Wednesday, December 30, 2009
In an earlier blog about the Citizens Academy, I wrote, slightly derisively, about technology, and our consumerist tendencies. In that post, I deliberated on the potential for a “sustainability app” and although no deus-ex-machina solution has appeared to be downloaded yet, another tool has emerged in the context of college sustainability solutions that I’d like to share with you.
This solution, or tool, takes the form of the STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) 1.0 that is advanced by AASHE or the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. It is a voluntary, self-reporting framework for gauging sustainability progress by colleges.
STARS is the gold standard for tracking sustainability in higher education, and AASHE is the national body assessing sustainability initiatives across campuses. For those of you familiar with LEED certification, STARS is a comparable tool used to objectively assess a college’s commitment to sustainability. (More information on AASHE and STARS is available here: http://www.aashe.org/ and here: http://www.aashe.org/stars/index.php).
SUNY Oswego has had a strong and ongoing commitment to sustainability. President Stanley is a signatory of the Presidents Climate Commitment; we have a Sustainability Strategic Plan and a Climate Action Plan; our campus has a variety of initiatives that address sustainability on an ongoing basis.
However, the beauty of STARS for an institution like Oswego, that is working to establish priorities and reporting structures, is that it takes the guesswork out of things. The tool provides a framework to gauge both how an individual institution is doing toward completion of objective sustainability criteria, and how an institution compares on a ratings basis to other institutions who are attempting to make their campuses and cultures more sustainable.
It’s like a Zagat guide for sustainability efforts! Brilliant!
SUNY Oswego had previously used the nascent STARS 0.5 version, and conducted in the summer of 2008 an informal, introductory assessment of how Oswego would fare on the STARS. I’m hoping to post that report soon on the college’s sustainability page here: http://www.oswego.edu/about/leadership/sustainability/index.html
Oswego has just signed on to participate in STARS 1.0, and this process requires the college to complete this more formal, yet still voluntary self-report by January 2011. Continue to look for postings on the college’s progress related to its participation in STARS here in the upcoming months.
-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
This program, “Energizing Education for a Better Future,” is designed for Secondary Teachers of Math, Science, and Technology.
Teachers who participate will develop new curricular units on energy and sustainability. Among the topics covered in the institute will be the nature of energy, energy conservation, alternative energy sources such as the sun and wind, nuclear and radiation safety, future energy resources and energy’s connection to politics and social cultures.
Participants will visit a variety of energy facilities in the area. Each participant will build an energy curriculum portfolio that includes handouts, lesson plans and learning activities that can be used in the classroom. The curriculum delivered in this institute was designed using the principles the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Reform Movement that is being promoted by Congress, NSF (National Science Foundation) and NASA.
The current institute is co-directed by Dr. Alok Kumar, chair of the physics department and Thomas Kubicki of the technology department.
“Because the baby boomers are retiring, there is a shortage of workers for the energy industry,” said Kumar. Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicate that by 2012 there will be nearly 10,000 more energy industry jobs than workers available to fill them.
“We are going to train teachers to teach about energy issues effectively,” Kumar reports. Not only will the institute help to infuse the workforce with new talent, but it will also help the teachers and everyone they teach to become better consumers and citizens in a global economy driven by energy.
“The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but accounts for 25 percent of the world’s energy consumption,” according to Kumar. “This imbalance forces us to be dependent on other nations, creates a scarcity for energy resources in the global market and weakens the ecosystem.”
Some of the adverse impacts are easily avoidable, he said, through energy conservation, new energy resources and smart energy practices. “This is a global issue that requires local action,” he said.
For more information, visit the Energy Institute’s Web site at: http://www.oswego.edu/academics/continuing/summerwintersessions/energy_institute.html or call the Office of Business and Community Relations at 315.312.3492.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
by Ilona Kauremszky
GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK, Al Gore tells us. Sheryl Crow supports environmental causes, and hundreds of other celebrities are leaving their green thumbprint on the growing eco trend.
So what does a former industrial town in upstate New York do? Syracuse, quickly earning the accolade as “Emerald City” for environmental breakthroughs, staged a Healthy Buildings Conference for academic researchers and other professionals from architecture, building products and services, engineering, indoor environmental quality, public health, urban planning and environmentalist types.
And the timing couldn’t be better, report city insiders. Like so many manufacturing towns in turbulent times, old businesses have dried up—but Syracuse is using this reality to help bolster a new economy, one of sustainable development. Currently a building boom is under way in and around central New York State, where Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is big in housing and business developments.
It’s all about the new economy, says David Holder, president of the Syracuse CVB, describing breakthroughs that include a medical biotech research center and the headquarters of the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems.
“There are all kinds of incredible partnerships blossoming,” he said. “So much of what we have with the Syracuse Center of Excellence and so much of the development of the area is building on that sustainability base, employing different industries that are all about the generation of natural energy and the generation of building developments that can be used elsewhere in building these types of buildings.”
The center will showcase the city’s eco-advances and provide a blueprint for cities across the globe. The site is on reclaimed industrial brownfields, a type of real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, cleaning up, reinvesting in and redeveloping these properties shift development pressures away from undeveloped land, improving and protecting the environment. Federal officials say “brownfields redevelopment returns non-productive real estate assets to productive use, promoting the economic development of many of the nation’s most economically distressed areas and regions.”
The Syracuse Center of Excellence certainly intrigued Healthy Buildings. HB2009—own by the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate (ISIAQ)—is considered to be the “Olympics for indoor air quality” and is held every three years worldwide. The theme was quite simply that: healthy buildings. Approximately 800 delegates from nearly 40 countries attended HB2009 Sept. 13-17 in Syracuse, N.Y. The five-day conference was held at the city’s acclaimed Oncenter Complex and had six-to-eight daily track sessions in addition to an expo, a conference first.
“We wanted to engage the business community to look at the green technologies that are on the market and to showcase with about 100 exhibitors and also through a series of programs that included keynote speakers, workshops, product and service demonstrations and opportunities for individuals from academia and business to work with the U.S. Department of Commerce and representatives from the Empire State Development Corp. to see what opportunities and resources are there to help build new partnerships with business-to-business and with the academic resources in this country,” said Tammy Rosanio, project manager and assistant to the executive director for the Syracuse Center of Excellence, describing the convention’s three-day Oppex forum where delegates learned about leading research and technology developments and networked with national and global leaders in the fields of indoor air quality and healthy built environments.
About a year leading up to the last Healthy Buildings Conference in Lisbon, the movers and shakers of the Syracuse Center of Excellence researched their case then took the RFP to the ISIAQ and made formal presentations outlining the reasons why Syracuse should be chosen over other undisclosed cities.
“The expectations were high. We didn’t walk in blind. We had actually contacted various members to see what was involved, what was the level of commitment, so that we were both benefitting our members,” said Dr. Suresh Santanam, a member of ISIAQ and deputy executive director of Syracuse Center of Excellence, who took the lead role in securing the bid. “I first presented to the board, then presented it to the general membership and during the process explained how Syracuse was an hour away from major hubs, how this conference could bring a diverse cross section of individuals from the indoor air quality field and how Syracuse and Central New York were experiencing a transformation in healthy buildings.”
Since the start of the Healthy Buildings Conference in 1988 in Stockholm, the U.S. has played host to the conference only twice.
Rosanio knew they had challenges.
“So we ensured appropriate levels of services were available in a mid-sized city for a conference of this size,” she said. “Our community really supported this conference. We even had retired workers from places such as Carrier who wished to volunteer.”
Santanam says that Syracuse’s location in Central New York was another great asset because conference delegates and their spouses were in close proximity to a variety of incentive travel options from wine tours around the Finger Lakes to a visit to Niagara Falls.
According to Rachel Alcaro, CMP, convention sales manager for the Syracuse CVB, the city hadn’t witnessed a conference on such an international scale before.
“One of the challenges is language,” she said. “We had 40 countries participate. To offset the language barrier, volunteer interpreters—mostly students from Syracuse University—were on hand to provide translation services. Along with language barriers, these people are coming from faraway countries, and quite frankly, our local banks are not equipped to handle money exchange to this degree with this variety. We informed the foreign participants prior to their arrival that they should exchange their money to U.S. currency while at home.”
Another challenge for the academic-heavy conference was how to get 800 delegates into a concentrated area.
“Our exhibitors at the Oppex were there mostly to discuss their products and developments, limiting the size of their displays,” said Shandrist Hillsman, HB2009’s meeting planner and president of Ascension Event Management. “The conference scheduling—with its multiple tracks and expo addition—was designed to help alleviate potential bottlenecks around heavily trafficked areas. We had so much going on that people were spread out throughout the conference.”
Still with the tracks comprised of plenary, technical and social programs that each had additional forums and sessions, space was a challenge.
“With the exception of the War Memorial, we used all the space at the Oncenter Complex, which included the Convention Center and the Civic Center Theaters,” Rosanio said.
Another curveball focused on the Syracuse Center of Excellence headquarters, a venue that was still under construction at the time of the conference. For Dr. Santanam, this building was a dream come true and was one of the selling points to secure the conference.
“We talked about having a new headquarters and said this would be available for the attendees to see what we can offer,” he said.
But construction took longer than anticipated, and organizers were not prepared to change their course. Donning hard hats and using safety precautions, tours were scheduled during the conference and open to limited group size.
“About 25 people went with a tour coordinator and tour manager,” Rosanio said. “We also had representatives on site from the various companies involved in the design and construction of the building showcasing their products and ready to respond to inquiries directly on the floor.”
While principally geared to the academic world, HB2009 was not ready to dismiss the corporate significance.
“We looked at companies that we already had an existing relationship, some big some small, a nice representation of companies that are known locally and internationally,” Rosanio said. “These companies [sponsors] are specialists in their field and have an interest in this.”
Local sponsors such as Carrier, IBM and Siemens jumped on the chance to contribute to the conference despite the economic downturn.
“We hadn’t really noticed the economy affecting our sponsors, and in fact, our participant registrations were close to what we had projected initially when we started this project,” Rosanio said.
While the bones of a factory town are apparent, the transitioning “green” city still has hurdles to overcome when alternative transportation is considered, such as delegate transfers. Initially, the idea was to allow attendees the option to walk or bike to the conference.
“We quickly scrapped that, because in Syracuse we were afraid drivers wouldn’t see them,” Shandrist said.
In an attempt to reduce the carbon footprint, scheduled timed transfers to and from the convention center were made.
“We wanted to be as sustainable as possible,” she said, adding that USB flash drives with complete conference documents were distributed as well as using green practices for other conference materials: T-shirts from organic cotton, custom-made neck wallets from 100 percent recycled materials and pre-owned or GREENGUARD certified furniture pieces.
Sandra Baker, vice president of sales and marketing for the Oncenter Complex, added that water was provided upon request for the closing dinner, and no water bottles were available at the conference.
A leader in implementing green practices in the meeting and event industry, the three-venue complex has also introduced a revolutionary form of composting using local upstate worm farms.
“We get these great big bins, and all the scraps from this conference were thrown into these worm bins, taken to the farm and when these scraps biodegrade, the compost returns to us and is actually used in our gardens,” Baker said.
Now that’s a healthy building. One+
ILONA KAUREMSZKY is a weekly travel columnist and the former editor of Corporate Meetings & Events.
What’s New in Syracuse
• When completed in 2010, the 60-room Hotel Skyler will be the first LEED-certified hotel in Central New York and will offer preferred parking for partial zero emission cars along with room-key controlled lighting and thermal comfort among other energy efficiencies.
• Syracuse has several revitalization projects under way which include a US$2.4 million renovation project on the 100 block of West Fayette Street and the multiuse, residential, LEED-certified Jefferson Clinton Commons building in Armory Square.
• Holiday Inn Syracuse/Liverpool, in the town of Salina, underwent a few nips and tucks with the recent completion of a $20 million expansion project that includes an extra 10,000 square feet of meeting space, along with the erection of a 123-unit Staybridge Suites Hotel.
• Located north of the city, Syracuse Hancock International Airport is approximately 15 minutes by car from downtown and serves upstate New York with seven major airlines offering approximately 250 daily arrivals and departures.
• Forget about making early morning drives to Rochester or New York City for flights. The City of Syracuse and the Metropolitan Development Association—with help from central New York companies and a U.S. Department of Transportation grant—have created FlySyracuse.com, a new fly program to promote lower airfares departing from Syracuse’s local airport.
• In 2007, the Go Green Earth Summit named Syracuse the Go Green Large City of the Year.
• Before Dinosaur BBQ sauce, Syracuse’s big claim to fame was salt, and “the city that salt built” was considered one of the biggest salt suppliers in the U.S.
• Don’t be surprised if you walk down a yellow brick road in Chittenango, 13 miles east of the Syracuse airport. Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum was born here.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I came across this cultural meme, illustrative of the lives of the Eskimo people who live in this part of Alaska where they cling to a meager subsistence along the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, in an article on CNN online.
The article (http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/12/03/shishmaref.alaska.climate.change/index.html) is notable for several reasons: first it attempts to recount these cultural traditions and conditions that threaten a small community of 600 people; and second, for the tenor and character of the online response the article generated. The latter surprised me in its callousness to our shared condition, regardless of one’s belief of the etiology of global warming.
A brief synopsis: the article provides a compelling account of the impact climate change is having upon an older adult couple in this Inupiat Eskimo village: the changes in their lives and community, the death of their youngest son as the result of an accident attributed to changes in environmental conditions, and a remarkable depiction of the cultural destruction that parallels the environmental change.
Houses in this village exist on the thinnest of rocky crusts, on a shore that is separated from the mainland by a mostly frozen inlet. Warming trends have resulted in the erosion of the permafrost causing houses to fall into the sea, and many villagers to relocate to the opposite side of this island. The community is considering uprooting the village to an entirely new site, currently undetermined.
The article explores the difficulties this poses for these villagers and the incipient cultural loss (they have their own traditions, rituals, dances, dialect), and connects it to a larger, phenomenon—a wave of global climate refugees. From the article… “A 2009 Government Accountability Office report found that 31 Alaskan villages face ‘imminent threats’ because of coastal erosion, flooding and climate change. At least 12 are at some stage in the relocation process.” How much of this is directly attributable to human caused climate change and global warming is unclear…and to many of the article’s respondents, unimportant.
Surprisingly, response after response online eschewed human causality or even the possibility of it, instead focusing on the recent controversy: Climate-gate. Apparently, a few scientists have been reported as colluding to prevent the sharing of some information that might contradict evidence for global warming (unfortunate). Critics have cited this as evidence not only of the refutability of climate change data, but also as further evidence of global climate change as a conspiracy to promote global governance, and threaten national sovereignty (huh?).
It’s striking that many people seem ready to believe in some pan-global collusion more readily than to consider that environmental change may be occurring, and to support the need for sustained, dispassionate and non-partisan debate on the causes and implications. This imperative seemed lost on the article’s respondents.
And the Inupiat lesson on cultural continuity in the first paragraph seems lost on these as well, as was the human condition that binds us all, whether we call Shishmaref, Alaska, or Syracuse, NY…home.
-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
In the opening chapter of the Choices for Sustainable Living workbook, used by the SUNY Oswego Citizens Academy group, the question was posed: “If you think of the possibility of a sustainable future, are you generally optimistic or pessimistic?” As the group members described their thoughts on this issue there was, of course, a mix of both positive and negative emotions. Privately I mused…”that’s one of those questions that perhaps there’s no right answer to: you’re optimistic—and risk appearing naïve—or pessimistic, and an Eeyore.”
Further, it occurred to me, considering the arc of the program, and given the constituent elements included—discussions of sustainability, ecological choices, buying (Stuff), food, transportation, community, business and the economy—that it doesn’t really matter what we think or feel about the possibility of a sustainable future. The question, while well intentioned, and probably helpful to initiate discussion—is moot. Change is inevitable, or “resistance is futile” to quote the Borg.
We will all incrementally, be subject to decreases in non-renewable energy resources, and resultant (at first-lifestyle) changes in the way we live. Point. Fact. Given.
So how then to live…
In the final session, group members tackled this, and shared some of the personal changes made as a result of participating in the group. As said before, some folks had embraced the local—buying organic from a CSA. Others made changes in their transportation habits. Others still, are recycling more. My wife and I count ourselves among this latter contingent, making sweeping changes in reducing our contributions to the landfill, now barely one weekly garbage can of refuse (including mostly it seems those disposable diapers, oh well), and everything else recycled in two great blue bins—cardboard and paper products to bin right, and plastics and other recyclables to bin left, just because that’s the way we roll.
But I’m still not satisfied because although these changes are a start, I’m still not sure what’s most critical to do…
There is the proverbial commentary on the difference between the map and the terrain; in this case, we can’t even be sure about the terrain. How much individual and communal and global modifications will be enough, soon enough?
Wouldn’t it be easy if there was just a Sustainability TomTom? “Turn right to reduce your carbon footprint. “ Etc.
No, really, it’s true--apparently, it’s possible now to download a TomTom app to your iPhone, and motor to your destination accompanied by the berating of Mr. T: “No fool, I said turn left!”, or the less directive, but equally menacing/moronic -- Dennis Hopper, Gary Busey, or even Homer Simpson. You didn’t realize your life was missing this essential, post-modern accoutrement, did you?
(Let me pause to ask: how did we ever find our way out of Africa, and across the Bering Land Bridge?) Fatherhood has compelled me into cell phone ownership, but I refuse to acquire a GPS system, no matter how putatively convenient. It’s a slippery slope, buy a GPS and before you know it, you’ll be buying a Kindle!
Until, TomTom, or iPhone, or some other entrepreneur comes up with the Sustainability app, we must proceed on our own. No metaphorical lighthouse, no Lonely Planet, no Zagat Guide. We are charged to figure it out as we go. Thankfully, lots of really smart people are on it.
In closing, consider the following feedback from an anonymous exit survey of the Citizens Academy program. Here’s what our grassroots group had to say:
“I liked meeting like-minded people from the community who I would not have known about otherwise. I enjoyed getting practical suggestions from seeing what others are doing.”
“I didn't know many people who were concerned about our country’s overuse of everything.”
“I liked learning that a lot of things I am already doing are positive and helpful to the problem. I hope to do more.”
“Not just the knowledge from the book, but the sharing of ideas from others and the challenge it brought for me as an individual to change things. I feel like I can do something, not just read about it.”
“The Easter Island reading was so provocative-And I became very fond of all my fellow class members. It was encouraging to see the growing commitment and sense of hope that people revealed as the class progressed.”
-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
“…that’s the whole meaning for life, trying to find a place for your stuff. That’s all your house is…your house is just a place for your stuff. If you didn’t have so much goddam stuff you wouldn’t need a house…
That’s all your house is… it’s a pile of stuff with a cover on it….that’s all your house is, is a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.
Now sometimes you gotta move, get a bigger place…why?... too much stuff!
You gotta move all your stuff….and maybe…put some of your stuff in storage. Imagine that, there’s a whole industry based on keepin’ an eye on your stuff.”
This bit used to have me in stitches.
Now that I’m a homeowner, husband and father, I’m convinced Stuff conspires to overthrow the benevolent regime my wife and I have attempted to create in our little slice of paradise. Stuff reproduces on its own in the dark recesses of our basement. Gadgets I can’t remember what the heck they do appear and muster in the night. Family dog-related flotsam and jetsam litter the cubbies and forgotten nooks; books gather mournfully in straining shelves; paper accumulates like Kudzu in file cabinets spilling forth like a Stephen King horror fest.
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.
Would that there was a zebra mussel, a Golem to vanquish the Stuff.
And this, despite the fact that my wife and I are rabid, insufferable, militant, anti-Stuff-ites. Honestly. We take this anti-Stuff obsession to a new level, at least on the “getting rid of Stuff side of the supply-demand-cleanse equation.” If there was a bulimia for Stuff, we’d have it. We purge on a quarterly basis, but still have too much Stuff. When people come over, they say…”Wow (tension in their voices) your place is nice, minimalist, but nice.”
And yet, Stuff still plots the revolution.
Maybe it’s because we have an infant. I never knew my life was lacking before we had the “Diaper Genie.” Bibs in all colors of the rainbow (“Daddy loves me” “Mommy’s angel” ) manifest pride, succumb universally to toxic spit-up, retire to the basement, and decamp in stages before shipping out on the down-low to the Salvation Army.
Much of this Stuff we didn’t buy—gifts from generous relatives and friends, to whom we generally bear a great and genuine debt. Maybe it’s being a new parent, but I’m amazed that even at four months, our daughter has outgrown so much of what we were given, so quickly. Looking at next year’s tax return documentation, I’m astonished to see we’ve made donations of probably 250+ items already, of all this Stuff…baby Stuff, the year’s accumulated ephemera, Stuff we thought we’d need to live. STUFF.
Carlin’s wisecracking resonates because it reflects in part our collective, cultural obsessive-compulsivity and hoarding; also, in part--recognition of our own consumerist inertia. Carlin implies we buy the house to put our Stuff in. I think that’s putting the cart before the horse; home ownership seems to condemn us to a life consumed by Stuff because we buy in to the conspiracy of consumption.
Stuff to decorate, Stuff to demarcate (our social standing--leather couches required, never mind they’re cold as ice), Stuff to make our lives simpler and more “efficient” (we need those three TVs, gotta have a TV in the kitchen too!...otherwise we’d strain our neck stretching to watch Giada prattling on in the living room while we’re working on dinner in the kitchen).
But we never think about the Stuff. Where it comes from, what the cost is, how much Stuff we really need. In the culminating session of the Citizens Academy, one group member suggested we end by watching a devastating video called “The Story of Stuff.” You can find the video free for download here: http://www.storyofstuff.com/
In this video, the lifecycle of stuff--from third world destruction and toxic nightmare, to hidden costs, to packaging excesses, to landfill folly—is charted…pulling no punches. It’s good, really good, and you’ll find it hard to buy another juice box. Unfortunately, it limits much of the power of its suggestions to a near-footnote at the end. But it’s a critical condemnation, not just of stuff, but of our entire way of life.
It is the counter-revolution.
Ironically, soon after I posted an endorsement on Facebook, applauding the video, a friend emailed me to note that even they have a link on their website where you can purchase “The Story of Stuff,” Stuff.
In this round, I concede, it appears Stuff abides.
-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego
Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Croce’s anthem to revenge and vindication—“You don’t mess around with Jim”—told the story of a bully that got his comeuppance. The refrain goes (sing along if you know it):
“Now they say you don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind,
You don’t pull the mask off an ‘ole Lone Ranger,
And (in the last refrain) you don’t mess around with Slim”
These were the rules; law to a child. They were simple, concrete, understandable (“Hey, Superman’s busy with global concerns—lay off his cape”; “Bully Jim, did Slim wrong”—note to self, be good, stay away from pool halls). To this day, I never spit, and definitely not into the wind.
As an adult, the rules seem less simple, and decidedly more relativistic, especially when we talk about sustainability. If I own an SUV, but drive it many fewer miles than you drive your hybrid, can I lay claim to “green”? Who’s more sustainable: the family with two children that mows with an old manual reel mower, or the D.I.N.K.s who are less stringent about recycling their junk mail (assuming having kids imposes some significant costs to the environment)? Cloth diapers (incurred water resource utilization) v. disposables (landfill utilization)? [For more on this latter conundrum see this interesting link on the idealism and reality diaper debate: http://www.slate.com/id/2187278/.]
Perhaps, these comparisons don’t really matter, but the workbook the Citizens Academy group relies on encourages us to begin to apply metrics to our respective choices: a personal, ecological scorecard. Yet, the complexity of all the categories of self-assessment seems more complicated than a multi-million dollar LEED certification process. Where to start?
One outgrowth of said searching, the distillation or “Golden Rule” for the group grew to be the concept that …"we all live downstream.” Choices we make impact everyone in this scenario, including ourselves…a giant, Mobius band, where operationally our downstream returns as our upstream. A karmic, bio-ecological boomerang.
Or, as “Jim” came to see, what goes around, comes around.
-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
The rising tide of contamination in the water supply roiled the collective group stomach, and there seemed to be no sop to the corrupt confluence of hormones, pesticides and herbicides polluting the planet.
Always seeking (and seeing) convergence, I was struck by the recent Ken Burns documentary on the National Park System, and how good and judicious planning (sustainability?) has played a role over time in the formation of this majestic resource. Obviously, some remarkable maneuverings in our collective national history conspired to “water these seeds…”and for the most part, in this example--sustainably—we appear to have “got it right.” In that same film, Frederick Law Olmstead (father of American Landscape Architecture, designer of Central Park) advocated that “in a place as special as Yosemite, ‘the rights of posterity’ were more important than the desires of the present. He called for strict regulations to protect the landscape from anything that would harm it and stressed the importance of making Yosemite accessible to everyone….”
It all begs the important question: “What are the rights of posterity?”
Thinking of this, lately, it strikes me that an element of green-washing has colluded to co-opt our Native American intellectual heritage. Everywhere, we hear the “seventh generation” maxim, and at keynote after keynote some (typically) “majority population” emcee rolls out this tired salvo to perform like a precocious savant for the expectant crowd till the original force is nearly diluted beyond meaning.
Admittedly, it’s a great barometer. But if as some statistics estimate the top ten in demand jobs today didn’t even exist ten years ago, how do we begin to talk about seven generations from now? The Citizens Academy group, while noting the imperative, recoiled from the magnitude of pondering so many years out. The operative question then became collectively, and fundamentally, locally: “What will we each do in this next week…and what will we do today?”
Some members decided to purchase more organic produce, others to eat more mindfully. Others still, to do a better job deciding what they really need vis-à-vis what they really want. Some thought a more frequent trek to the Best Kept Secret for a clothing purchase might stem their collusion with “consumerism.” Others decided—no more bottled water, while a remaining few decided just to learn more about what really constitutes “organic.” All decided to water new seeds…while consciously thinking of the rights of future generations.
-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego
Friday, September 25, 2009
“They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot SPOT
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don't know what you’ve got
‘Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
…Hey farmer, farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But LEAVE me the birds and the bees
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you’ve got
‘Til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.”
When Joni Mitchell wrote this song, Big Yellow Taxi, nearly 40 years ago environmental interest was decidedly strong. But such awareness has waxed and waned. Unfortunately, a popular preference against spots has sometimes surged against the concern expressed in what might be seen as her plaintive call (above) for sustainability in the web of our relationships both personal and global, and the felt loss when what we have is truly, finally gone.
Led by that concern—to promote discussion of what constitutes a sustainable community--this semester, in conjunction with Rice Creek Field Station, the Office of Business and Community Relations at SUNY Oswego has sponsored a Citizens Academy on Sustainability. It’s an experiment in fostering community activism that reflects both our college President Deborah Stanley’s signing of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and a call from the community itself for the college to promote awareness of sustainability.
The program uses a unique discussion group format with a workbook designed by the Northwest Earth Institute (http://www.nwei.org/discussion_courses/course-offerings/choices-for-sustainable-living). About 15 community members meet weekly on Saturday mornings at the Downtown SUNY Oswego location and talk about sustainability topics like ecological principles, consumer choices, buying locally, transportation, sustainable communities, business and the economy, and visioning the future.
Over the course of the next several weeks, through the program’s culmination in late October, I will write here about the discussions in the group, and the thoughts community members have about sustainable living in a small city, in a rural county, in Central Upstate NY.
--Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
“Think globally, act locally” is a phrase that has been used in the environmental movement for many years now. It has its origin in the town planning of Scotsman Patrick Geddes at the turn of last century. It’s an old enough phrase to be considered a cliché, assigned to the same Earth-crunchy hamper as the peace sign, smiley face, and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.”
A shame, because when it comes to the action required to make our communities sustainable, lower our dependence on fossil fuels, and reverse the effect of climate emissions, the bottom-up “think globally, act locally” ethos could do as much good as top-down protocols and initiatives from governments, such as cap-and-trade and carbon emissions limits.
I’m sure much will come out of the UN climate summit planned for Copenhagen this December. But the debate at these mega-conferences can seem awfully esoteric and irrelevant to our lives. There are still plenty of communities in the US that have no recycling programs, meaningful public transportation, or community gardens, let alone sustainable town planning (where’s Patrick Geddes?!), green infrastructure, or green jobs.
Targeted government intervention in sustainability would be better than vast treaties. That is, legislation along the lines of smoking bans or the American with Disabilities Act: the whole nation is quite used to smoke-free and accessible buildings now. Just one local act that could make a huge difference is the slow phasing out of gas engines for lawnmowers, weedwhackers, and the like. It would be a way for folks could get used to battery engines and for Toro, John Deere, and Bombardier to be thrust to cutting edge of green technology!
--Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence