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Dominguez Hills' First Visiting Distinguished Scholar to Speak on Antarctica on Nov. 13



The university's first Visiting Distinguished Scholar William L. Fox will speak on Antarctica; photo courtesy of William L. Fox

Dominguez Hills' First Visiting Distinguished Scholar to Speak on Antarctica on Nov. 13

A poet, author, explorer, cultural geographer and scholar, William L. Fox is a true Renaissance man who integrates literary and scientific interests into his works. Much of his poetry and nonfiction writing stem from his travels to far-off places, the result being an examination of humankind’s relationship with nature, particularly vast desert spaces, and the need to understand and define it.

Fox says that unless humans are raised in a wide open space, their reaction to suddenly finding themselves in such surroundings is disorienting.

“If you grew up as a kid in somewhere like Mongolia, then you grow up with the skills that enable you to navigate in that kind of space, so you’re not really uncomfortable,” he notes. “But most of us don’t do very well in them. We’re used to growing up as a species in environments of broken woodland or grassland with trees, so that we can measure ourselves in a landscape and establish scale. Driving from here to Las Vegas, you can find places where it’s very easy to get disoriented because there are no trees or buildings around. If you walk a mile away from your car, you have trouble telling if it’s your car or a tin can.

“I think it’s basically the way we’re hardwired from several million years of evolution in specific environments,” Fox continues. “Our evolved neurophysiology is just not suited well to desert environments, for example. We can get used to them, we even come to love them. But that’s something you come to acquire, it’s not something you’re born with.”

On Tuesday, Nov. 13, Fox will present a lecture on his 2005 book, Terra Antarctica, in which he traces human’s visual history of the southernmost point on Earth and recounts his own experiences there to explore the notion of cognitive landscape. His lecture includes not only a discussion of his experiences and observations, but also a slideshow. The event will take place at 5:30 p.m. in the Loker Student Union.

Fox underscores the impact of the least populated and explored continent upon the rest of the planet.

“[Antarctica] is a very important continent to us,” he says. “We should understand it better. It helps determine our weather, among other things, and has a lot to do with regulating the temperature of the planet and the flow of fresh and salt water. Eighty to 90 percent of all the fresh water in the world is locked up in the Antarctic. As some of it melts, it determines what happens to salinity levels, which drives temperatures around the world.”

In conducting his research for Terra Antarctica, Fox came to intimately know the link between global warming and its impact on what seems to be an impenetrably frozen region of the planet.

“When I was there, a piece of ice the size of Rhode Island broke off and floated away,” he recalls. “It was 100 miles long and I couldn’t see from one end to the other. So, it’s very dramatic what is happening there. You can really tell the temperature is changing and you can see it all over the continent. Glaciers where no one has ever seen a drop of water melt off before had rivers flowing off the tops of them.”

Fox, who as a young boy grew up looking at the ocean views of La Jolla, Calif., emphasizes the fact that despite the seeming abundance of water on earth, the real dilemma is accessibility to safe and clean resources.

“There’s enough fresh water on the planet to keep us going for a long time with a much higher population, but that’s not the point,” he states. “The point is you can’t get to it. You can’t just tow an iceberg from the Antarctic to the United States and drink it. Most of the water on the planet is spoken for and it’s going to cause some problems. People will understand it’s a problem when they go to war over it and say, ‘We’re actually in conflict over this resource that we’ve taken for granted as free for not just our entire lives, but the lives of our civilizations.’”

Fox is on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills this semester as the university’s first visiting distinguished scholar. Jerry Moore, professor of anthropology, met Fox in 2002 when both were scholars at the Getty Research Institute. Impressed by Fox’s scholarship and his rapport with students, Moore thought Fox would be a perfect candidate for the new Visiting Distinguished Scholars Program.

“Bill accompanied my students and me on a study trip to Baja California where we looked at prehistoric rock art and discussed landscape and culture,” recalls Moore. “His interaction with CSUDH undergraduates was simply tremendous, and it was one of the most exciting intellectual exchanges I had ever been involved in.”

According to Moore, Fox is working on a variety of writing projects during his semester-long residence at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Among them is an upcoming book, Climbing Mt. Limbo, a collection of essays that includes a piece on the trip to Baja California with Moore and his students. He is also working on a book about viewing the Los Angeles Basin from the air.

For more information, contact Jerry Moore at (310) 243-3845.

-Amy Bentley-Smith and Joanie Harmon

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Last updated Wednesday, November 7, 2007, 3:37 p.m., by Joanie Harmon