The Chico Romance

Ashley Thorne

Scanning the headlines yesterday for news about sustainability in higher education, I was surprised to find a letter to the editor of the ChicoER newspaper entitled “Sustainability has other goals.” Cynthia Van Auken, a grandmother who in 2002 ran for Congress as a Republican in Georgia’s fourth district and lost, wrote the letter. In it she challenges those going to a sustainability conference at California State University, Chico to learn about Agenda 21 (the United Nations blueprint for sustainability in the twenty-first century) and the sustainability movement. She warned that the sustainability movement ultimately takes away individual liberties and urged readers to “read the agenda. It is not only about saving the planet from plastic water bottles.” 

NAS has shown that the sustainability movement is not solely environmental; it sells eco-responsibility but delivers big government, economic redistribution, and loss of individual freedoms (see our articles on sustainability). Advocating stewardship of the earth via solar panels, reusable grocery bags, and energy-efficient light bulbs is not inherently ideological. Sustainability on the other hand, with its aims to radically alter our social and economic landscape, is a launching pad for progressive political agendas. And applied to the college campus, where students are ripe for recruitment into progressive activism, sustainability has found a breeding ground. Because sustainability presents itself under the mask of environmentalism, few people question its underlying motives. But this fall we’ve learned of a few concerned people who do question it. Among them are Holly Swanson, founding director of an Oregon-based organization called Operation Green Out that works “to get Green politics out in the open and out of the classroom,” and David Wood, chairman of the Harris Ranch Beef Company in California.  

The conference in question in Van Auken’s letter, the fifth annual “This Way to Sustainability” summit at CSU Chico, is taking place (Nov. 5-8) as I write this. Last year’s conference had 1,200 attendees, making it the largest student-run sustainability conference in the nation. This year, with nearly 100 (I counted 97) speakers and panelists speaking on themes broadly categorized as Sustainability 101, Green Agriculture, Green Curriculum, Green Energy, Green Ethics, and Green Solutions, the conference wraps its blanket broadly around some wide-ranging themes. There are sessions on pet overpopulation, human overpopulation, natural birth, slavery, happiness, cultural traditions, Christian spirituality, Buddhist spirituality, and the Obama health care plan. Are these really green issues? “Happiness” seems a stretch. But the over-reaching here shows that sustainability, as opposed to environmentalism, can be applied to just about anything.  

In addition to these sessions, presenters are speaking on Green Dorm Projects; strategies to “ensure that sustainability is incorporated into all projects, curricula, planning, and operations”; the campaign against bottled water (see “Tap Dancers: Bottled Water and College Students”); “food justice”; the Fair Trade movement; and the “excessive and misdirected military spending.” One speaker from an organization called Growing Resourcefully Uniting Bellies (GRUB) will tell about fourteen people who “came together to form an intentional community based on sustainable living. They live together, eat together, and work their forty-acre farm together.” Their commune calls to mind the well-intentioned but fated one in Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance. And a session led by a UCLA professor, and reps from the Sierra Club and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will speak about how there are too many people in the world:  

Overpopulation is a fundamental obstacle to sustainability. Unless populations stop growing, continued growth will cancel out reductions in consumption made by individuals and societies... Failure to confront overpopulation is just one example of how the modern environmental movement is failing to protect wild nature, conserve natural resources, and maintain quality of life.  

Hmm...sounds like “save the whales and kill the babies” to me.  

CSU-Chico’s conference is sponsored in large part by the Associated Students sustainability fund, which comes from a $5 increase in student fees to support sustainability. More and more colleges and universities are implementing such student fees.  

The conference is open to the public and free for students, so if you live in the Chico area, you might want to stop by and check it out this weekend. Even if you think, as we do, that the worship of sustainability is a waste of time that diverts attention from education, attending an event like this may be an eye-opening experience. We need to realize that sustainability is greedier than it sounds. It craves, not just our recycling, but our whole lives, our whole society, our whole economy. As Anthony Cortese, president of Second Nature, put it: “Humans are guided by a whole set of beliefs and values, and those come from culture, from religion, from social, economic and political structure. We need to change all of those.” 

So we join with Mrs. Van Auken in saying, “Freedom is fleeting. Can you educate yourself enough to maintain it?”

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