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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.

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.

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.

Politics in the Age of Ecology

In this provocative call for a new ecological politics, William Ophuls starts from a radical premise: “sustainability” is impossible. We are on an industrial Titanic, fueled by rapidly depleting stocks of fossil hydrocarbons. Making the deck chairs from recyclable materials and feeding the boilers with biofuels is futile. In the end, the ship is doomed by the laws of thermodynamics and by the implacable biological and geological limits that are already beginning to pinch.

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.

Urbanization and globalization have shaped the last hundred years. These two dominant trends are mutually reinforcing: globalization links countries through the networked communications of urban hubs. The urban population now generates more than eighty percent of global GDP. Cities account for enormous flows of energy and materials—inflows of goods and services and outflows of waste. Thus urban environmental management critically affects global sustainability.

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.

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.

The Social Structures of Sustainability

Buildings are the nation’s greatest energy consumers. Forty percent of all our energy is used for heating, cooling, lighting, and powering machines and devices in buildings. And despite decades of investment in green construction technologies, residential and commercial buildings remain stubbornly energy inefficient.

For as long has humans have lived in communities, storytelling has bound people to each other and to their environments. In recent times, scholars have noted how social networks arise around issues of resource and ecological management.

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