ROCK ISLAND -- Focusing people on the nature in their own backyards might be more effective than sweeping images of mountains and rain forests, a well-known environmentalist told Quad-Citians on Wednesday.
"The reality is, the majority of nature people see every day is much smaller," Molly Steinwald, director of science education and research at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, told about 200 people at Augustana College.
She noted when she was young, she often encountered environmentalism through activists with a very forward approach:"If you don't have a Prius, you're an evil person."
But Ms. Steinwald said she didn't come from an affluent family and that kind of message was hard to swallow while worrying about when she might eat next. Advocating such a large scope, she said,might kill the desire people have to help.
Instead, she suggested focusing on attainable goals and an individual's unique circumstances. Environmental movements must not only understand the environment, she said, but the people who can help conserve it.
Environmental issues are very much related to mental and physical health, Ms. Steinwald said.Enriching people's relationship with the nature close to their homes has become a useful tool for the conservatory in recent years, she said.
One of its goals is focusing on under-served youth and "working from where you are," she said. Youth can learn how to grow native, edible plants in their own circumstances, teaching them how to help feed themselves while supporting the local ecology.
They also can learn how photography can record the nature around them. Media can effectively convey environmental messages, said Ms. Steinwald,a photographer who uses her own nature photos to show others what can be found near their homes.
"Using art to get people to notice the world around them is actually much more effective than talking at them," Ms. Steinwald said.
She noted Phipps also has focused on green construction in anumber of sustainability upgrades and additions during the last 10 years. Its welcome center is underground to help with cooling. Computers optimized energy use in greenhouses. Waste and storm water are treated and reused as much as possible.
Its Center for Sustainable Landscapes -- originally a Pittsburgh public works building considered a brownfield -- has become a sustainability showcase.
Its sidingis recycled material from Pennsylvania barns. A mix of alternative energy and energy-saving design makes the building's footprint as small as possible.Windows can be opened to cool the building, and ceilings are angled to reflect natural light and minimize energy usage.
"Everything is a closed loop with this building," Ms. Steinwald said.
She said environmental designers must remember the people who work in a building. Natural light improves brain and eye function while also saving electricity, she said. House plants that freshen the air also have been shown to reduce stress.
"We really wanted to look at the people involved in this," she said.
Today is Monday, Dec. 9, the 343rd day of 2013. There are 22 days left in the year. 1863 — 150 years ago: All last week were favored with the most delightful Indian summer weather. The mercury ranged from 40 to 65 degrees and the ice is entirely gone out of the river. 1888 — 125 years ago: W.D. Reimers was given charge of the Weyerhaeuser-Denkmann mill in Davenport. 1913 — 100 years ago: Eight hundred or more tons of earth in six landslides, covered 38th Street for a distance of 200 feet near 7th Avenue and destroyed much property. 1938 — 75 years ago: Patrolman Joseph H. Schnelder, of Moline, has been awarded four medals for proficiency in marksmanship. He is the crack pistol shot of the Rock Island district. 1963 — 50 years ago: For the 83rd year, George Frederic Handel's "Messiah" was performed at Augustana College ushering in the spiritual aspect of the Christmas season. 1988 — 25 years ago: A water main break Thursday night, the fourth this week, affected 35 homes near the 2200 block of 39th Street, Rock Island, city officials said today.