Conservation and sustainability at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center

Since we were little kids, Mike and I have been going to Shaver's Creek Environmental Center, one of the finest centers of environmental education in the United States. Every year, over 100,000 children, parents, and college students go to Shaver's Creek to walk a boardwalk over a wetland, to breathe in the air of natural and experimental forest, witness the diversity of wildlife from raptors (see video below) to snakes, go to Outdoor School or Orion, or attend the Maple Harvest Festival (this weekend!).

For some, it is their first acquaintance with environmental education and it can awaken them to the beauty and awe of the natural world. Peter remembers seeing his first copperheads and black rat snakes there. A boy's first encounter with snakes is never forgotten.

On today's show, we are fortunate to talk with Mark McLaughlin, director of Shaver's Creek. Mark will talk to us about the role of conservation, outdoor, and environmental education in sustainability. We'll discuss Shaver's Creek's mission and purpose, its history, its programs, and its future.

What if teaching went wild? What if instead of No Child Left Behind we went to No Child Left Inside? Can we be conservationists in our own backyards? What can we do to be the best people we can be where we live?

As one of Shaver's Creek's workers notes in the video below, "There's no line separating us. We are all a part of this world. Shaver's Creek is a way to show that." So tune in today, Friday March 26th at 4 pm on the Lion 90.7.


What are people's and nations' responsibilities for climate change?

The press has primarily focused on climate change as a scientific or economic issue. On one hand, we are informed, sometimes quite poorly, about issues of scientific certainty. How do we really know that climate change is real and induced by industrial human activities? On the other, we hear from powerful members of the business community and their allies that responding to climate change will tank the economy. How can you assure us that the American or global economy won't tank if we move from greenhouse gas intense technologies?

Those questions either gloss over or ignore another, and perhaps more fundamental, aspect of climate change. Given that people from Bangladesh to sub-Saharan Africa to the Yukon are being negatively affected by a changing climate, who should help them? Who should pay? Who is responsible? Climate change, more than any other issue in history except perhaps nuclear proliferation, calls into question our global moral duties and responsibilities? Ultimately, this comes down to morality and ethics. What is the right thing to do?

For example, Inuit people are losing their ability to move on their native land because the permafrost is melting. They have not caused this situation and the only explanation available and has been available for some time now is that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from wealthy developed nations are the driver. The U.S., Europe, and increasingly the "tiger" economies of Asia have created more than their fair share of greenhouse gas emissions historically with the U.S. taking the lion's share at over 20% of total GHG emissions. Our emissions are tied, now quite directly, to melting permafrost and glaciers in the Arctic. Our flights, cars, agriculture, and industry have caused their difficulties. Should we pay for them? Why? What should we pay them? What is just?

On today's show, our guests include members of a recent panel on Climate Change, Climate Justice from Penn State's Rock Ethics Institute who attended the UNFCC Copenhagen Climate Talks in late 2009. Drs. Don Brown, Petra Tschekert, and Nancy Tuana will provide us insights from Copenhagen, what our moral responsibilities are, and what we as a country, a state, a campus, and as individual people can do to act most responsibly on climate change. For some initial insights, visit ClimateEthics.org.

We will also be briefly speaking to students who have helped organize Penn State's first Student Sustainability Summit going off next Wednesday night at 7 pm in Penn State University Park's HUB Heritage Hall. After the break, we will speak to some of the activists working on the Beyond Coal Campaign at Penn State who are trying to get Penn State to move off of coal.


"A new way of being." Greg Lankenau's thoughts on sustainability

I think that sustainability is the single most important challenge for humanity, and should be the operating principle for how we structure education, business, government, and our everyday lives.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. What does sustainability even mean? While it’s not my personal favorite definition, here is probably the most broad and well-known definition of sustainability, paraphrased from the 1987 Brundtland Commission report :
Sustainability: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
This definition has a few key components:

Physical limits: Front and center in the definition is the recognition that there are physical limits to what we can do without hurting those who come after us. To live sustainably is to live in a way that could be continued for one, ten, or a thousand generations. To live unsustainably is to live in a way that is physically impossible to continue, and furthermore, actually undermines the possible quality of life in the future. Burning fossil fuels is a paradigm example of an unsustainable practice: first, fossil fuels are physically limited and thus their burning cannot continue indefinitely, and second, burning fossil fuels contributes significantly to global climate change, which will very likely have negative consequences long into the future.

Justice: Also explicit in the definition is a concern for how well present and future needs are being met. This is a question of justice and equity. Meeting the needs of the present and the future is not about meeting just some people’s needs, especially not at the expense of others. To live sustainably is to ensure that everyone’s needs are being met. Currently, we live in a world with an increasing gap between the rich and the poor (both globally and within the United States), where, for example, one human being makes 28 cents an hour producing garments for a corporation whose CEO, another human being, makes $104,000 an hour . Poorer people (both globally and within the United States) also bear the brunt of wastes and toxins that are created mainly to benefit wealthier people . A world that doesn’t even meet the needs of the present is neither just nor sustainable.

Flourishing: As helpful as the above definition of sustainability is, though, it’s missing something truly vital. If the previous two paragraphs were all there is to sustainability, then living sustainably would seem to be about sacrifice, giving something up, or living like a martyr. It would seem to be a world of restrictions, of coolly calculating limits and resources and waste and money. But this is not at all what sustainability is about.

To me, at the heart of sustainability is the idea of flourishing. Flourishing is about health and well-being, for both communities and individuals. It applies to both human and non-human communities, which is something that proponents of sustainability often ignore. A flourishing community is an active, vibrant community, where its members are healthy, secure, and connected to each other and to the place. A flourishing individual also lives a fulfilling life rich in relationships and meaning.

A new way of being: And that, ultimately, is what I think sustainability is about. It’s about a whole new way of being. A flourishing, healthy way of being. Buying food at the farmer’s market, for instance, is not about giving up the convenience of the grocery store, but about a new way of being that values local food and the people who produce it . It’s about an ecologically healthier way of producing and transporting food. It’s about an economically healthier way of supporting small farmers and contributing to a strong local economy. It’s about a nutritionally healthier way of eating more fresh, whole vegetables and fruits. It’s about a socially healthier way of preparing and eating food together with friends, family, and neighbors.

And that’s why I think sustainability is the single most important, and satisfying, challenge we have.


College classes and competitions for sustainability

"How do you teach sustainability?" There are thousands and thousands of people walking around right now thinking about this thing called "sustainability," each with their own definitions and trying to make their lives more "sustainable." What are they doing? And what are they doing that's good? And what in any of that is actually teachable at a university?

Our three guests this week, Seth Baum, Greg Lankenau, and Seth Wilberding, have worked on just this problem. Both of them are graduate students in Penn State's Department of Geography and have worked with college students on sustainability.

Seth Baum and Greg Lankenau have taught Introduction to Sustainability, a general education course that invites students to start thinking ecologicalyl and the development of practices in their own lives that not only reduce their footprints but bring empowerment through projects as varied as being a vegetarian for a semester to developing proposals for the State College Borough Council on how to effect a composting program for restaurants.

Seth Wilberding was a lecturer in Landscape Architecture (LARCH) before beginning the Ph.D. program in Geography. When he was in LARCH, he served as one of the faculty advisers for Penn State's 2007 Solar Decathlon team. Their house, the MorningStar (pictured at right) earned 4th place out of 20 teams. The design, implementation, and educational team that created the MorningStar was comprised of hundreds of students, the core team of which crossed the Center for Sustainability, four colleges and included about fifty students and ten faculty. What did Seth, the other faculty, and students learn? What can we learn from them?

Join us this Friday, March 5th from 4-5 on the Lion 90.7 to find out.