Thursday, November 19, 2009

Yeah, they’ve got an app for that…

Well, the first SUNY Oswego Citizens Academy ended on October 24th. Long story short, the program has expanded into the community and there are plans for a Winter/Spring Citizens Academy in partnership with a local non-profit. Also, a student group on campus is planned as well. Generally, I would say it was a success. What follows isn’t really CliffsNotes version of the program, but rather an exegesis of sorts.

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


  1. Astute, balanced and entertaining. Would that all posts were this good.

  2. Well said. I think awareness is the key for many people, then moving on to action is the next and crucial step. But even something as little as using reusable bags when grocery shopping or not buying any drinks in plastic containers is a big step.