One of the oft-unspoken norms around here is that economies of scale exist, so bigger is more efficient than smaller. Another, of course, is that efficiency is a good thing. But a temporarily overlooked (at least, by sustainability wonks) report out of the Edison Electric Institute seems to say that neither scale nor efficiency is necessarily advantageous.
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April 11, 2013
April 4, 2013
If the root cause of our sustainability problem set (not just climate change, but neither excluding climate change) is societal behavior patterns and the habits of thought that facilitate them, then there's no institution better positioned than higher ed to address the problem. Yet, for practical purposes, we seem not to be doing so in any significant manner. Most of the sustainability-related research of which I'm aware focuses on metrics ("how bad is the problem this week?"), mechanics ("how do these two elements of the problem seem to interact?") or technology ("how can we continue to do -- as much as possible -- what we've been doing, while decreasing the negative unintended consequences?"). The researchers, almost without exception, consider themselves to be seriously engaging with the problems at hand. And, within the conventional mindset, they are. But it's the conventional mindset that got us into this mess.
March 28, 2013
My previous post explained how a portion of the sustainability community is coming to view our challenge not primarily as an environmental issue but as a societal one. The difference is far more significant than just its effect on the wording we use in our job descriptions and performance reviews -- it fundamentally reshapes the relationship between higher education and issues of sustainability, and vastly expands higher ed's capacity to address the problem. Let me try to explain.
March 21, 2013
David Roberts at Grist recently posted a good, if not entirely earth-shaking, analysis titled "Two reasons climate change is not like other environmental problems". His main points are that carbon dioxide -- the main greenhouse gas -- is not like other air pollutants in that it tends to persist, and that changes to climate -- once they take effect -- are effectively irreversible in any timeframe relevant to human experience.
March 14, 2013
From time to time, I'm invited to visit our local ag/tech college, which trains quite a number of students to enter the food service industry at levels where you never have to ask whether someone wants fries with that. Program faculty, of course, cover all the material about industry standards and standardized procedures and more-or-less standard approaches to management. But they've kind enough to ask me in to speak about sustainability considerations, and I really enjoy interacting with students who learn (and think, and create) in hands-on mode.
March 7, 2013
You've probably seen the YouTube video "Wealth Inequality in America". Certainly if you haven't, you know a student who has. It's gotten 3.5 million views just on YouTube, plus it's been replicated on a bunch of other sites. It's even been dubbed into Spanish. The video maker's point isn't just that wealth in this country is unequally distributed -- anybody with a pulse already knows that. And it's not that the inequality of the distribution is getting more extreme -- anybody who's been paying even a bit of attention over the past couple of decades knows that in her/his bones.
February 28, 2013
Giving our curriculum, our co-curricular activities and our research a regional emphasis -- an explicit awareness of, and engagement with, local geography -- can do more than just improve town/gown relations. It can position our communities to survive an increasingly challenging future, and our institutions to serve an increasingly central role in that future.
February 18, 2013
Town and gown. How long we've all heard about the tension between a college or university and the community that surrounds it. As a trope, it's been around for decades -- maybe longer.
February 14, 2013
From time to time, I rant about sustainability explicitly from the point of view of a farmer. That's because I believe that farmers -- more and more unlike the majority of folks in North America -- experience and interact with the biosphere directly. Which is not to say that we always gain great wisdom from, and exercise exquisite stewardship in, those interactions of course. But even our most ineffective (or negatively effective) interactions are -- as a result of direct physical involvement -- informed by a wider range of considerations and potential understanding than could possibly be conveyed in a YouTube video. Or a textbook. Or a lecture.
February 7, 2013
One of the key reasons that North American society has become so unsustainable in so many ways is that we don't see the results of our own decision-making processes. When I say that to folks who work to promote sustainability on campuses, the most common reaction is "right - greenhouse gases are invisible." The second most frequent response has to do with time lags.