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What Would Thomas Jefferson Think about Climate Change?

Peter Onus, a history professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and a leading scholar on Thomas Jefferson, speaks at BSU this week. (Slowking4/Wikimedia Commons)
Peter Onus, a history professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and a leading scholar on Thomas Jefferson, speaks at BSU this week. (Slowking4/Wikimedia Commons)
March 11, 2019

BOISE, Idaho – What can Thomas Jefferson teach us about the environment today?

Talks at Boise State University are exploring nature through topics like this and others.

The Idea of Nature public lecture series aims to foster conversations about the environment across different areas of expertise.

This week, Peter Onuf, a leading Thomas Jefferson scholar, speaks about the third U.S. president's idea of nature, democracy and human progress.

Onuf says Jefferson had a strong faith that people would make the world better – and wonders what that means today, in the face of climate change.

"Can we restore a kind of faith in human possibility that is characteristic of the Enlightenment, in which nature is seen as a book and 'book' is a sacred object – a way into the world?” he asks. “Can we do that knowing what we know about what has happened to the planet itself?"

The series is sponsored in part by The Nature Conservancy of Idaho. It's at the BSU Student Union on Wednesday starting at 6 p.m.

Last month, the series featured Paulette Jordan, a recent candidate for governor, In April, BSU hosts Bernd Heinrich, a biology professor from the University of Vermont, who will speak about our changing views of nature.

Boise State professor Samantha Harvey organized the Idea of Nature series nearly a decade ago. She says it takes a special kind of scholar to bridge his or her area of specialty into other disciplines.

"I feel like we need more of that right now, as things seem to get stagnant in our conversations about nature,” she states. “And we need fresh ways of looking at things, and fresh ways of connecting ideas, to move us forward in this moment of environmental change."

Onuf says "union" was a key word for Jefferson in his own time, and could also be key for the world as it faces a changing climate.

"It doesn't mean dissolving who you are or losing yourself in a totalitarian regime,” he states. “It means fulfilling yourself through your connections with other people, retaining your integrity as an autonomous individual.

“That seems to me a beautiful dream, but it's not just a beautiful dream, it's an urgent necessity."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID