Saturday, February 23, 2013

Great happenings

Photo: A great shot of new solar PV array installed by ReVision Energy last year. Stolen from the Sustainability Office's Facebook page. (Thanks Sara!) Click to enlarge and see the full width.

It's been interesting around here lately.

Little Unity, the College That Could, has been in the national news again and again with our divestment campaign. Most recently, we're featured in a very breezy and millennial-targeted Rolling Stone article by Bill McKibbon (which you can access here).

I'm hoping that this coverage will bring in some new students for our degree programs, particularly Sustainable Energy Management (SEM), Sustainable Agriculture (SustAg), Environmental Policy, Law and Society (EPLS -- which I like to pronounce "eeples"), and Earth and Environmental Science (ESS).

These are the Unity College programs that collectively and individually address the particular specific challenges that climate change raises.

All our programs have some part of sustainability science, but these programs represent the key disciplines and transdisciplinary areas required for actually solving the problems raised by climate change and other sustainability issues.

It's not much good just thinking about it. Even advocacy is only part of the solution. You also have to get it done.

Specifically, we need to figure out what government policies and private enterprises could possibly do the very difficult and complex work of dramatically reducing the widespread use of fossil fuel in housing, transportation, agriculture, industry and commerce, and thus reduce climate emissions.  Then we have to implement them, in new programs of government and private enterprise.

The first three programs I mentioned do these bits, collectively.

We also need to scientifically track our progress, as well as answer outstanding questions such as what the precise climate sensitivity to GHG emissions is (we think we know, but there remains some uncertainty) and where the tipping points are (recent evidence from Siberia suggests they are too close for comfort).

ESS does these bits, while also training students in general earth systems science.

It seems to me, in my relatively simple-minded way of thinking, that we've got it covered.

"Gotcha covered" as we say in Maine.

Closer to home, in perhaps more prosaic and practical mode, the campus farm plans are at last moving forward. A permanent livestock farm will augment our existing vegetable farm (which provides food to the cafeteria and the local food bank). The history of this effort, with a few false starts, has been complicated, and I won't go into it here.

Suffice it to say, there have been numerous efforts to break through the log-jam of college planning and build a farm on campus. Progress has been fitful. But now it seems we're almost at the finish line.

Or, more realistically, the start line. The point where planning and advocacy begin to be replaced by care and feeding routine and regulation and, most important of all, daily lessons in sustainable agriculture.

(Just back from feeding my own fat, very pregnant sheep, I need to express that I really enjoy this part. The Joy of Sheep.)

Of course, there have been lots of real and very serious lessons in the advocacy and planning stages of the farm, and students have been involved throughout, notably in the building of the barn, now beautifully kitted out and trimmed (by former student and Student Government President Jason Reynolds and his J-Build sustainable design-build firm), but more recently in planning out the livestock systems.

Here's an example. (Thanks, Shayne.)

If you build it they will come!

At least, that was the idea, back in the cold dark days before the Administration changed hands and the college made planning for a farm a budget priority. So, we built a barn.

Thanks to Sara Trunzo and Jesse Pyles and the SustAg students and many many others for making this old dream of mine a reality on campus. I feel sorry for all the students who wanted it so badly and have now graduated, but like I said, they learned lessons along the way (if only how to respond to, and work with, a slow-moving bureaucracy).

I'm very proud of the fact that after many years of fitful, isolated, and disorganized efforts this whole system of thinking and doing at Unity College is beginning to gel nicely.

I predicted this would happen, a very long time ago in college life (see this 2004 article here), and many generations of students have come and gone since, so this is a major personal vindication.

Now we just have to keep it up, don't we.

And perhaps expand it to students who would like to study at Unity College, but can't, for one reason or another, get here physically.

That would be the online/distance learning part, which I'm now directly involved in planning.

Unity College may one day soon have certificate and degree programs in sustainability that you can attend "from away."

Of course, there's no substitute for actually coming to Unity, Maine, so my own preference, and the idea I'm particularly advocating, is that our online programs include a short residency option which would allow online students to come to Unity College for part of the summer, see and work on our exemplary sustainable campus, and participate directly in the intellectual work of the college, if only for a short stint.

Think of it as a working vacation in sustainability.

Any takers?

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