Ever notice that Campus Sustainability Day and Halloween are eerily close to each other? Well, call it a quirky coincidence, but there is such a thing as "scary sustainability". It is the notion of large-scale environmental demise that, justifiably, keeps us aware and motivates us to reduce our environmental impact and carbon footprints - much like the stick that drives the horse. Sadly, the same prophesying of environmental (and social) gloom and doom has been a prime reason for negative perception of sustainability – due to falsely developed notion that sustainability is very harmful to the economy.
Nevertheless, it is time to face those demons if we are to get rid of them ever. The good news is that the higher education community is already taking action and developing new perspectives at campuses across the world. Colleges and universities are working with local communities to encourage healthy “locavore” populations with farmers markets, community gardens, and campus farms that nurture friendships, culture, and of course, soul-fillingly delicious food! University initiatives are helping weatherize homes, and supporting renewable energy purchases and energy efficiency in the surrounding community. The general public is beginning to realize that sustainability is not so so 'scary'; interest and investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency have increased in the last two years, and several colleges have begun to offer degrees and training programs to prepare students for the growing green jobs sector.
However, all these exciting new initiatives do not necessarily change the dire facts that serve as grim-but-useful reminders of the challenges our society faces. The ill effects of unsustainable behaviors continue to rear their ugly heads. In recent times, our species has successfully set outrageous records for pollution of land [Hungary, Oct. 2010], and water [Gulf of Mexico, cleanup still under progress], and the atmosphere [From Big Brown to Big Bend]. Even as uncomfortably erratic weather patterns seem to be the new norm, members of the sustainability camp are weathering the changes, and aiming to give more than hope to our current generations.
On 10 October 2010, thousands of people [most of them students and young professionals] participated in the Global Work Party hosted internationally by Bill McKibben’s www.350.org. As their collective voice made clear, it will take a lot of work to set things right. As active professionals, engaged students, and members of organizations pursuing sustainability we should recognize our involvement in the larger movement. If we choose to listen to these voices, and keep faith in our commitments, it might be easy to dispel the darkness, and say good morning to a sustainable tomorrow.
The energy and cohesion of thousands of individuals put together makes a case for confidence, a strong reason to believe that the tasks ahead are conquerable. This years’ Campus Sustainability Webcast sheds light on the road towards a sustainable tomorrow. David Gershon spoke of the possibilities for a greener future, sharing his experiences with engaging and empowering communities to help reduce their carbon footprint. The key lesson from his talk is that making sustainability a participatory process that is valuable and effective as a social tool paves the way to removing the veils of mystery and scariness around it. “Scary Sustainability” ends up being just a paper tiger when we realize that the perspectives that created it were faulty, and that it is ignorance, which causes this irrational fear. The act falls apart when we work together towards replacing ignorance with knowledge - like pulling off the scary Halloween costume to reveal the innocent prankster inside!