Erik Nelson (Critic, Architecture) will lecture at the Forum on Philosophy, Engineering, and Technology (fPet) at the University of Maryland, College Park at the end of May. As an engineer working with wood—specifically, designing wood buildings— Nelson developed an interest in better understanding our relationship with trees, how our history with trees and forests has changed over time, and what we have learned from living alongside and with our forests. Not only do trees provide clean air, store carbon, stabilize soils, and provide food and shelter, they also help us be better human beings and give us a broader foundation for discussions of ethics.
Nelson will present on the complicated relationship with forests, using American history as a guide, which is fraught with success and failure, describing the significant environmental movements and forest land pioneers, alongside ethical traditions. These different ethical views led to some controversy, pitting conservationists against preservationists, and helped usher in a new ethical framework, one not simply based on human interactions. For us to thrive, animals, plants and the land must thrive, as well. For us to thrive, animals, plants and the land must thrive, as well. He will provide examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic can help engineers make better decisions regarding the design and use of wood as well as better evaluate the wood harvesting practices in the lumber industry. This talk will argue that all the main ethical traditions (Utilitarianism, Deontology, Virtue Ethics, etc) can be strengthened by thinking beyond human interests but at the intersections of animals, plants, and the land.