Sustainability and the Liberal Arts

It’s been a busy spring term for Green Roots. Lawrence finished ninth among 346 schools nationwide in the Recyclemania competition. We celebrated Earth Week with speakers, music, and crafts. We installed our first set of solar energy panels. In my ENST 300 class, we’ve been studying “The Greening of Higher Education” all term, exploring the meaning of education in a world facing severe environmental threats and developing projects that will have an impact on Lawrence not only this year, but beyond. (Keep watching this blog for more on these projects.)

Tonight, we’ll be welcoming our first Spoerl Lecturer of the year to campus. Nan Jenks-Jay is a national leader in campus sustainability due to her work at Williams, the University of Redlands and Middlebury, where she is currently Dean of Environmental Affairs. She’ll be speaking about “Sustainability and the Liberal Arts.” Obviously, I don’t know what she is going to say, but I’ve been thinking about this topic constantly for the last two years, since we began the Green Roots initiative.

Sometimes it seems as if “sustainability” and the “liberal arts” don’t have much to do with one another. The classic liberal arts education rests its legitimacy on a claim to enduring values that have little to do with the practical matters of living in the world: food, shelter, transportation. The liberal arts were historically the purview of elite gentlemen, who could afford to ignore the material realities of life while they contemplated The Good and the True (often, while women, slaves, etc. took care of food, shelter, and transportation). Today, liberal arts colleges devote themselves intensely toeducating people who know how to reason, how to write, how to speak, how to critique. These are all good things to know how to do, but what if someone can do all of these things and still doesn’t know where his food comes from? How to fix her own bicycle? Read a bus map? Select native plants for his garden? Insulate her home? That’s not a person who is going to be able to live lightly upon this planet, because he or she will be dependent on a network of goods and services that extend widely across the world and consume tremendous resources in doing so. And if this person can’t live lightly, and therefore sustainably, can we really call him or her “educated”?

This is David Orr’s position in Earth in Mind, a classic text in the campus sustainability movement, and it’s one to which I’m sympathetic. Yet I also think Orr is a bit too hard in that book on the traditional notion of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Some things are worth knowing, not because they’re “useful” but because they’re beautiful. I think of this particularly in the context of Lawrence because of our Conservatory. Learning how to play Beethoven’s string quartets may not teach you how to do anything that will decrease your ecological footprint, but does that mean no one should learn how to play them?

As Orr himself has acknowledged elsewhere, “carrying out the Great Work of making an ecologically durable and decent society will require us to confront the deeper cultural roots of our problems…” If sustainability is more than a toolkit of hands-on skills, more than an grasp of the technologies of wind energy and composting — if it really is about the heart and the soul as well as the head and the hand — then even those liberal arts subjects that do not seem to have anything to do with helping people live more sustainably may be of great use. Medieval history, for instance, teaches us how to approach a society enormously different from our with openness and curiosity. Literature can teach empathy, wonder, and wit. Art can challenge us to see even the most simple and overlooked objects anew. All of these qualities matter in the task of creating a sustainable world.

I doubt that either the author of Earth in Mind or Professor Jenks-Jay would seriously argue with what I’m saying. No one’s proposing that liberal arts colleges toss out the fine arts and humanities, keeping only the “useful” subjects like the sciences while adding agriculture, machine repair and orienteering. To that extent, then, I’m debating against an opponent who doesn’t exist. Yet I do feel that we need to continue to consider relationship between sustainability and the liberal arts, all of them, if only to keep us from sliding into the complacent conclusion that “someone else” will take care of this stuff. Someone else — maybe those people over in Science Hall or down at the Tech — will figure out how to keep us from killing ourselves on this planet. That’s a conclusion I don’t think any of us can afford.

“The Greening of Higher Education” — Spoerl Series Coming Soon!

Barbara Gray Spoerl Lectures in Science and Society

“The Greening of Higher Education”

“Sustainability and the Liberal Arts”
Nan Jenks-Jay
Dean of Environmental Affairs, Middlebury College
Wednesday May 12 7 pm
102 Thomas Steitz Science Hall

“The Role of the Arts in Sustainable Community Development”
Amara Geffen
Professor of Art and Director of the Center for Economic and Environmental Development, Allegheny College
Tuesday, May 18, 7 pm
102 Thomas Steitz Science Hall

“Education in Action for a Sustainable Future”
Debra Rowe
President, U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and Professor, Sustainable Energies and Behavioral Sciences, Oakland Community College
Wednesday May 19, 7 pm
202 Thomas Steitz Science Hall

The Spoerl Lectures are made possible by a fund established in 1999 by Barbara Gray Spoerl, Milwaukee-Downer College Class of 1944, and her husband, Edward Spoerl. Mrs. Spoerl was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Milwaukee-Downer and a Lawrence University alumna trustee from 1975 to 1977. She also served as the president of the Milwaukee-Downer Alumnae Association and of the Lawrence University Alumni Association. The Spoerls’ daughter, Dr. Patricia Spoerl, is a 1971 Lawrence graduate. This fund brings to campus visiting scholars knowledgeable in the historical and cultural meanings of science and technology – e.g., scientists, philosophers, sociologists – to speak on topics that broaden the community’s understanding of the role of science and technology in societies worldwide.

Earth Week!

Lawrence again has an Earth Week planned with something for everyone. Interested in policy? Come to Scarff Memorial Visiting Professor George Wyeth’s lecture sharing his experiences with the EPA. Interested in the visual arts? Jerilea Zempel will be offering her insights on the relationship on art and the environment. Live music? Come hear Morsoul on Wednesday. Don’t forget that we’ll celebrate Earth Day itself on Saturday, April 24, with activities and crafts and booths from local environmental groups.

Here’s a full schedule of what’s happening:

Monday April 19
• 4:30 Science Hall Colloquium, Science Hall 102
• Steve Miles, Supervisor, Dolores Conservation District, Cortez, Colorado
• “Taming Tamarisk in Western Colorado: a grass roots conservation effort at the headwaters of the tamarisk infestation”

Tuesday April 20
• 11:10 Convocation, Memorial Chapel
• Rebecca Solnit, essayist, “Swimming Upstream in History: Hope, Disaster, Utopia”

• 7 pm, Povolny Lecture, Science Hall 102
• George Wyeth, Stephen Edward Scarff Memorial Visiting Professor
• “Change Isn’t Easy: An Inside Perspective”

Wednesday April 21
• 8 pm, Warch Campus Center Cinema, film: “Earth Days”
• 9:30 pm, Warch Campus Center, band: Morsoul

Thursday April 22
• 4:30 pm, Wriston Auditorium, Visiting Artist, Jerilea Zempel, “Art and the Environment”

Friday April 23
• 3:10 pm, Science Hall 102, Tim Ehlinger, associate professor, Great Lakes Water Institute, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee “Ecological Risk Assessment Frameworks and Indicators for Sustainable Development in Coastal Lake Systems,”

Saturday April 24 Earth Day!
Join Greenfire for a day of music, food, and crafts!

Wash your clothes in cold water!

Did your know that 90% of the energy used in most washers is used to generate hot water?

Did you know that most detergents perform no better in warm or hot water than in cold? Your clothes (regardless of color!) won’t get any cleaner and they will last longer too!

If everyone in the U.S. switched to using cold water on just 80% of our wash loads, collectively we could save $6.7 Billion and reduce carbon emissions by 50 million tons!

So, use cold water, and if you do use hot or warm water, be sure to turn the knob back to cold when you are done.

Garbage in the Gallery

If you were in the Warch campus center during the first week of March, you might have noticed a pretty trashy display in the third floor gallery…or should I say, “recyclable-y” display. The giant cardboard fort and plastic dinosaur were constructed by Greenfire members on February 25, to advertise Lawrence’s participation in the international RecycleMania competition. The display also served to raise awareness of resources consumed behind the scenes here at Lawrence, and to promote recycling.

The fort was constructed using nearly 600 pounds of cardboard and over 2,000 "The Lawrentian" newspapers.
The fort contained nearly 600 pounds of cardboard and over 2,000 copies of "The Lawrentian."

The fort itself, complete with moat and drawbridge, was constructed entirely out of nearly 600 pounds of corrugated cardboard. The cardboard was generated by campus dining services in just half of a week. Over 2,000 copies of “The Lawrentian” were used to line the floor and frame the drawbridge, representing a fraction of the thousands of surplus campus newspapers printed each term. Several bags of plastic and aluminum containers from the Cafe were used in the construction of a dinosaur-like creature, which resided within the fort, but it was sadly vandalized during its first weekend of life.

The display, which took over 4 hours to construct, also featured signs detailing waste production and recycling rates on campus, as well as providing some suggestions on ways to reduce per capita waste production.  By purchasing fewer disposable items and instead using reusable items such as coffee mugs and cloth shopping bags, we can significantly reduce the amount of waste we produce.  Waste reduction not only prevents materials from overflowing landfills, but also leads to a decrease in our consumption of natural resources.

After standing strong for a week, the fort was deconstructed by Greenfire members in just under two hours.  It is hoped that those who viewed the display will have garnered a greater awareness of the amount of waste we generate, and will take steps to reduce their personal contributions.  Many Lawrentians already recycle regularly, which has contributed to Lawrence’s good standing in the RecycleMania competition; Lawrence currently ranks 6th out of nearly 300 competing schools!  With RecycleMania drawing to a close on March 27, it will be exciting to see if Lawrence can break into the top 5.  Just remember: Reduce waste, recycle more!

Farm City Community Read Starts Soon!

Does meeting with fellow students and faculty to talk about running a farm in the ghettos of Oakland, dumpster diving to feed pigs, and corralling runaway turkeys in downtown Oakland sound like fun?

During the Spring term Green Roots and the Environmental Studies program will be sponsoring a for credit campus read program. The book is Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter. Her work covers topics including sustainable agriculture, urban communities, and healthful eating. As a special treat, the author will be in the Fox Cities in mid-April, just before Earth Day!

Learn more about Novella Carpenter and her book at the following sites:

Please consider registering for one of the “ENST 320: Farm City: A community read” sections for this spring
Below are some important details:

* Course Number: ENST 320
* There are no prerequisites, this is not just for ENST students, so encourage your friends to sign up with you!
* 1 unit, S/U only grading
* No writing requirement or exams
* Classes will meet once per week for 1 hour for the first 5 weeks of the term.
* There are 8 sections for you to choose from, all meeting at different times. So you have your choice of times and instructors.
* Check out our Facebook group: LU community read
* Did I mention that you should encourage a friend to sign up with you?

Learn More about Water Quality in the Fox — TONIGHT!

This Monday, Feb 8, 2010, at 7:00-8:30 pm, there will be a presentation at the Paper Discovery Center. Erin Hanson from the DNR will be discussing Fox River water quality. Consider making a fun evening of it and stop by the adjoining Atlas Coffee Mill for dinner beforehand – where you will receive a 15% discount for attending this event!

The Paper Discover Center is at 425 West Water Street in Appleton.

Thank you to Barb Sauer and Connie Kanitz for letting me know about this event!