The opening plenary speaker for the 2014 symposium explored the challenges and promises of achieving sustainability.
Sustainability is the only real issue facing today’s students, says a well-known environmentalist.
“Civilization just won’t survive under the current conditions,” said Dr. David Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College in Ohio.
Orr was the opening plenary speaker for the 2014 Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium on Sept. 16. This year’s theme was “Sustainability: Local Action | Global Impact.”
Getting to sustainability will be a journey, he said. To illustrate, he used the metaphor “going to Montana,” a reference to Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove,” a novel about the adventures of retired Texas Rangers driving a cattle herd to Montana. Their journey is uncharted, but holds much promise.
The question for humans today is: Do we have the will and wit to get there?
Among the many challenges to reaching sustainability is that humans are wired to react to direct physical threats. We respond to marauding grizzly bears or an individual holding a machine gun. We have a more difficult time paying attention to long-term, complex problems like slowly rising global temperatures.
“We have to think our way through this problem or we’ll be a road kill in history,” Orr said.
Solutions will require new ways to imagine many deep-seated systems like the economy, education and politics.
Still, progress is being made on the journey to sustainability.
Orr is executive director of the Oberlin Project. The project was formed out of his vision for a joint venture by the town and college to create a thriving, sustainable and environmentally friendly community in Oberlin.
Community working teams focus on areas of economic development, education, energy, policy, agriculture, community and data analysis. The city and college are shifting to using renewable energy sources. Locally grown foods are becoming more common.
Watching the Oberlin Project thrive gives Orr hope – even though it may take generations to achieve sustainability.
“We’re going to Montana,” he said. “We’re going to get to Montana.”