Skip navigation

Sustainability

  •  
  • Page 1 of 5
The Logic, Urgency, and Promise of Tackling Climate Change

The risks of climate change are potentially immense. The benefits of taking action are also clear: we can see that economic development, reduced emissions, and creative adaptation go hand in hand. A committed and strong low-carbon transition could trigger a new wave of economic and technological transformation and investment, a new era of global and sustainable prosperity. Why, then, are we waiting? In this book, Nicholas Stern explains why, notwithstanding the great attractions of a new path, it has been so difficult to tackle climate change effectively. He makes a compelling case for climate action now and sets out the forms that action should take.

Stern argues that the risks and costs of climate change are worse than estimated in the landmark Stern Review in 2006—and far worse than implied by standard economic models. He reminds us that we have a choice. We can rely on past technologies, methods, and institutions—or we can embrace change, innovation, and international collaboration. The first might bring us some short-term growth but would lead eventually to chaos, conflict, and destruction. The second could bring about better lives for all and growth that is sustainable over the long term, and help win the battle against worldwide poverty. The science warns of the dangers of neglect; the economics and technology show what we can do and the great benefits that will follow; an examination of the ethics points strongly to a moral imperative for action. Why are we waiting?

Grain Vapor Ray

We have entered the Anthropocene era—a geological age of our own making, in which what we have understood to be nature is made by man. We need a new way to understand the dynamics of a new epoch. These volumes offer writings that approach the Anthropocene through the perspectives of grain, vapor, and ray—the particulate, the volatile, and the radiant. The first three volumes—each devoted to one of the three textures—offer a series of paired texts, with contemporary writers responding to historic writings. A fourth volume offers a guide to the project as a whole.

Grain: Granular materials add up to concrete forms; insignificant specks accumulate into complex entities. The texts in this volume narrate some of the fundamental qualities of the granular. In one pairing of texts, Robert Smithson compares the accumulation of thoughts to the aggregation of sediment, and an environmental historian writes about the stakes for earthly knowledge today. Other authors include Alfred Russel Wallace, Denis Diderot, and Georges Bataille.

Vapor: The vaporous represents matter’s transformations. In this volume, a political scientist compares Kafka’s haunting “Odradek” to “vibrant matter”; a media theorist responds to poems and diagrams by Buckminster Fuller; and more, including texts by Hippocrates, Italo Calvino, and James Clerk Maxwell.

Ray: A ray is an act of propagation and diffusion, encompassing a chain of interdependencies between energy and matter. This volume includes texts by Spinoza (with a reconceptualization by a contemporary philosopher), Jacques Lacan (followed by an anthropologist’s reflections on temporality), Thomas Pynchon (accompanied by an interpretation of Pynchon’s “electro-mysticism”), and others.

These volumes constitute a unique experiment in design and composition as well as content. The mingling of texts and the juxtaposition of different areas of knowledge represented in a variety of forms express the dynamics of a world in change.

Endless Growth on a Finite Planet

The notion of ever-expanding economic growth has been promoted so relentlessly that “growth” is now entrenched as the natural objective of collective human effort. The public has been convinced that growth is the natural solution to virtually all social problems—poverty, debt, unemployment, and even the environmental degradation caused by the determined pursuit of growth. Meanwhile, warnings by scientists that we live on a finite planet that cannot sustain infinite economic expansion are ignored or even scorned. In Collision Course, Kerryn Higgs examines how society’s commitment to growth has marginalized scientific findings on the limits of growth, casting them as bogus predictions of imminent doom.

Higgs tells how in 1972, The Limits to Growth—written by MIT researchers Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William Behrens III—found that unimpeded economic growth was likely to collide with the realities of a finite planet within a century. Although the book’s arguments received positive responses initially, before long the dominant narrative of growth as panacea took over. Higgs explores the resistance to ideas about limits, tracing the propagandizing of “free enterprise,” the elevation of growth as the central objective of policy makers, the celebration of “the magic of the market,” and the ever-widening influence of corporate-funded think tanks--a parallel academic universe dedicated to the dissemination of neoliberal principles and to the denial of health and environmental dangers from the effects of tobacco to global warming. More than forty years after The Limits to Growth, the idea that growth is essential continues to hold sway, despite the mounting evidence of its costs—climate destabilization, pollution, intensification of gross global inequalities, and depletion of the resources on which the modern economic edifice depends.

Mixing Human-Computer Interactions with Human-Food Interactions

Our contemporary concerns about food range from food security to agricultural sustainability to getting dinner on the table for family and friends. This book investigates food issues as they intersect with participatory Internet culture—blogs, wikis, online photo- and video-sharing platforms, and social networks—in efforts to bring about a healthy, socially inclusive, and sustainable food future. Focusing on our urban environments provisioned with digital and network capacities, and drawing on such “bottom-up” sociotechnical trends as DIY and open source, the chapters describe engagements with food and technology that engender (re-)creative interactions.

In the first section, “Eat,” contributors discuss technology-aided approaches to sustainable dining, including digital communication between farmers and urban consumers and a “telematic” dinner party at which guests are present electronically. The chapters in “Cook” describe, among other things, “smart” chopping boards that encourage mindful eating and a website that supports urban wild fruit foraging. Finally, “Grow” connects human-computer interaction with achieving a secure, safe, and ethical food supply, offering chapters on the use of interactive technologies in urban agriculture, efforts to trace the provenance of food with a “Fair Tracing” tool, and other projects.

Contributors
Joon Sang Baek, Pollie Barden, Eric P. S. Baumer, Eli Blevis, Nick Bryan-Kinns, Robert Comber, Jean Duruz, Katharina Frosch, Anne Galloway, Geri Gay, Jordan Geiger, Gijs Geleijnse, Nina Gros, Penny Hagen, Megan Halpern, Greg Hearn, Tad Hirsch, Jettie Hoonhout, Denise Kera, Vera Khovanskaya, Ann Light, Bernt Meerbeek, William Odom, Kenton O’Hara, Charles Spence, Mirjam Struppek, Esther Toet, Marc Tuters, Katharine S. Willis, David L. Wright, Grant Young

Culture, Conflict, and Ecology

The history of the commons—jointly owned land or other resources such as fisheries or forests set aside for public use—provides a useful context for current debates over sustainability and how we can act as “good ancestors.” In this book, Derek Wall considers the commons from antiquity to the present day, as an idea, an ecological space, an economic abstraction, and a management practice. He argues that the commons should be viewed neither as a “tragedy” of mismanagement (as the biologist Garrett Hardin wrote in 1968) nor as a panacea for solving environmental problems. Instead, Walls sees the commons as a particular form of property ownership, arguing that property rights are essential to understanding sustainability. How we use the land and its resources offers insights into how we value the environment.

After defining the commons and describing the arguments of Hardin’s influential article and Elinor Ostrom’s more recent work on the commons, Wall offers historical case studies from the United States, England, India, and Mongolia. He examines the power of cultural norms to maintain the commons; political conflicts over the commons; and how commons have protected, or failed to protect ecosystems. Combining intellectual and material histories with an eye on contemporary debates, Wall offers an applied history that will interest academics, activists, and policy makers.

A college campus offers an ideal setting for exploring and practicing sustainability. Colleges and universities offer our best hope for raising awareness about the climate crisis and the dire threat it poses to the planet. They provide opportunities for both research and implementation; they have the capacity to engage students, staff, and faculty in collaborative enterprises that inspire campus transformation; they take the idea of legacy seriously. But most college and university administrations need guidance on the path to sustainability. In The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus, Mitchell Thomashow, a former college president, provides just that.

When Thomashow became president of Unity College, a small environment-focused college in Maine, in 2006, he decided to focus his leadership on sustainability. Drawing on his experiences at Unity, Thomashow identifies nine elements for organizing a sustainability agenda: energy, food, and materials (aspects of infrastructure); governance, investment, and wellness (aspects of community); and curriculum, interpretation, and aesthetics (aspects of learning).

Thomashow describes, among other things, how Unity built the first platinum LEED-certified college president’s residence in North America; installed solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy generators all over the campus; became a center for local food growing; reconsidered the college’s capital assets and investment strategy in light of sustainability; revitalized the curriculum; and made the entire campus a canvas for sustainability-inspired public art. Connecting his experiences to broader concerns, Thomashow links the campus to the planet, reminding us that local efforts, taken together, can have a global impact.

Paths to Ecological Order

We are living beyond our means, running up debts both economic and ecological, consuming the planet’s resources at rates not remotely sustainable. But it’s hard to imagine a different way. How can we live without cheap goods and easy credit? How can we consume without consuming the systems that support life? How can we live well and live within our means? In Treading Softly, Thomas Princen helps us imagine an alternative. We need, he says, a new normal, an ecological order that is actually economical with resources, that embraces limits, that sees sustainable living not as a “lifestyle” but as a long-term connection to fresh, free-flowing water, fertile soil, and healthy food.

The goal would be to live well by living well within the capacities of our resources. Princen doesn’t offer a quick fix—there’s no list of easy ways to save the planet to hang on the refrigerator. He gives us instead a positive, realistic sense of the possible, with an abundance of examples, concepts, and tools for imagining, then realizing, how to live within our biophysical means.

The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World

America’s once-vibrant small-to-midsize cities—Syracuse, Worcester, Akron, Flint, Rockford, and others—increasingly resemble urban wastelands. Gutted by deindustrialization, outsourcing, and middle-class flight, disproportionately devastated by metro freeway systems that laid waste to the urban fabric and displaced the working poor, small industrial cities seem to be part of America’s past, not its future. And yet, Catherine Tumber argues in this provocative book, America’s gritty Rust Belt cities could play a central role in a greener, low-carbon, relocalized future.

As we wean ourselves from fossil fuels and realize the environmental costs of suburban sprawl, we will see that small cities offer many assets for sustainable living not shared by their big city or small town counterparts, including population density and nearby, fertile farmland available for new environmentally friendly uses.

Tumber traveled to twenty-five cities in the Northeast and Midwest—from Buffalo to Peoria to Detroit to Rochester—interviewing planners, city officials, and activists, and weaving their stories into this exploration of small-scale urbanism. Smaller cities can be a critical part of a sustainable future and a productive green economy. Small, Gritty, and Green will help us develop the moral and political imagination we need to realize this.

The Present Failure and Future Promise of Environmental Action in the United States

Recycling is widely celebrated as an environmental success story. The accomplishments of the recycling movement can be seen in municipal practice, a thriving private recycling industry, and widespread public support and participation. In the United States, more people recycle than vote. But, as Samantha MacBride points out in this book, the goals of recycling—saving the earth (and trees), conserving resources, and greening the economy—are still far from being realized. The vast majority of solid wastes are still burned or buried. MacBride argues that, since the emergence of the recycling movement in 1970, manufacturers of products that end up in waste have successfully prevented the implementation of more onerous, yet far more effective, forms of sustainable waste policy. Recycling as we know it today generates the illusion of progress while allowing industry to maintain the status quo and place responsibility on consumers and local government.

MacBride offers a series of case studies in recycling that pose provocative questions about whether the current ways we deal with waste are really the best ways to bring about real sustainability and environmental justice. She does not aim to debunk or discourage recycling but to help us think beyond recycling as it is today.

Stories and Strategies for Transformation

In colleges and universities across the United States, students, faculty, and staff are forging new paths to sustainability. From private liberal arts colleges to major research institutions to community colleges, sustainability concerns are being integrated into curricula, policies, and programs. New divisions, degree programs, and courses of study cross traditional disciplinary boundaries; Sustainability Councils become part of campus governance; and new sustainability issues link to historic social and educational missions. In this book, leaders from twenty-four colleges and universities offer their stories of institutional and personal transformation.

These stories document both the power of leadership—whether by college presidents, faculty, staff, or student activists—and the potential for institutions to redefine themselves. Chapters recount, among other things, how inclusive campus governance helped mobilize students at the University of South Carolina; how a course at the Menominee Nation’s tribal college linked sustainability and traditional knowledge; how the president of Furman University convinced a conservative campus community to make sustainability a strategic priority; how students at San Diego State University built sustainability into future governance while financing a LEED platinum-certified student center; and how sustainability transformed pedagogy in a lecture class at Penn State. As this book makes clear, there are many paths to sustainability in higher education. These stories offer a snapshot of what has been accomplished and a roadmap to what is possible.

Colleges and Universities covered include
Arizona State University • Central College, Iowa • College of the Menominee Nation, Wisconsin • Curriculum for the Bio-region Project, Pacific Northwest • Drury University, Missouri • Emory University, Georgia • Florida A&M University • Furman University, South Carolina • Green Mountain College, Vermont • Kap’olani Community College, Honolulu, Hawaii • Pennsylvania State University •
San Diego State University • Santa Clara University, California • Slippery Rock State University, Pennsylvania •
Spelman College, Georgia • Unity College, Maine • University of Hawaii–Manoa • University of Michigan • University of South Carolina • University of South Florida • University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh • Warren Wilson College, North Carolina • Yale University

  •  
  • Page 1 of 5