Friday, September 25, 2009

Give me spots on my apples...

Direct citizen action has always been at the heart of broad social movements, but discussions about “sustainability” and “green” are still vague concepts for some community members--something separate from their lives and perceived immediate needs. Others are remarkably engaged, both in terms of individual choices and through local activism—buying locally, modifying the transportation they use, and deciding to embrace ecological diversity rather than “paving paradise”….

“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 ( 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

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