Even though it’s 2018, sustainability still isn’t really the ‘cool’ thing to do – (hardly anyone) gets excited about shorter showers, reusable Java Joe’s mugs and biodegradable straws. What many aren’t able to see, however, is just how simple, practical and appealing being ‘sustainable’ can be, a key theme highlighted at this year’s Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC) Sustainability Conference.
The Conference, hosted by Lafayette College in Easton on Feb. 17, brought together a whole host of like-minded Lehigh Valley students, faculty and ‘greenies’ to listen, learn and share their ideas for a sustainable future.
“To make a social change, we don’t need everyone on board,” said Kirsi Jansa, the event’s key-note speaker and the producer of the Sustainability Pioneers short documentary series. “We’re different and we have different views. I don’t need to convince you, but I’m interested in where you come from and instead of trying to battle and convince the other person, somehow bring civility and respect to an open dialogue and conversation – if we can do that and then mitigate climate change, I think that’s a step forward.”
During her presentation, Jansa stressed the idea of “climate-change-as-a-system,” derived from the idea of interaction between different systems of all locales and magnitudes – something she understands will eventually “balance themselves only if we pay attention to the feedback loops.”
“When I think of a system, I think of interconnected pieces – Muhlenberg has a sustainability department and we’re focusing on learning about those issues, but I think it’s our job to educate everyone on those issues,” said Mimi Salters ‘20, President of EnAct and conference attendee. “Buildings, departments, and offices all need to work together because in order to implement these things and make a difference, everyone kind of has to work as a system and build off of each other.”
The conference itself was structured with Jansa’s introductory presentation, followed by rounds of student- and educator-led talks on their experiences with sustainability initiatives. Students from Moravian, Lafayette, DeSales and Lehigh all gave talks ranging from a visit to the UN Climate Conference to sustainable campus farming practices and mindful dining management.
“They [Lafayette] have their own animal conservatory, so I thought it was really interesting how they use the leftover food that couldn’t be given to humans to animals,” said Salters, on a talk titled “The Loss We Can Gain.” “They also went beyond the scope of their individual dining hall and school to look at food and security in Easton – bringing that leftover food that the dining hall cooks but doesn’t serve and giving that to people that’ll eat it because it’s a huge issue,” said Salters.
Another midday presentation, titled “Put a Price on it: Solving Climate Change in One Generation,” focused on the impact young activists can have on current policy, infrastructure and the overall cost of non-renewables.
“We develop the agenda for Congress,” said Randy Gyory, a Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) presenter and former Interim Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Philadelphia Gas Works. “Elected officials listen to young people. It totally changes the dynamic.”
Gyory stressed CCL’s “Carbon Fee and Dividend,” plan to place a fee on fossil fuels at the source, return the revenue to households equally and apply a border adjustment on goods imported from or exported to countries without an equivalent price on carbon. You can read more about CCL’s plan at citizensclimatelobby.org.
Following the midday presentations and lunch, attendees broke off into more activity-intensive and discussion-based workshops. Dr. Patricia DeMarco, an author and climate advocate, offered one titled “Pathways to Our Sustainable Future – Moving from Awareness to Action.”
DeMarco hopes to see more balance between economic, environmental and social spheres, stressing that “we are one part of that interconnected web of life … we are not in charge of it.”
“You have to think beyond your ‘me first’ – it’s an intergenerational imperative and a global imperative,” said DeMarco. “The living earth itself has a right to exist … What about the rivers? The mountains? The Great Plains? And what about corporations that don’t bleed, think, feel? We have to align the laws we want to live by with the laws we know govern nature.”
Demarco’s ideas of conjunctive, intergenerational action also stem from something as simple as her granddaughter learning to make bread.
“I would like to have her be able to teach her grandchildren how to make bread. That’s what sustainability is,” added Demarco. “You have to look at the future for the next generation.”
DeMarco and Jansa, both experienced environmental advocates, stressed the idea of an inclusive, open-minded and civil dialogue with everyone about climate change and its accompanying systems. Without getting younger generations, union jobs and politicians vocal and on board, the transition to renewables may end up proving to be more difficult than it should be.
Education at the elementary, high school or college levels on sustainably-minded behaviors and practices, as well as an emphasis on positive reinforcement for climate change systems, lie at the root of future change. When asked about social media’s ability to influence change, Jansa offered some very encompassing thoughts.
“If you use social media in a creative way and tell your visions of where you want to go, I think that would be a way to do it,” said Jansa. “There is a place for the screens, not just a numbing and isolating device but somehow using them in a way so that we can connect and come together face-to-face in groups of people.”
Conferences like the one at Lafayette are happening all over the country and serve as a way for environmentalists to work toward creating a cleaner, brighter future for every generation. Thursday, Feb. 22, Executive Coordinator of SustainUS Garret Blad brought the community together in the Great Room for his talk titled “Reframing Climate Change: How we change the story to build power and win.” The talk, hosted by EnAcT at 7 PM, is a great opportunity to get together and keep ‘Berg moving toward a future filled with shades of green.