Sustainability Practicum Reflection #1

In the course of our discussions, we have encountered examples of how the concept of sustainability complements areas of inquiry within numerous specific disciplines. Reflect on your views on how sustainability, as characterized by the principles we have begun to list in class, is relevant within multiple disciplines at your college or university. Also, reflect on how your particular focus in college/university relates to an effort to achieve sustainability.

 

Provide your answer as a comment to this post by class time on Monday. Remember – your comments are public.

12 Comments

  1. Sage Taber says:

    Today, the term sustainability has taken on a number of meanings and pursuits. This week we addressed two variations of sustainability – the Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainable development (ability to meet the needs of future generations…) and John R. Ehrenfeld’s view of ‘sustainability-as-flourishing.’ Each definition was characterized by different principles of sustainability – such as ecological awareness, consideration of social systems and eco-efficiency. Notably, Ehrenfeld wrote of the necessity to stop promoting further economic growth in a system that is inherently unsustainable. He wrote of sustainability as more than a consideration of the future, but of personal engagement with the world and thriving happily in it. As a student at Middlebury College, I like to think that we are moving towards sustainability-as-flourishing within our disciplines.
    However, it is no longer uncommon for colleges to seek publicity for their efforts towards sustainability. At Middlebury, we have an ongoing initiative to reach carbon neutrality by 2016. What is the complete list of ‘sustainable actions’ involved in this endeavor? What guiding principles of sustainability are we using? In the pursuing weeks I imagine that I will come to understand Middlebury’s interpretation of sustainability. I am proud to attend a school with a well-established and regarded environmental studies program. However, I am not certain that I have been learning Ehrenfeld’s definition of sustainability until now.
    I am approaching my senior year as a joint Environmental Studies and Environmental Architecture major. My major is best suited for my interests and motivations to create change through design. The term ‘sustainable architecture’ can be seen as similar to other incongruent interpretations of sustainability. However, the principles of sustainability guiding my work involve addressing architecture as a system. One cannot design a building or park, or anything, without affecting those who come into contact with it. As I move forth with my major, I want sustainability to mean designing for the wellbeing of the individual and the communal whole. Architecture should showcase beauty in its intentionality to address people, and the ecological systems that support our ability to design in the first place.

  2. Aidan McLaughlin says:

    Coming into this program as an intended Economics major, I was very interested to see how sustainability and different economic sets of thinking could mesh with one another. Thus far in the first week, the biggest overlap between disciplines that I have noticed has been between Environmental Studies and Economics. This overlap has taken several different forms, but the most interesting for me is the contrast between the condemnation of capitalist consumerism by John Ehrenfeld in his book “Flourishing” and the efforts around the world to alleviate poverty for environmental, economic, and social reasons. Both of these directions seek to approach environmental issues and sustainability from an economic position.
    In seeking to find a potential avenue to attaining sustainability, John Ehrenfeld proposes that as a global community, we must drastically alter the ways in which we live our lives and the things that we put emphasis on. He asserts that there is no way that we can become truly sustainable within our current capitalist and materialist paradigm. Nothing short of economic and social revolution on a massive scale can allow us to be sustainable. This critique of our society rings true for me, but it is still highly philosophical and vague. Ehrenfeld focuses, and rightly so, on lots of issues in our current socio-economic structure, but it is hard to imagine this type of major shift actually happening, let alone before it’s too late for action.
    For this reason, the element of poverty alleviation through microfinance holds more clout for me. While our world is consumed by chronic obsession with things and with buying and with consuming, it seems to me that we might as well try to use the economic systems in place to level the playing field for marginalized groups across the globe. Not only would this poverty alleviation be socially beneficial for moral reasons, it could also help to stabilize the planet’s population and improve practices from an environmental standpoint. For instance, offering financial services to developing regions around the world opens the door up for education, financial independence for women, improved sanitation and waste management, and many more opportunities to help us move in the direction of sustainability.
    While this microfinance approach might not be easy or even a sure solution to the sustainability question, it seems like one of the more practical approaches that I have encountered. I look forward to continuing to search for pragmatic approaches to environmental problem-solving in this program!

  3. Laura Berry says:

    At College of the Atlantic, there is only one major: human ecology. Defined as “the study of the relationships between humans and their natural, social, and built environments,” sustainability is inherently connected to the study of human ecology. Although students each focus on specific sub-disciplines within the major (for example, many of the classes I have taken have to do with economics and community planning), an undergraduate education at COA revolves around the question of how humans can create long-lasting and healthy relationships with each other and natural world now and into the future. With Acadia National Park and the Atlantic Ocean bordering the campus, students are constantly immersed in an ecologically rich local environment. There is a deep consciousness on campus of local environmental considerations such as recycling, composting, local and organic foods, campus fossil fuel use, etc., as well as how environmental issues connect to systematic social and economic inequity – most students actively question the notion that continued economic growth is necessary for sustainability. It isn’t explicitly stated as such, but both the curriculum/degree requirements and the community dynamics at COA seem to be actively working towards Ehrenfeld’s idea of “sustainability-as-flourishing.” Rather than simply working to become less unsustainable as an institution, the people who make up the COA community are actively committed to building genuine connections to each other and the greater community of MDI. In my time at COA, I have found that the freedom for students to build their own course of study and do independent work both gives individuals the opportunity to experiment and innovate as well as encourages intentionality and mindfulness among students, contributing to the often ignored social aspect of sustainability.
    My specific academic focus within human ecology has centered on trying to understanding how and why individuals and communities make decisions about shared environmental and social resources. Perhaps most importantly to my education so far has been gaining an interdisciplinary view of environmental issues – no matter the specifics, each environmental problem is the result of a complex web of local social, economic, and ecological factors placed within the larger context of global systems. Drawing from community and land use planning, economics, and political ecology, I am especially interested in notions of social-ecological resilience with regards to governance and decision-making processes that drive environmental and social well-being within communities. In my view, these processes are central to sustainability, since without social and environmental equity, “environmental sustainability” means nothing in the long run.

  4. Molly O'Neil says:

    Over the past several years, “sustainability” has rapidly morphed into a buzzword that often carries little concrete meaning. As determined by the Brundtland Commission in 1987, the term broadly advocates meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In order to hone in on this definition, we spent much of our class time this week discussing the most important principles of sustainability such as promoting equity and growth while considering system-wide effects. It is already clear that sustainability issues cannot be solved through the lens of just one discipline. Therefore, it is extremely important to consider how interdisciplinary applications can be used to achieve a sustainable future.

    Sociology, the study of social behavior, can be used to analyze how society arrived at where it is today. Although it is widely understood that the earth has a limited resource supply, our society is still focused on the materialization of goods as means to a happy ending. If every one of this planet’s seven billion human inhabitants lived in the same manner as those in the United States, we would need four Earths to support everyone. This is a staggering observation that motivates me to ask just how our society has so grossly misjudged what really matters. John Ehrenfeld describes this sociological aspect of sustainability as a “constant reaching for what it truly means to be a human being living in an interconnected and complex world.” We need sociology to determine how society arrived at this current paradigm of consumerism. Consequently, we need this information in order to understand how to go about making drastic changes to promote sustainability in the organization and values of society.

    Political Science becomes relevant when examining the important principle of economic and social equity. In looking at the world today, it is easy to see that there is a serious misdistribution of wealth within individual areas. Government is largely responsible for allocating the distribution of control and resources, and the perpetuation of poverty in these nations is an important warning sign to consider in the search for sustainability. Political Science also examines the efficiency of international relations, something that become increasingly important as nations struggle with global issues of climate change and natural resource availability. Even as we approach the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris this fall, it is easy to see that sustainability cannot be addressed without considering the importance of international cooperation.

    Environmental Science constitutes a broad spectrum of disciplines that focus on the importance of protecting natural systems from irreparable harm. Studying natural systems is an important step in determining best management practices within these systems. The principles of resilience theory show that understanding these systems is especially difficult due to their complexity and non-linearity. However, resilience theory is one that can be applied to many different disciples, both social and ecological. Therefore, the concepts of sustainability and resilience theory are very closely linked both within Environmental Science as well as within systems of economics and government. Here, sustainability serves as the umbrella over all of these complexly interrelated disciplines.

    I am complementing my study of Environmental Science with the study of Ethics. In a way, I believe this field to be the missing link that addresses the important principle of equity in the journey towards a sustainable future. Environmental and social issues are very closely linked and one cannot be addressed without considering the effect on the other. Personally, I believe I can use the study of Ethics to get to the root of why those who share the smallest responsibility for environmental degradation tend to experience some of the most harmful consequences. More importantly, I hope to explore how the acknowledgment of this link can be used to encourage a more holistic and interdisciplinary approach towards sustainability.

  5. Timothy Harper says:

    Sustainability according my field, the natural sciences, can be summed up quite well by the original definition of sustainable development laid out by the Brundtland commission in 1987. That sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the current generation without jeopardizing future generation’s access to resources. Through the lens of the natural sciences, the goal of sustainability, use resources at a rate that is lower than the rate which they replenish. In my academic career thus far, the approach to achieving sustainability is methodical and targeted. A part of our global social-ecological system is identified to be unsustainable, and then whether it be through technology or policy, that part is to be made sustainable. All this with the goal of reducing our rate of consumption to a rate that is lower than the resources replenish. This requires the work of many fields, scientists and engineers to develop new technologies and understanding the systems they are meant to change, social scientists to engineer solutions within the socio-economic realm, but rarely involves true interdisciplinary work among all of these groups. The sustainability problem areas are generally addressed within individual disciplines without the
    This approach is useful within the bounds of the current economic and social systems we have put in place, however the true solutions may reside in more holistic and collaborative methods. The scientific and technological world may not be well equipped to develop sustainability solutions when the definition is changed from the original Brundtland definition. If happiness is a goal of sustainability, how is that quantified? If a society-wide reconnection to and respect for place, such that existed among indigenous groups, is required for sustainability, how would any one piece of technology or knowledge help to attain that? A true solution to the sustainability is unlikely within our current societal structure, and so a more holistic approach will be required, an approach that requires collaborative work among and between the social and natural sciences as well as the humanities and the arts. The definition provided in the book Flourishing, by John Ehrenfeld, highlights this need. Ehrenfeld defines sustainability as the possibility that human and other life will flourish on the planet forever. This definition achieves the same ends as the Brundtland definition, addressing rates of resource usage, but in the use of the world flourishing, adds an element that encompasses our needs and desires on a higher level which is purposefully subjective in nature. True sustainability, sustainability-as-flourishing, will require work from all academic disciplines as well as effective collaboration among the disciplines to address sustainability in its fullest sense.

  6. Hannah Root says:

    In his book “Flourishing,” John Ehrenfeld discusses how in order to achieve sustainability we need nothing less than a paradigm shift. The word sustainability has become a buzzword with little meaning. At best, sustainability efforts today only help make the world incrementally less unsustainable and at worst it is a marketing ploy to persuade consumers to buy a product. According to Ehrenfeld, this definition of sustainability is very far off from the root of the problem, which lies in an economy that depends on continual growth. Further than that, happiness has become monetized and our relationship to the earth is largely exploitative. In short, very little in our society today is sustainable in the true sense, and we need a huge upheaval to get on the right path. Everyone across disciplines needs to be thinking about sustainability.

    I major in environmental studies at Middlebury with a minor in education. Through my studies at Middlebury I have become really excited about the idea of teaching environmental studies and ideas of sustainability to young children in early elementary school. There is a growing movement of building curriculum around these ideas, which, to me, exemplifies how understanding sustainability has to be interdisciplinary. Children can use the lens of sustainability to talk about all subjects in their school day, from social studies to science and beyond. In our efforts to achieve sustainability, it is necessary to get kids thinking about how sustainability is so much more complex than recycling and having a garden. Sustainability is not only about living within the regenerative capacity of the earth, but also reflecting on what everyone and everything around us needs in order to thrive. Addressing social inequalities is just as important as addressing biodiversity and the melting of polar ice caps. Sustainability-as-flourishing, as explained by John Ehrenfeld, is about finding what gives our life meaning, and that is different for everyone. We cannot expect, as teachers of any age, to fill our students with our own environmental values. A teacher like this isn’t supposed to turn out classrooms full of environmentalists. The hope with this type of teaching is that students gain tools for understanding, critiquing, and making positive change to the world around them on their paths towards whatever makes them happy.

  7. Jennifer Damian says:

    Although I am not a Russian major at Middlebury, I believe there are connections with this major and Environmental Studies. More specifically, Russia has a lot of resources in terms of energy and also a strong political backbone to go along with it. It has influence in the Eastern European region that I feel is important to pay attention to in terms of the global politics of natural resources. In my own studies, I did some research on Russia’s interest in the Arctic and how it can be a threatening player in terms of the stability of that region in relation to other countries with similar interests. In terms of oil, power, and the Arctic’s environment, I feel that the political aspect of this area of study in relation to the environment is one that should not be undermined.

    I also feel that Middlebury Orientation trips can be very important in terms of engaging incoming freshmen with the Middlebury and Vermont community. By going on wilderness hikes, engaging with farmers at local farms, and learning about health disparities in Vermont (to name a few examples of trips), freshmen start the year with an image in mind of the communities that they are in relation with when entering Middlebury. Learning about farms can give them an appreciation for having local, healthy food that is accessible to them. Going on hikes can let them see and appreciate the beauty of Vermont and what is has to offer. These trips are the foundation for freshmen to ask themselves how they might want to contribute to these, often sustainable, practices that Middlebury, community members, and farmers are practicing, which leads to further progress in sustainability, together.

    Solving environmental issues through policy implementations and negotiations can create huge milestones for issues that many people want to be addressed. Policy makers can help force various players into being sustainable. Although this is generally not in definitions of sustainability (being forced to be sustainable as called out by John Ehrenfeld), it is something that is necessary. The incorporation of sustainability into political systems has been a way of getting sustainability into public spheres of power and influence that can have positive effects on the societies and people governed.

  8. Hernán Gallo says:

    Certain key principles of sustainability from varying opinions and ideologies were discussed this week: the Brundtland Commision’s “Report of the World Commision on Environment and Development: Our Common Future” and John Ehrenfeld’s “sustainability-as-flourishing.” They are both incorporated in several disciplines at my home college, Pitzer College.

    Sociology at Pitzer teaches us about how people create social change, how society affects us, and how humans interact with systems. Therefore, this discipline can help us consider the future and how our actions will affect society. The Brundtland Commission’s principle of considering the future is applicable to sociology. In addition, Ehrenfeld’s principle that economic systems are the problem requires a deep understanding in the way our society is structured and why we continue to pursue one that is dependent on an economy.

    Economics at Pitzer also includes the Brundtland Commission’s principle of consideration of the future. Pitzer’s economics department offers environmental economics. This course promotes more sustainable forms of economic growth while taking into account the environment. In effect, creating an environmentally just economy promotes economic equity, another of the Brundtland Commission’s principles of sustainability.

    Pitzer College has an Environmental Analysis major and within that, there are four tracks: Environment and Society, Environmental Policy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, and Environmental Science. These tracks, with the exception of Environmental Science are very interdisciplinary. We are required to take Introduction to Environmental Analysis, Science and the Environment, an additional natural science course, and environmental justice as part of our core courses for the major. Environmental Justice is an important course with respect to social and economic issues. It considers system-wide issues that relate to environmental injustices, which can give us a concept of needs from different groups of people. Environmental Justice includes environmental racism, so one can learn about the injustices against different groups of people. By learning about injustices and oppression, environmental needs become more visible, allowing us to effectively reach social and economic equity. As long as we do not recognize and combat environmental racism and injustice, we will not be able to flourish sustainably as a society.

    My focus in Environmental Policy at Pitzer College strives toward not only using already established environmental regulations and policies within the United States, but to critically analyze these policies and their effectiveness. My focus aims to regulate and protect natural resources and systems. Environmental policy can protect people through laws, which can help reach economic and social equity. For example, environmental policies can limit the amount of air pollution a factory, typically located in low-income communities of color, which can ultimately improve the health of the community. I hope to use my focus in environmental policy to address environmental injustices in order to have a foundation to reach environmental sustainability.

  9. Darrell Davis says:

    At Oberlin College, there is much talk on the micro/macro level about “sustainability.”On the micro-level, student, faculty, and administrators are have conversations about sustainability as it relates to Oberlin and the world. In the strategic plan of Oberlin College, there is a Carbon neutrality pledge. On the administrative level there is a demonstrated verbal commitment to sustainability.
    On a macro-level, the college is very inconsistent with what it says, and how it invests in terms of sustainability. In 2007, a group of student leaked the college’s investments. It showed deep investments in a lot of oil companies. The end result was the expulsion of those students, and a very swift cut to the limited transparency that existed.
    The environmental studies department at Oberlin College, and the administration at large have taken steps towards a “sustainable” future. The Environmental Studies(ES) department has engineered an environmental dashboard, that tracks energy and systems flows. The department also uses ecological competitions to push sustainability around campus.
    I am a double major in Politics and Environmental Studies. One of my first readings for my intro environmental studies class was “Beyond the Buzzword” and it addressed sustainability as a concept devoid of meaning. Academically, I have been able to study sustainability politics, and discuss how different systems hinder or promote sustainability.

  10. Caitlin Haedrich says:

    Before I delve into some of the issues we’ve discussed this week in our sustainability practicum, I should begin with a short personal introduction for some perspective on where I come from on these ideas. I’m a Math and Geology double major. Before deciding to come to Middlebury, I was pretty sure I wanted to be an engineering major. You could say I’m more about looking at a system, putting numbers on it, and finding a sustainable “solution.” But, this week has definitely opened my eyes to the many components and complexity of sustainability. To fully appreciate what sustainability is and how it connected to almost every academic discipline, you have to drop your preconceived notions of what sustainability is. Those ideas of sustainability that have been sold to you on the side of tissues boxes, car commercials and cleaning products aren’t correct. Sustainability doesn’t simply mean balancing the rate of renewal or growth of the earth’s resources and rate at which with use it. No, sustainability implies our society flourishes, in the words of John Ehrenfeld, that is lives in harmony with earth with a population of humans whose basic needs are not only met but are satisfied with their quality of life and live fairly and equally together.
    With this definition taking shape over the course of the week, the narrow economic development focus of the Brundtland report or the very numerical eurostat Ecological Footprint and Biologic Capacity ratio, suddenly seem insufficient. Our current precarious position on this earth will not be brought into balance with science and math alone, as I might have been tempted to say before. I don’t mean to say they won’t be important; science is the root of new technologies and the way we quantitatively measure the health of our earth while math provides critical insights into system dynamics and gives us the tools to predict and model how our world works. But, consider for example the importance of religion and education. Religion is integral to finding and maintaining a sustainable society because it can dictate how we connect with the environment and people around us. Understanding how different religions view the natural environment and our relationship with it will help us use that as leverage to create change. Religion leadership also command a huge amount of power; according to the BBC, there are 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide so Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and irresponsible development will sway a huge number of people to see the issues at hand and hopefully bring change and action.
    Education is another non-sciences academic discipline that comes to mind when thinking about sustainability. Education will be key in both attaining a sustainable society and maintaining it. First, towards attaining sustainability, education will spread knowledge about what sustainability is, the systems we interact with to sustain ourselves and the changes or coping strategies to help move us towards a more sustainable society. Maintaining sustainability also require education: say we do change the way we live to be in balance with our planet and flourish on it, then education will allow future generations to be conscious of this balance and better stewards of the harmony we create.
    Achieving or even approaching a sustainable society will require involvement from academic discipline. To me, it’s apparent after only a week here that effective changes will come from leaders who are inter-disciplinary, aware of the big-picture and work well with others.

  11. Benjamin Harris says:

    One could argue that “sustainability” has evolved into a sort of societal mission statement of late, and yet for all our relentless striving, the complex reality of sustainability—not the simplistic and generic buzzword—remains as elusive as ever. Why? In the single-minded pursuit of one end, it seems that we have (incorrectly) assumed that only one path may lead us there, when in fact, it is imperative that we adopt an interdisciplinary approach. Scholars such as Ehrenfeld contend that sustainability, as the Brundtland Commission defines it (alongside the problematic word “development”), is a euphemism for endless growth, a model that, in all likelihood, will not engender economic and social equity in the capitalist world system. Thus, Ehrenfeld issues a plea for structural change: a fundamental reordering of society that he coins “sustainability-as-flourishing.”

    If sustainability requires the paradigm shift that Ehrenfeld suggests, then we essentially face a midlife crisis of unprecedented scale. But in all seriousness, sustainability is an existential issue, and hence we need to enlist the field of philosophy to lay a new foundation of values and beliefs. At present, systems theory is populated with language like “thresholds” and “tipping points,” which suggest (disturbingly) that sustainability should hit its sweet spot at the very precipice of the planet’s limits—i.e. just before the point of no return. Rather than tread that fine line, philosophy might argue that we embrace the precautionary principle and live well within the biosphere’s regenerative capacity, adhering to the adage of “less is more.” Philosophy coupled with (Eastern) religion could counter unsustainable economic growth by emphasizing contentment in the here and now—mindfulness that Ehrenfeld captures with the mantra, “Being Not Having.” Capitalism not only has generated environment degradation and deepening wealth disparities, but also perpetual dissatisfaction, as people constantly anticipate future fulfillment, measured in material possession. Philosophy and religion, by reframing happiness as simply existing in present time and place, could persuade the privileged to embrace less consumptive lifestyles, so that Brundtland’s aim of “meeting the basic needs of all” may become attainable.

    Sustainability stresses the importance of integrated social-ecological systems. But truth be told, people may struggle to conceptualize them, since their size and extent exceeds the human eye. Photography remedies this problem to a degree because it shows sustainability’s multi-scalar nature, the camera lens capable of honing in on the finer details and zooming out to the “big picture.” At the local level, photographs can document community-based initiatives that seek self-sufficiency through local markets and grassroots conservation. Photography can also bring the plight of threatened species to public attention, as seen in stirring portraits of oil-slicked animals. At the global scale, photography often illuminates the fragility of ecosystems, wildlife, and human populations in the face of climate change, deforestation, and other transboundary challenges. Also, photography can convey ecological limitations through widely understood symbolism. For example, polar bears perched on melting ice caps have come to represent global warming—in this way, photography distills the enormous complexity and time scale of climate change into an isolated moment of urgency in which people witness life’s endangerment. In short, photography is a universal language that transcends class and culture, and serves as a poignant reminder of our common humanity. And if sustainability demands that we address see ourselves as a sort of global village, then images are indispensable.

    Film and photography are effective forms of sustainability media, but as an environmental studies major with a focus in nonfiction, I’m even more persuaded by the power of rhetoric and the written word. It seems no coincidence that seminal publications, such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring or Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, mark watershed moments in environmental history. Storytelling is a worldwide practice, and so sustainability becomes more accessible to the general public when writers unpack the concept through compelling narrative. In Bell Hooks’ Belonging: A Culture of Place—a book that we began to explore this week—she references the “cry of the earth.” Personification such as this humanizes (and often feminizes) the planet, presents environmental destruction in layman’s terms (a living thing on the verge of dying), and thereby increases sustainability’s emotional appeal. Similarly, the idea of an ecological “footprint” employs metaphor, a favorite device in the environmental writer’s toolkit, to enable people to envision their environmental impact. Perhaps most significantly, along with history, environmental nonfiction invokes the past and applies its patterns to the present and future. Bell Hooks speaks of the African-American population’s potential to collectively heal through return migration, and more specifically, the renewal of their rich agrarian tradition.

    Through landscape and oral histories, personal memoirs and creative retellings of environmental events, writing can reclaim cultural and environmental pasts. True, sustainability focuses on the future, but the resilience of natural and human systems strengthens over time—that is, with each successive disturbance or setback. For instance, in our readings this week, the concept of “ecological memory” and the process of “remembering” in the adaptive renewal cycle both demonstrate how even insentient environmental systems “recall” their past in order to rebuild stronger. I like to think that environmental storytelling, as a living archive, does the same, drawing from social and biological successes in the past in order to ensure a brighter future. And I’ve learned firsthand from courses at Middlebury that history does make for greater sustainability. In one class, I compiled a profile piece on a local resident who endured apartheid and the loss of multiple family members; it was evident to me that his history had rendered him more resilient to hardship. Likewise, in environmental writing assignments, I’ve always gravitated towards the places that feel older, places that seem to have stood the test of time. Perhaps this is because even at a subconscious level, I seek out sustainability, as in some sense, I find it comforting to come into the presence of things that I know will outlast me. It seems that we premise sustainability on an anthropocentric aim: that of prolonging our own survival. Yet in the end, maybe sustainability should also mean planning for a future when we are no longer around. What I love about environmental nonfiction is its selflessness, its humility—ultimately, as Wendell Berry says, whistleblowing writers want their work to become “obsolete.” Only when environmental cautionary tales are no longer needed can we know that we’ve changed our destructive ways.

  12. Ali Surdoval says:

    Sustainability has proven to be relevant in many disciplines at Middlebury College.

    The discipline of biology (where I have taken the most classes) depends heavily on sustainability: people who study biology are (presumably) interested in studying life in a variety of aspects. Sustainability, according to some of the readings from class, can (or must, depending on whose definition we choose to subscribe to) include the concept of flourishing. Biology as a discipline also understands the concept of “needs”, a principle we deemed necessary to sustainability in class. When we study biology, we consider a variety of ecological systems and how they interact in ways that promote or obstruct survivorship.

    Another discipline to which I see sustainability as relevant is architecture because students of the discipline can choose to design and built projects with sustainability as a main objective. They can ask themselves how the project responds to knowledge of the past, needs of the present, and growth (not necessarily development) of the future. By considering system wide effects, understanding the biocapacity of a site, and having a concept of needs, architecture has the capability to be framed in terms of sustainability.

    Some concepts of sustainability could be seen as integral to Middlebury as a liberal arts college. I took a course in the fall that explored what it means to be liberally educated and attempted to answer the question, “what is the good life and how do we live it?” Sustainability is relevant to this question– understanding and living a good life requires achieving equity, caring about the future, acknowledging needs, and considering system interactions and effects. A common underlying goal of the class was fostering love and respect (between people and the world), which are concepts necessary to building a sustainable community.

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