Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sustainable OSU?

Good session last night with students from the Environment and Natural Resources Scholars program. Brett Mayo (Student Life), Scott Potter (IEE), Kristen Arnold (OSU 1st year) and I on a panel, talking about sustainability--or was it environmental stewardship?--at the university.

What struck me most was Scott's remark that he had counseled Gordon Gee not to sign the President's Climate Commitment because, unlike other signatories, OSU had already cut its emissions by some 70% with the last third being the most difficult. Once he heard the objections, Scott said, Gee promptly signed on anyway, saying it was the right thing to do. So, starting from last April, OSU has two years to produce a plan for climate neutrality.

Of course, as Scott also said, a lot depends on how you draw the boundaries around the university. Do those of us who drive to work count on the university's carbon account? How do offsets work? And so on.

What this suggests, of course, is that definitions of sustainability are politically contested, and all the more as we strip away the low-hanging fruit of efficiency. "Sustainability" simply marks the current state of the conversation about how we relate to the environment, with the need to reduce carbon footprints a consensus position at the moment. Other dimensions--agriculture, for instance, or watersheds--do not figure immediately in the discussion, except insofar as they contribute to carbon savings. The question of scale--localization, bioregionalism--has not yet emerged as a topic in mainstream discussions: space has not yet become political.

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