Roosevelt University Sustainability Studies professor Mike Bryson gave a presentation on October 31st at the annual conference of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts held in Indianapolis, IN. Entitled “That’s Some Fish Story: What the Asian Carp Controversy Can Tell Us about Science, Sustainability, and the Future of the Great Lakes Watershed,” Bryson’s talk framed the controversy as a complex tangle of scientific, political, legal, and rhetorical issues, rather than a simple “environment vs. economy” debate. As he argued:
Right now one of the greatest fish stories in recent decades is unfolding before our eyes. Its epicenter is the southwestern rim of the Great Lakes Watershed — itself the world’s biggest freshwater surface resource. The Great Asian Carp Controversy has spawned a multistate legal battle about how to prevent the entry of two non-native carp species into the Great Lakes from the Sanitary and Ship Canal that connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River basin, and thus avoid a potential environmental catastrophe.
The debate about the Asian Carp problem and how to deal with it encompasses a breathtaking variety of conflicting cultural narratives that take the form of media reports, policy documents, international treaties, and scientific studies. Several key themes and tropes structure these narratives, including the dangerous specter of invasive species, sometimes referred to as “biological pollution”; the contested credibility of a new scientific technique, environmental DNA (e-DNA) monitoring; competing economic and ecological arguments about local versus regional sustainability; the role of uncertainty in science and policy; and the capabilities and limitations of technology to solve environmental problems.
Consequently, a sustainability-focused assessment of the Asian Carp threat needs to take into account not just the relevant scientific information, environmental policy, and legal frameworks, but also the content and rhetoric of the fish stories being told. Moreover, the controversy provides an opportunity to critically reflect on the multiple meanings of the sustainability concept itself.
Bryson’s presentation was informed not only by his own research, but by the inspiring and informative discussions of water issues in Chicago and the Great Lakes region taking place in his current SUST 220 Water course this semester at Roosevelt University. Students in this course’s inaugural section have learned about a range of local water topics, including water supply, wastewater treatment, river ecology, and wetland restoration, as well as how the Asian Carp threat to the Great Lakes links local water concerns with broader regional issues. Field trips this semester have included a canoe trip on Bubbly Creek, a heavily-polluted tributary of the Chicago River; and a tour of the Des Plaines River Wetlands Demonstration Project in northern Lake County, IL.
If you are interested in learning more about Roosevelt’s Sustainability Studies program, investigate our degree options and our course listings. For more information, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email applyRU@roosevelt.edu.