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  • Getting to Green

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

Accentuate, I'm positive
May 12, 2008 - 1:41pm

Back over Xmas/New Year's, my daughter introduced me to Dracula's Riddle, which took me about a month's worth of spare time to solve. Chat fora spring up around such inventive timewasters, and I consulted a couple of them in the process. (They don't give answers, but they can help you reframe the questions.) One of the continuing themes I noted in the forum posts was "right after I posted the question, the answer finally hit me." Something similar occurred after I posted my recent cri de couer (Eliminate the what?).

Well, only partly similar. Some of what I realized came from my own repressed memories (or something), and some of it came by way of suggestions which were posted in comments. Particularly helpful was a suggestion by Lindsay (blessings upon her), who pointed me to Futerra Sustainability Communications in the UK. Reading some of the Futerra papers reminded me of things I had once known, but forgotten over the years:

  • People are easily overwhelmed by complex problems, especially if they feel alone and powerless. As a result, they tend to "solve" the problem emotionally by discounting or dismissing it.
  • People tend to engage a problem only if they feel they can have a real impact on solving it. This feeling of capability is greatly enhanced by a feeling of belonging to a group of folks who are all moving in the same direction.

For those of us of quixotic inclination, the fact that it's a windmill/giant doesn't mean we shouldn't tilt at it -- it only means that we should study and understand windmills/giants in order to tilt at it as effectively as possible. Folks of more normal emotional balance, on the other hand, need to believe that windmills/giants are, in fact, susceptible to attack by massed heavy cavalry, and that an appropriate troop of cavalry is being marshalled for the attack.

That being true, the points I think I need to communicate on campus are:

  1. Global warming can be solved with technologies which already exist, at least in the lab. Many of them are already available in the marketplace.
  2. Solving global warming doesn't require that we deprive ourselves, but rather that we meet our needs in smarter ways.
  3. Meeting our needs in those smarter ways is consistent with many of the traditional values and virtues of our society, albeit ones which have gotten little practical attention in recent decades.
  4. Technologies, innovation, entrepreneurship and social values are all grist for the mill we call "higher education". Colleges and universities have both an opportunity to lead society as a whole, and an opportunity to benefit by leading.
  5. Staff, who significantly outnumber faculty at most universities, have an opportunity to lead within the institution by creating an environment where sustainable practices are both valued and expected.

This morning, a post on the Green School List ( from Walter Simpson at SUNY-Buffalo likened the sustainability administrator's job to that of community organizer. Walter's a national leader in the field of campus sustainability -- if his book The Green Campus isn't on your bookshelf, it should be. So, I guess I'll have to get back into reading Saul Alinsky after all these years.

(BTW - "PhD and an environmentalist" recommended a book called Breakthrough. The only book by that title I know of is one on educational reform. Is there another?)


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