As any history book will tell you, the environmental movement has often been associated with fascism and is thought to have caused our country’s Great Depression. But public perception of both the environment and environmentalists is improving.

Before I write too much, though, I should stress that in today’s column we will absolutely not discuss whether the current global warming trend is man-made or natural — is that what you were expecting? Good lord, if you don’t think humanity is causing it, then you better make sure you don’t operate heavy machinery, serve on a jury or reproduce for the rest of your life.

No, today’s column is about the Program in the Environment major — the only concentration that includes the words “program in the” in its title for absolutely no reason. Anyway, despite the increasing amount of respect with which we treat the environment, or with which we want to treat the environment but are just kind of lazy, or with which we would like to see our public officials treat the environment if they weren’t brainless gerbils, many students scoff at the PitE concentration (pronounced “pity”).

Of course, I’m no stranger to people scoffing at my major. I was going to concentrate in English for a long time and had to deal with a LOT of verbal and physical abuse, mostly from my father. Also, I became tired of writing papers that featured topics like: “In William Carlos Williams’s ‘The Red Wheelbarrow,’ the speaker meditates on the supreme importance of a reddish wheelbarrow that’s a little wet and has some chickens next to it. Actually, that is the entire poem. It literally has — get this! — sixteen words, and he allegedly wrote it in five minutes. But it is a masterpiece, according to people that hold degrees that you don’t. Considering that it is a masterpiece: (1) What does it say about the human condition? (2) What does it say about the chicken condition? (3) Which condition (human or chicken) is more emotionally arresting? (Be sure to mention the wheelbarrow at some point.)”

Needless to say, like many people who enjoy nature but have difficulty making life plans, I switched to PitE. Little did I know that the major has virtually the same reputation as English — many non-PitE students just don’t take it seriously. So I’d like to correct some of the false assumptions people have about the concentration, starting with: “Don’t only hippies major in PitE?”

This is absolutely false. PitE attracts people from all walks of life — hippies, hipsters, artists, animal lovers, super-meta-ironic self-identifying anti-hipsters, people who enjoy recreation, people who enjoy recreational marijuana and, of course, vegetarians. To say that only hippies major in PitE is to say that only scumbags become lawyers. Well, let’s use a less contentious analogy: to say that only hippies major in PitE is to say that only geeks major in engineering. It’s simply not true. Anyone can love and respect the earth unless they’re an asteroid.

Another ignorant utterance is: “I’ve heard there’s no math involved in PitE and your individual ‘program’ can be laughably easy.” This is a typical response from students studying triple advanced biochemistry or honors theoretical particle physics and it’s often tinged with jealousy. While it’s true that the finer points of calculus and physics and all that stuff aren’t stressed in environment classes as much as they are in other scientific concentrations, it’s a moot point at best. (Note to English majors: A good rhetorical way to refute your opponents’ arguments is to simply call all their points — or their faces — “moot.”) Simply put, PitE majors don’t need fancy mathematics to tackle such issues as sustainability and global warming. People are wasteful, the earth is heating up. It’s not that hard!

Of course, cynics will jump on this and say, “So you’ll be leaving the actual solving of the energy and climate crisis to engineers, physicists, etc., hmmm?” This is rather petty, but it deserves a response. Consider this: until we solve the energy and climate crisis, who will actively nag people to turn off lights? To recycle? To use reusable water bottles? Reusable grocery bags? Certainly not engineers and physicists, who often have less social skills than a cactus.

Ultimately, the Program in the Environment major isn’t some useless degree to be frowned upon like English or Organizational Studies — it’s a dynamic, interesting alternative to real degrees in biology or ecology, degrees that require considerably more effort. However, it will still get you a job. At least I hope so. I don’t want to go back to being an English major. If life is all about a red wheelbarrow then we’re all doomed, no matter what happens to the climate.

Will Grundler can be reached at wgru@umich.edu.

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