An entire course could be devoted to systems thinking. This module is designed to be adapted to fit within related courses to help students start to develop critical thinking skills about systems thinking and integrate social and environmental disciplines.
In Minnesota, an edible, nutty-flavored grain called wild rice, grows in shallow waters. Each fall, people harvest wild rice by canoe, using knocking sticks to strike plants, causing ripe grains to fall. The Ojibwe origin story tells of migrating from the East to where “food grows on water.” American Indian people retain treaty rights to harvest rice and make annual camps to harvest, dry, and prepare rice to store, for consumption, or sale. Outside reservations, Minnesota regulates the harvesting of wild rice.
In 1973, Minnesota enacted a sulfate level regulation for wild rice waters, stating that levels could be no more than 10 ppm, based on research showing lower wild rice growth in waters over this level. Recent research indicates sulfate reacts with elements in sediment and becomes sulfide, which is taken up the plant’s stem. Scientists proposed creating a sulfate limit using a formula and lake-by-lake measurements to better reflect the complexity of how rice grows, which requires more frequent and complicated testing. Weighing differing approaches to the protection of wild rice is fundamental to this case.
Minnesota’s regulation was scarcely enforced until 2010, when new copper-sulfate mines, one called PolyMet, were proposed in a mining region near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. Miners on Minnesota’s “Iron Range,” named for the taconite ore used in steelmaking, generally support new mines. Environmentalists and American Indian community groups oppose them. While taconite tailings can cause sulfate runoff, there is comparatively less environmental damage from taconite mines than copper-sulfate mines.