(September 20, 2001, Gazette)

Coast to coast


There has always been a distinct connection between Canada and Europe. In recent years another has emerged: coastal values.

Philosophy’s Dr. Peter Trnka is the coordinator of a project that in 1999 received a grant to research social, environmental and ethical values in coastal regions.

“It is not a standard sort of research grant,” said Dr. Trnka. “It is an exchange grant that is improving relations and fostering study and academic research between Canada and Europe.

Dr. Peter Trnka
Dr. Peter Trnka

“What we do is a broad investigation as to values in general in coastal regions instead of focusing on economics and medicine. The project is interdisciplinary; the other major component are the geographers.”

The project has allowed its participants to apply philosophy to practical problems common to each of the universities in Canada and Europe.

The program involves students and faculty from six universities: Memorial University, University of Ottawa, University of Victoria, University of Nijmegen, University College Dublin, and University of Copenhagen. The funding has allowed the development of intensive courses and conferences at these universities to which students and faculty can travel. The majority spend four months at the designated university.

There are four intensive courses; the final one is to be held at MUN in August 2002. Each course covers a different topic: Water Management and New Nature, Fisheries and Ecosystems Injustice, Cities on the Coast, and Transport and Telecommunications.

“The intensive courses are only six weeks long because sometimes it is not possible for students and especially faculty to leave home for four months,” said Dr. Trnka. “That means a lot of classes, long seminars, discussion. At the same time, however, you lose out on time for reflection and preparation.”

The use of technology has reduced these difficulties because “everything is archived on the Web so students can do some preparatory work and will know what to expect.”

Dr. Trnka admits that the study of coastal values was certainly a new experience for many.

“A philosopher usually thinks about truth, beauty, and justice; to begin to think about coasts was a bit odd. However, we’ve been able to do quite a few, if not more, of the things we said we’d do and I think we’ve shown that the stereotype of philosophers having no relevance or practical application is wrong. Coastal values are very relevant to a long-term future of survival and sustainable life.”

Dr. Trnka believes the program has successfully “combined exchange and curriculum development with research.” however he said there is much more to be done. According to him, what is needed is long-term intensive research in this area.

“Some of the problems can’t be addressed if you only look at what will be affecting you in five years.”

There are new issues such as global warming and sea-level rise that have to be addressed; these problems are not unique to Canada or Europe and an extension to other coastal regions in the world seems inevitable.

The program appears destined to run longer than the three years allotted in the grant, which means

Dr. Trnka has had to begin to look for further funding. He said that it is possible to apply for the same grant again, but the program would have to be modified because of the type of grant. Another possibility is to apply for a different grant or look to private individuals or corporations for funding. As well, the participating universities will make contributions.

About 18 months remain on the original grant, and there is a call for applications for the next installment of the program. There are positions available for three MUN students, with the successful applicants receiving return airfare, $4,500, and paid visa for the four month period to be spent in Europe.