Climate change. Energy supply. Economic activity. Employment. Public health. Water pollution. Species die-off.
Penn State. Pitt. Cornell.
Research. Public funding. Industry funding. Policy. Regulation. Taxation.
Is it OK for academics to be advocates on one side of a political issue? Is there a standard for the base of evidence that must exist before academic advocacy is appropriate? Is that standard uniform, regardless of whether the advocacy is for or against the side of the issue the powers-that-fund prefer?
Taken together, it's quite a can of worms. But "This American Life" did a good job this week of pulling it all together on the issue of hydro-fracking. Program #440 - Game Changer. Listen to the first 33 minutes (Prologue and Act 1), regardless of your field of expertise. And listen to Act 2 if you're a political scientist. Or a politician. Or live in a polis.
It's a cautionary tale, with significant implications for higher education's ability to help lead the way towards sustainability. At very least, the story implies that researchers of all ilks must lead, rather than merely serve established interests. And (although this isn't a major focus) that outside funding may be hard to come by for some time.
A challenge, then, is for colleges and universities to (each?) decide upon some vision of a future sustainable society/economy/ecology that they're comfortable advocating for, and then use their internal assets (including their campus communities) to make that vision more real.
What's forming itself in my mind is not our current de facto standard for "green campus" initiatives, but rather something more radical, more pervasive, more effective (with luck), more aspirational, more inspirational.
Because if we play this game on the field dominated by existing economic/political interests, we won't be allowed to win.