other responses to the "Moral Ground" question from local leaders here.

/Laurie Foster

"When I see students eating snacks from the vending machine, I cringe at all the packaging they have to remove just to eat them."

~ Laurie Foster, Professor of Biology at GRCC


Professor Laurie Foster has been a Professor of Biology at Grand Rapids Community College for 20 years. Her interest lies in teaching non-science majors biology, and her mission/philosophy is to help students gain confidence and expose them to the world of living things in a way that brings relevancy to their everyday lives.

She answers the 'Moral Ground' question - "Do we have a moral or ethical responsiblity to preserve the planet for the future? - without pause. "Yes we do.” She goes on to explain that we need to define who has the responsibility and accountability.

The question comes from the book Moral Ground, edited by Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson, which includes the answers of numerous political, social, religious, and environmental leaders from around the world. The book is also the focus of The Moral Ground Event coming up on October 26 at Grand Rapid Community College's Spectrum Theater.

For Foster, responsibility lies not only with us as individuals but with our culture as a whole and with the government at large. She believes we should all do what we can, such as recycling, buying locally, and using fuel conservative forms of travel when possible. All of these efforts will help us reach a goal of sustainable living, but they will not solve the larger problem of our decaying environment. Foster asserts that we need a change in not only our formal education but in the cultural education we all receive from the society we live in. By teaching our children from an early age and then giving them examples in society of sustainable life choices we may be able to enact the lasting change needed to preserve the planet for future generations.

She also believes that we cannot hold everyone on this planet to the same level of responsibility and accountability. Since those of us in affluent countries are the greatest perpetrators of energy consumption, waste, etc., we should be held to a higher level of accountability than those in poorer developing countries. “If you have the facilities and resources available to you to recycle and live sustainably then you should, and if you don't then you should be held accountable in some way." She continues to say that even if we have to have the government step in and enforce fines for not living sustainably when we can, then we should.

Again she is careful to say that there needs to be different levels of accountability. If you live in a rural area and mass transit is unavailable to you then you should not by punished for driving a car more than someone who lives in an urban environment. She points out that likewise this applies to individuals and families that are at or near the poverty line. Professor Foster does not believe people living in poverty should have to endanger their economic stability to live a more sustainable life, nor should they be held as accountable as an affluent family who chooses not to live sustainably.

She sums up her answer to the Moral Ground question by presenting three areas that, as Americans, we cause the most damage to the environment in. The first being cattle farms, specifically the astronomical amount of energy and resource consumption needed to run them and our insatiable hunger for red meat. She points out that the people in this country consume more red meat than any other nation.

Second is our nearly limitless amount of plastic products. As our technology has advanced, so has the amount of packaging we use. "When I see students eating snacks from the vending machine, I cringe at all the packaging they have to remove just to eat them,” Professor Foster remarks.

Last is the volume of cars we as a nation depend on. Not just the pollution the cars put out but also the massive amounts of resources needed to operate them. "I would love to see a monorail built here in Grand Rapids,” she says with a look of wonder. Yet Professor Foster is quick to bring up her notion of responsibility again by posing the question, "Who would pay for it [a train system] and who would build it?"

Disclosure: Professor Laurie Foster is a biology professor at Grand Rapids Community College, and I am a student there as well.

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