Sustainability News 5-17-10

Ashley Thorne

When NAS began examining the rise of the “sustainability” movement on college campuses over two years ago, we wanted to understand two things: what sustainability is and what it means for higher education. We learned that sustainability is a benign-sounding term that seems to mean environmental stewardship but piggybacks on multiple non-environmental ideas such as population control, affirmative action, gay rights, and anti-capitalism.  

For colleges and universities, commitment to “sustainability” has become a matter of competition (especially now that Princeton Review has come out with a “Top Green Colleges” rating) similar to yesteryear’s race for campus diversity. Colleges have embraced sustainability’s multi-faceted meaning. In 2007 the University of Delaware conducted a curricular residence life program to correct the attitudes of first-year students in regard to race, sexuality, and American society. It turned out that the program billed itself as an education in “sustainability” and “citizenship.” One curricular document said that “sustainability provides a viable conduit for citizenship education and the development of a particular values system.” Imparting such a “particular values system” so that students reject traditional American values and assume a politically correct worldview is the goal of sustainability education. Planting trees and turning off lights on campus is only one part of it. 

As of today, 685 institutions have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which requires signatory colleges to “make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experience for all students.” 

In order to keep a finger on the pulse of this movement in its manifestations in higher education, NAS has begun posting regular reports with links to sustainability news stories. We have also launched a new weekly email newsletter specifically for such news (the first one goes out today!). Sign up here to receive the sustainability news report. 

This week’s news includes a debate at small college over whether to sign the ACUPCC, a free sustainability issue of NAS’s journal Academic Questions, student eco-reps who work to change their peers’ behavior, and a sustainability graduation pledge. The latter two stories represent a widespread trend in higher education. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has a list of colleges with eco-reps programs, and thousands of college seniors have taken the graduation pledge.  

Jane Shaw also has a valuable article at Minding the Campus on academic sustainability programs and the philosophies behind them. We learned much from Shaw’s essay, which prompted us to add several entries to our Encyclopedia of Sustainability. Look for an updated edition of our sustainapedia this summer. 

Sustainability News 

  1. As Publicity Over Climate Pact Fades, A College Considers Its Worth, The Chronicle of Higher Education
    Faculty members and administrators at ElizabethtownCollege debate whether they should sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). Most want to save energy and the environment, but there are concerns about whether the college can afford to make the required changes, and whether signing the commitment will be a burden to succeeding presidents. 
  1. Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference Call for Papers, Green Economy Post
    AASHE is calling for papers for its October conference. Categories relating to conference focal points are the following: 

* Sustainability Curriculum
* Measuring Campus Sustainability
* Sustainability Commitments and Actions
* Sustainability and Economics
* Collaborations across the campus
* Social Justice
* Global Campus Sustainability 

  1. Campus Move Gets Sustainable, The Republican
    Sustainability officers at U Mass Amherst are working with students to recycle and save unwanted items at the end of the school year. The sustainability coordinator enlisted “eco-reps” to speak with students about the importance of the environment. "The program is all about changing behavior," Stoffel said. 
  1. Ecocide: A Crime Against Peace? Weekly Standard
    A new environmental campaign called This is Ecocide seeks to outlaw serious pollution as an international “crime against peace,” akin to war crimes or genocide. It wants to make “ecocide” a 5th international Crime Against Peace, punishable by the International Criminal Court. 

Weekly Standard author Wesley J. Smith: “Equating resource extraction and/or pollution with genocide trivializes true evils such as the slaughter in Rwanda, the killing fields of Cambodia, the gulags, and the death camps, while elevating undefined environmental systems to the moral status of human populations.” 

  1. Free ‘Sustainability Academic Questions Issue, NAS
    Hot off the press: the current issue of Academic Questions, a special issue on "Sustainability,” is available free online. 
  1. GWU Goes ‘Green’ For Graduation, Washington Post
    “Students also will be asked to voluntarily sign a ‘Green Graduation Pledge,’ stating that they will take the social and environmental impact of their lives into consideration when they pursue a career. So far, 500 grads have taken the pledge. GW has a climate action plan and a sustainability mission statement.” 
  2. Sustainability: More Cash and a Softer Side, Minding the Campus
    Columbia University has announced a new undergraduate major in sustainable development; it sounds like a good “practical mix of hard science, ‘green’ technology, and tough-minded economics.” This inspires Charlotte Allen to examine the academic [non-]rigor and the ideologies influencing sustainability programs at other U.S. colleges and universities. “Sustainable development at Columbia,” she writes, “revolves around the forceful personality and utopian ideas of Jeffrey Sachs,” director of Columbia’s Earth Institute. She concludes, “sustainable development is about sustaining a state of mind.” 
  1. Sustainability Newest Aggieland Buzzword, With Students in the Green Vanguard, Texas A&M News and Information
    Texas A&M’s sustainability director credits students’ enthusiasm for the “green movement” for changes on campus. 
  1. Theses on Sustainability: A Primer, Orion Magazine
    Environmentalism must move from being a moral vision to becoming an economic vision. 
  1. To Serve Mann: Virginia’s AG Puts Climate Researcher on the Menu, NAS
    Is the climate fraud investigation a breach or an exercise of academic freedom?


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