I am in California on an academic “vacation,” which means, as any college professor knows, that I am taking a few extra days to enjoy the area where I am attending a conference. Next week I will attend a workshop in San Diego sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for “Sustainability Across the Curriculum.” On my way I am visiting with friends in San Francisco and driving through Oregon.
As someone who was raised in the south and is now based in the Midwest, the west coast is a breath of fresh, seemingly less-polluted air. I have been immediately impressed with the integration of environmental awareness in public spaces. After leaving San Francisco we drove up Highway 101 in northern California, passing multiple recycling centers and sustainable businesses. We drank a beer in Ukiah at the country’s “first organic brew pub” and stopped at Hopland’s “Real Goods,” a sustainable store and solar power distributor with great seat belt purses, dual flush toilets and bathrooms walls made from recycled prescription bottles. Oregon also shares these sensibilities. Since 2009 Oregon state law requires every diesel gas station to sell at least 2 percent biodiesel fuel as part of the legislature’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent in 10 years (now facing legal hurdles).
It is not surprising that the AASHE conference is being held at the Scripps cottage at San Diego State. Participants will study successful college campus initiatives: e.g., the Tufts Environmental Literacy Institute that has engaged 70-80 faculty in intensive curricular and organizing initiatives; Northern Arizona’s Ponderosa Project that has survived multiple administrative and leadership changes; and Emory’s Piedmont Project that uses collaborative workshops to engage faculty with environmental teaching methods. These models should assist the leadership at my own university with more creative ways for integrating environmental outcomes. I have already witnessed how accomplishing goals--such as building a biodiesel station to fuel shuttle buses--really inspires undergraduates.
As I write this column, we are driving through the redwood forest of Richardson Grove so I cannot bear to not look out the window any longer. Let me conclude by suggesting that many educators understand that our planet is at an environmental “tipping point” with population growth and natural resources. Education continues to play a crucial role in communicating the validity of scientific research and methods to the public. Saving the planet starts with our students.