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Dr. Kim Landsbergen

Interview with Dr. Kim Landsbergen

I’m Kim Landsbergen. I am an associate professor of Biology and Environmental Science. I joined the faculty at Antioch in fall of 2014.

I am an army kid. My folks are from Tennessee and Florida. And I spent my formative years growing up and moving around all over the place. So the whole idea of Co-Op and relocation and making-do and putting your feet down is very familiar to me. And I went to high school and college in Tennessee. So Tennessee is where I claim my home. And that’s where my roots are. I spent a lot of time there. That’s what feels like home to me.

This past term, I ended up teaching four classes, which is double the normal load. I normally teach Ecology, ENVS205. Ecology. That’s a core course, I believe, for all biology students. That’s very equivalent to what an intro ecology course would be at other institutions, sort of like Biology 101. There are some fundamental concepts that everyone who’s taken ecology should know. Like how evolution influences ecological processes and how species interact with their environment, why do we find them, where we find them, and how do species interact with one another.

I teach that every winter and I taught a new course this term, a 400 level course, that is a new course officially on the books called Global Climate Change. And I find that, if you talk to any of my students, I talk about climate change in every single class I teach. 

I’ve been a faculty member and instructor for different institutions for about 20 years now. So, that’s been a really key part of my doctoral research, as well as my postdoc research and my pedagogy is to get people to think about large scale processes and climate change. That’s a big deal. I finally got a 400 level class on the books. Next term, I teach botany and I teach botany every spring and that really coincides beautifully with the end of the dreary, Ohio winter. And I tend to get a lot of students that have all kinds of interests, that would like to learn more about field botany, identifying plants and just earning credit for being outside and taking photos of blooming things and learning about plants. So that’s, I would say, probably one of my more popular classes. 

I’m also launching another new course called Advanced Topics in Ecology. These two new courses that I’ve added are 400 level. I just recently put together a table of all of the courses that I teach and thematically how they progress as well as thematically what they are offering. So some of them are at the Organismal Biology level. Botany is an Organismal Biology course. I will be putting another course on the books for this fall. And I taught it as a special topic before but it was so popular I’m going to add it to the regular roster. And it’s called The Structure and Function of Trees. So it’s an Organismal Biology course that focuses on trees. That will be a fall course every other year.

Anyway, I teach courses in general that are related to Organismal Biology, Environmental Science and Ecology. I am the only Environmental Science appointed faculty here. We’re kind of like Noah’s ark that way currently. I am the environmental scientist here. And I have my doctoral degree in Forest Ecosystem Analysis. So I’m very interested in thinking about systems, like how the behavior of individuals integrates into something larger. And I’m also very interested in how humans impact ecological systems. 

That’s kind of a mouthful about all the stuff that I do that I’m excited about. I would say one of the projects that I’ve launched at Antioch that I’ve been most proud of, is working with Hannah Montgomery collating all of our environmental information and submitting that to the AASHE Stars reporting system. So as I was mentioning earlier, Antioch is one of those places that has so many moving parts. It can be very difficult for people to see the concentrated bigger picture of things. Because there’s a lot of stuff going on. If you have someone say like, oh, I’m working on you know, liberation psychology, then you might have somebody else say, well, I did a class in that or I’m doing that or that’s part of my Co-Op, but there’s never a moment that pulls things together. I’ve been on the sustainability committee and right now we’re, with the strategic planning, we are, just to change topics a little bit, we are working with the strategic plan. With the departure of Glen Helen from the college we need to really take a bigger picture and think about what we want sustainability to look like writ large on the campus. 

Prior to COVID I was very active in helping provide leadership to our sustainability committee, which is kind of fallow right now. And part of that reason is because of COVID. So it was very much a thing where we were getting onto campus and our composting program has been reduced during COVID for health reasons. 

Now our campus is getting back to normal. How do we really think about sustainability as a major Campus Initiative? And how is that leadership going to shake out and what are the things that we’re going to commit to organizationally, and commit to financially? I think that the answer to those questions are going to come out when we do our college level strategic plan. I’ve been waiting for that to come together and I’m sure I’ll be active. I will continue to be active in sustainability as we go forward. 

Another thing to point out is that every student, at any arc, has to have a sustainability tagged course before they graduate. Just like our students have to have a class in Critical Race and Ethnicity studies. Students also have to have a course in Gender and Sexuality Studies. And they also have to have a course in Sustainability. Those three themes are tagged in various courses throughout our curriculum. The last time I checked, every single course I teach has an “S” tag to it. That’s such a fundamental commitment to who I am and my practice as I would say scientist slash activist. I feel that most of us who are at Antioch, either as students or alumni or staff or faculty, were drawn to this place because we want to see change in the world. We want to be part of that. And I feel like my special sauce is the science part. You can be a passionate environmentalist, but not necessarily understand the dynamics of the science very well. I feel like that’s something that I’m very interested in helping students understand. There are multiple different pathways to be effective as an advocate, I would say, underline the word advocate. And that can be within the system, without the system, ignoring the system, that living your own sustainable life, there’s lots of different ways that people can engage with that.

As a 400 level course, this course is really focused on helping students understand the science. So it may be a bit surprising, but 11 weeks… you know, it’s literally a global theme. Infinite numbers of dissertations have been written about it. Even if the whole point was getting students to read peer reviewed papers, and I would say that’s a big underline, so most of us get our information from the web, we get our information from news or TikTok or whatever. But in the sciences, we have to go to peer reviewed literature to really read and understand what’s going on. And I would say probably two thirds of the class we focused on large, physical systems. So, for example, things like atmospheric circulation, ocean circulation changing, physical oceanography, how the pH of the ocean is changing with increasing carbon dioxide. Many of these things are the physical drivers that then push all of the biology, all the human systems, all our ecological systems in particular ways. We really spent a lot of time reading and discussing the literature and some of these larger more complex ideas that I don’t think our students have encountered in our curriculum at all. We don’t have a faculty member who teaches physics. We don’t have a person who’s teaching differential equations. We don’t have someone who’s teaching thermodynamics. That’s a whole body of science that our students are not getting at Antioch, and we should.

Prior to COVID, we had a faculty line that had been approved for someone to hire someone who was teaching both physics and advanced math. And I hope that in the near future, we’ll be able to resume that hire because it’s a really critical and important body of knowledge. 

Anyway, about the student reaction: I think a lot of it was like, wow, this is stuff I didn’t know. I think a bigger understanding was realizing that systems have important feedback loops, and also the systems are nonlinear. So it can take a lot of time to tip something. But once it’s at that tipping vertex, it doesn’t take very much to really shove it over the cliff. So the way that systems interact, I think, was really an important part of our conversation. Another thing that I think the students were interested in, that I kept emphasizing, is that in many cases, much of the sciences are very young as we think of science. It is probably less than 50 years old, because we haven’t had things like satellites and very large arrays and monitoring networks that allow us and the computational power to pull it all together. Why would a forest geek like me find all of this critically important to know? I think that right now we’re at war, in a cold war, that’s heated up, but at its core, is the fossil fuel industry. Over the last 250 years, our human activity as it relates to development has done nothing but take fossil fuels that were buried in the earth and liquidated that carbon and put it back in the atmosphere. I think having a strong understanding of how that carbonization of our atmosphere is pushing many of our physical and biological systems. That’s a core understanding that I think is critical to come from that class. In the fall, I’ll be teaching ecosystem ecology. So obviously, global climate change is thinking about these big huge systems and how things, human systems like our availability of water, our ability to grow food, how our agricultural systems are going to change, how forest communities are going to be changing in terms of species composition, that’s the big, big scale stuff that we think about in that class. Ecosystem Ecology is a class that’s really asking questions about how ecosystems work. And the full title of that course is Ecosystem Ecology with Forest Lab. So we’ll have a weekly lab in the Glen and really focus on terrestrial ecosystems mainly.

I think Deep Ecology is probably the closest. And, for me, I don’t know if I can think of a label for it. But I would say that, as human beings, we often put ourselves at the core of everything. Right? A liberal arts education is mostly thinking about humanity. It’s thinking about history. It’s thinking about our own creative aspects, whether it’s creative writing, or art. Or we’re thinking about the social sciences like society and psychology and all of it is humans, humans, humans, humans, really. And my own personal philosophy is that I don’t think humans are all that. My understanding of Deep Ecology is very much the idea that there’s this larger system that our own hubris has put ourselves at the Ptolemaic center, and that’s really not where we are. And I think that that perspective is what causes a lot of our problems.

The world is complicated, and we have to solve multiple problems simultaneously. We don’t have time to do that. So there’s a lot of intersectionality in the difficulties that we have. So I would just say yes to both of them. I don’t think you can ignore either of them. But to say which is first I think is kind of a waste of time. Maybe that’s pretty heretical. I don’t know. But I think it’s great that there are people who spend their time thinking about Humanity with the big capital “H”.

The week that Russia invaded Ukraine was literally, I think they invaded on a Sunday, I believe is when that happened. On the following Monday, there is the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And it literally got about five seconds of airplay. And then it’s all been about Ukraine. But the Secretary General of the UN has stopped using diplomatic language. He’s just basically saying we are killing ourselves. He’s gone straight to it. And this report is really a monumental shift. It’s just basically saying, without a doubt, climate change is here. And without a doubt, we are already suffering in a massive way and there’s a big emphasis on environmental justice. So obviously, you can’t solve one without the other. But the reality is, this tragedy that’s happening in our face, 24/7, the horrible things that are happening in Western Europe, the day that that happened, I actually put my curriculum on the shelf and then spent the day in my classes talking to my students about how important this event is.The pandemic happened, and then this major, major political shift in Western Europe, as we are struggling to think about what climate change means for us. We’ve got to really talk about all of this. And I think that the generation of college students that we have now is very tired of living in “one of the most important moments of our time”. But it’s happening, and so I would just encourage the readers of this newsletter to realize that this new IPCC report is out. And it was meant to be a big, big splash, but obviously, no one’s heard about it or paid attention to it. And today’s news is that in order to pull the teeth out of Putin’s regime, the plan is for the United States to sell liquefied natural natural gas to Western Europe. But that’s fracking. Where do we get that from? We get it from fracking. So the fossil fuel interests in the United States are now all about that we are the patriotic solution to beating Putin. So within one month, it’s become a non issue. Climate change has become a non issue. And it’s very hard. I think President Biden has multiple, flaming rocks that he’s got at the same time that none of us have… we’re experiencing a new landscape together. And it’s very, very, I guess, the ecosystem aspects, the climate change aspects, those are very easy to lose sight of when you’re thinking about, as a human being, you’re thinking about your own world, your own resources, or your own loved one. But it’s the foundation that controls all of us ultimately, so…

I told my students that I felt like it was sort of like those old Japanese monster movies where Mothra and Godzilla are fighting but they’re all dinosaurs. Right? So I feel like Russia is desperately threatened by a decarbonized world. Even prior to the initiation of any violence. They are deeply financially threatened to the core by a decarbonized world. And if we don’t look at this opportunity to see how critical it is for our future that we have to make those steps towards renewables…what other wake-up calls do you need? But, all that being said, in my intro to environmental science class, we do talk about the renewable resources that we have on our campus, by the way. North Hall is a flagship building in terms of having its own solar array. It’s a LEED “Gold Building”. And it has a geothermal field that provides heating and cooling energy there. And then we also have our own geothermal field which is providing heating and cooling to the Wellness Center, ASB, and I think The Foundry Theater, the physical plant and the greenhouse. So our greenhouse is heated through geothermal, which is pretty awesome. We have a lot of renewable resources on our campus. That really large solar array is on our property, but we actually don’t physically own it. I believe SolarCity is the company that physically owns it, and they own the green properties of that energy. But we benefit financially and we’re also housing those facilities so we’re showing our community how much we think that matters. I think that we have lots of alumni who are working in some aspect of the environmental field. So I try to spend time connecting students to Co-Ops or connecting students in terms of mentorship. And I think we have a very strong environmental science legacy and currently a strong program. I have some names of students – people who have graduated since reopening, who are working in fields like urban forestry. One is a fire science technician. Another one as a field hydrologist in Dayton. I have another student who will be entering their doctoral program in ecology at Notre Dame. Another student who is finishing her master’s degree in Detroit. So we have a lot of students who are really successfully pursuing some professional field beyond Antioch in that way. It’s something really good.

The last thing I want to talk about, I really want to bring up, is the Antioch tree team project.

There’s a couple of things I want to do. I’d like to get a web page. I would like to have a lab web page that talks about the work that I do with my students because mentoring student research is a huge part of what I do. I mentioned I’m teaching four classes. Ecology, Global Climate Change, but I’m also teaching the Junior Science Seminar. And then I’m also offering a Cap450, which is kind of like an independent study, but it’s for any student earning a bachelor of science. They basically have to spend two quarters working on their senior project. I am supervising three, in fact, four seniors right now who are taking Cap450 with me, and working on their senior project. So doing independent studies, helping students get access to research, helping them apply for jobs, helping them apply for grants, is something I really take seriously and I think it’s paying off for the students who are putting that work in as part of their curriculum.

The segue with the Antioch Tree Team is that I’ve been working over the last couple of years to see our campus recognized as an official Tree Campus by the Arbor Day Foundation. That involves having a Tree Committee and involves having a Tree Care Plan for the campus. The Antioch Tree Team is a group and a research effort that I’ve been doing with students since the fall of 2018. And we have measured, identified, censused, and mapped about three quarters of the trees on campus. And we will continue to do that. I’ve had three students do senior projects as part of that. And one of them is now working as an urban forester for Florida Power Light. That’s Stephanie Harmon. She graduated in 2019. There’s a lot of interest in thinking about urban forests. And I think tying all that together: climate change, human wellbeing, ecology, design. Urban forestry is at the intersection of all of that, and also environmental justice because a lot of it takes money to maintain an Urban Canopy. And a lot of areas that are financially disadvantaged, don’t have a lot of trees, which means they’re hotter, which means they’re more vulnerable to the mega heat events in the future. It’s very much a project that’s tied together. And we always celebrate Earth Week and Earth Month. So that’s got a lot going on. We’re going to be doing multiple things. Our entire Community Day, which is going to be the second Tuesday of the quarter, is going to be entirely focused on Earth Week and lots of fun stuff. We’re going to do more tree planting and just general planting. We’ll be screening some films. There’s going to be some fun stuff happening on campus. This year has sort of been an academic year of really kind of getting back on campus, getting your feet back on the ground, having Jane and our new VPs, which has been fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about these changes. And I think next year is going to be even better. I have a lot of confidence in the institution. I think that it feels like things are lining up and coming together in a way that I haven’t seen since I started working here. I’m very encouraged!