Thursday Vert-Degree

Ashley Thorne

“Go Asparaguses!” Gets a Little Stuck in Your Mouth 

The College of William and Mary is looking for a new mascot. It will keep its team nickname “the Tribe” but will replace its mascot Ebirt (Tribe spelled backwards), a round-headed, tri-corner hat wearing green character. The Tribe, which until the 1980s was known as the Indians, will also have to change its feathered logo in compliance with NCAA stipulations.

This spring, the W&M mascot committee announced a college-wide campaign to find a new mascot. Alumni, students, faculty, staff, and parents have submitted ideas—and you can too! The deadline is June 30. Among some of the more popular ones are a Phoenix, a top choice of young alumni in this video who “like the idea of rebirth”; Bricky the Brick, a green rectangular solid with his own Facebook group; and “the Revolution,” which proposes a mascot that is “a stylized hybrid of Thomas Jefferson (alum), James Monroe (alum) and George Washington (first American chancellor).” Someone even suggested that the Tribe be symbolized by an asparagus. That’s one of those types of mascots we referred to in “Adopt a Mascot” a couple weeks ago—so bland that no enforcers of political correctness could possibly object. The asparagus is green, it’s vegetarian, and it’s not an Indian. Surely that’s a winning PC mascot trifecta.  Though maybe arugula would be better. 

William and Mary plans to narrow down the mascot submissions to three to five top choices, get feedback from the public, and reveal the new mascot sometime after December.  

 There Could be Aliens, If They Go Green Like Us

Penn State scientists Jacob D. Haqq-Misra and Seth D. Baum recently asserted that the reason we have not discovered extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) in outer space is not necessarily because they aren’t there, but because they cannot expand exponentially. The researchers’ paper, “The Sustainability Solution to the Fermi Paradox,” suggests that the new theories about sustainability explain why we still haven’t bumped into any aliens. If humans can’t sustain life at their current rate of consumption, aliens probably couldn’t either. That’s why they aren’t multiplying like rabbits and filling up the universe, in which case we would have noticed them by now. Haqq-Misra and Baum put forth their thesis:

The “Sustainability Solution” to the Fermi Paradox: The absence of ETI observation can be explained by the possibility that exponential or other faster-growth is not a sustainable development pattern for intelligent civilizations.

Their assumption that “In human populations, exponentially expansive practices are commonly considered unsustainable,” echoes the guidebook Earthscore (required reading for a course atCSU-Chico) which says, “The number of children you have is your biggest environmental impact” and admonishes, “Limiting population growth is especially important in the United States.” And so the same ideology that frowns on bringing children into the world now also frowns on bringing tiny green men into some other planet in the galaxy.

Perhaps somewhere out there, beings in outer space have caught on to the need for sustainability and are teaching it in their universities. I wonder if ET and his family have figured out yet that to keep from going extinct, they’ll have to carry reusable grocery bags.

AASHEs to Ashes

As for the colleges on earth, they’re already scrambling to put sustainability initiatives in place. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has just released a new, 356-page report containing links to news stories about the progress that has been made by the 637 colleges that have signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). Part of the report is a section on the 66 new academic programs in sustainability that have been launched by these colleges.

One such initiative is the Environment, Sustainability, and Society program to be launched this fall at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The university has billed the new project as a groundbreaking enterprise, surrounding it in punchy catchphrases such as “Change. It’s in your hands” and “The future is here.” Dalhousie U even produced a video to get people pumped up. The individuals who speak in the video—labeled respectively as a community planner, a plant scientist, a forest scientist, an architect, and a historian—say that the earth needs academic programs like this one because, “The biggest issue for the 21st century earth is climate change” and “The observations are now telling us that we will have an ice-free arctic in the next few years.”

The Society part of the program teaches students how to get people motivated to change the way they live. Deborah Buszard, the plant scientist frames the problem: “We know we need to change issues, for example, like over-fishing and the depletion of fish stocks. And yet socially we’re unable to make the kinds of policy changes that need to happen.”

But back to AASHE’s listings: there’s an oddly included item in the list of new academic programs: Arizona State University’s Master’s in Social Justice. In AASHE’s description, there appears neither environmentalism nor sustainability nor any other word associated with climate action. Rather, “Those pursuing the research track will be prepared for careers requiring research skills in governmental and non-governmental agencies.” So where’s the connection to AASHE? On clicking through to ASU’s website, we find the missing link:

People who aspire to apply social justice and human rights approaches to such issues as health, education, labor, international development, family welfare, and the environment will gain a strong theoretical background and hands-on management skills through Arizona State University’s new master’s degree program in social justice and human rights.

Oh. We almost forgot that sustainability is tied to the postmodern concept of social justice, in which fair trade is more important than free trade, and in which multiculturalism is more important than education. See Peter Wood’s article, “Sustainability’s Third Circle” in Inside Higher Ed.

And speaking of AASHE, we just intercepted an email sent through AASHE’s listserv by Debra G. Rowe, a professor at Oakland Community College and a “Senior Fellow at the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future.” On the eve of the House vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454), Professor Rowe is urging the AASHE community to lobby on behalf of the bill. To help out Professor Rowe we have copied her entire email below. Of special note are numbers 2 and 3, as well as the intended meaning of “tap” in number 5.



From: EFS-Acad [mailto:[email protected]] On Behalf Of Rowe, Debra G
Sent: Thursday, June 25, 2009 4:32 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: Re: [EFS-ACAD] chance to act on climate change and build a greener economy

The vote for the climate change bill is tomorrow on the House floor, so if you want climate change legislation, any emails you can send today to your congressperson could make a powerful difference. I have copied some talking points below.  It is an opportunity to help create a more sustainable energy future.   Look up your congressperson at to email them or, if you can get through, you can Dial the Capitol Hill switchboard -- (202) 224-3121 -- and ask for your Rep's office.  

Talking Points to Call Member of Congress
In Support of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009
(H.R. 2454)

1. I want to urge you to vote "yes" on the Waxman-Markey bill, which is expected to come to a vote on the House floor tomorrow. It is time for the U.S. to provide leadership on climate solutions. 

2. The American College and University Presidents' Climate Challenge, a network of more than 635 colleges and universities in all 50 states, have committed to become climate neutral and educate all graduates to help society do the same.  Higher education institutions recognize our responsibility in meeting the climate challenge, and we are ready to provide leadership to move the U.S. towards sustainability.

3. The scientific evidence of global warming is indisputable - and ever more ominous.  We have to face the facts:  we must reduce reliance on fossil fuels, expand clean energy from renewable sources, and develop a new energy efficiency and conservation ethic.  We cannot justify further delay.  

4. The Waxman-Markey bill may not be perfect, but its comprehensive and logical framework offers a good start:  it caps carbon emissions, begins to shifts us to renewable energy, and relies on market forces for least-cost solutions.  

5. The Waxman-Markey bill has widespread support within both the labor and business communities.  It will tap American businesses' ingenuity, drive and innovation, and it will create millions of jobs in a more sustainable economy.  

6. The Waxman-Markey bill protects consumers and businesses in many ways.  It provides free allowances to reduce the impact on consumer electric rates.  It provides free allowances to energy-intensive industries such as steel, cement and chemicals.  And it provides subsidies for developing clean coal and renewables and state programs to support energy efficiency in buildings and power plants.

7. The Waxman-Markey bill is the first step in the legislative process, not the last.  The House will amend the bill on the floor; later this year the Senate will take up its own climate bill; and then the House and Senate will work out the differences.   

8. If the U.S. delays action on climate legislation, other countries, including China and India, will use our inaction as an excuse for another decade of delay.  We cannot afford to leave that legacy to our children.  

9. There is no more important issue facing the country - and the planet.  I urge you to vote for the Waxman-Markey bill - and to oppose amendments to weaken it.    

Debra Rowe, Ph.D.


Sustainable Energies and Behavioral Sciences


Is that “tap” in the sense of extracting the sweet sap of maples trees in early spring? 

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