Getting to Green

Getting to Green

An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

February 6, 2013 - 8:36pm
I'm more and more convinced that assessing/accounting for environmental sustainability only makes sense at a regional scale.  While "region" isn't precisely defined, it's something smaller than most nations, smaller than most US states (except maybe on the eastern seaboard), larger than a city, certainly larger than any campus.  But sustainability extends beyond its environmental aspect, and for other (social, economic) forms of sustainability, the regional scale is even more critical.  Certainly, it seems so in a US context.
January 28, 2013 - 5:18pm
In my last post, I talked about how having to account for greenhouse gas emissions from off-campus behaviors started me on the path to realizing that you can't build a sustainable campus in an unsustainable city (or town, or countryside).  Thus, while my official charge is to change the Greenback campus, my thought process focuses more and more on changing the Backboro metropolitan area.
January 24, 2013 - 5:01pm
Stories about how communities thrive in the resource-constrained environments that islands present may provide lessons about sustainability, but those lessons will need to be ported to the mainland if they're to have any significant global impact.  Happily, sustainable mainland communities and sustainable island societies may have more in common than is immediately obvious.
January 23, 2013 - 8:38pm
I remember the thrill of reading Robinson Crusoe for the first time.  Later readings may have surfaced infamous bits of wordplay and troubling social/racial stereotyping, but when I was ten or eleven the image of a lone individual not just surviving but (to an extent) thriving in a wilderness was captivating.  No need for a never-ending set of interlocking puzzles as per Lost, no man/beasts created by Dr. Moreau, not even an almost-magical black stallion -- the (by current Hollywood standards) embarrassingly simple story of adversity and unfamiliarity overcome grabbed my childhood imagination and held it for years.
January 17, 2013 - 6:01pm
I'm still struggling with whether (how) the teaching power of stories can be used to change people's beliefs and expectations about sustainability.  However, in the process of the research which is part of pretty much any struggle I undertake, I came upon a two-sentence passage that's simply too close to perfect not to share.  In a heartbeat, it conveys the essence of what a successful story-telling strategem must accomplish -- not how to do it by any means, but how to tell if it's been successful.
January 9, 2013 - 5:45pm
The evidence that stories are effective and efficient teaching tools is generally based on test results -- improved reading, writing, science and math scores. But in terms of teaching sustainability concepts, stories have an additional advantage.  To the extent that they describe real-world (or seemingly real-world, or even imaginably real-world) characters and actions, each story situation is inherently trans-disciplinary.
January 8, 2013 - 5:22pm
Just before the holidays, I started reading about the teaching power of stories. That's "stories" in the sense that probably first popped into your mind -- enthralling tales of interesting characters facing challenges in pursuit of a goal.  Children learn to understand pattern, cause-and-effect, motivation, etc., not by having these things explained to them in some form of abstract exposition -- children learn these things (and many more) by seeing/hearing/vicariously experiencing them in action.  Along the way, their brains learn to expect a certain sort of information in a certain form, and configure themselves to process and store such information efficiently.  Memory works by story.  Our lives work by stories.
December 18, 2012 - 9:04am
When words don't suffice...
December 17, 2012 - 4:48pm
I may be the only person in Backboro who likes Limburger.  (Maybe not, of course.  It's unlikely that the local grocery stocks it just for me, but for sure there's aren't very many of us around here.)  Smelly.  Very smelly.  But a lovely flavor, and you get used to the aroma after a couple of decades.
December 13, 2012 - 5:44pm
For years, I've used the metaphor of lifestyle diseases -- obesity, diabetes, heart disease -- to help students understand that seemingly desirable behaviors, when taken to excess, can lead to negative and entirely unintended consequences.  Eat too much, enjoy too much leisure, degrade a system -- your body -- that evolved to prosper under circumstances of scarce food and regular exertion.  As a metaphor, it's served to help students understand that seemingly desirable social behaviors like production, consumption and energy (particularly, fossil energy) utilization can degrade a climate system that served humanity well under circumstances of minimal resource utilization and long-term carbon (coal, oil) sequestration.

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