Sustainability Initiative

previously mentioned by Prof McKim:

Digging into Sustainability 

A campus series brings fresh perspective to a pressing issue.

treesThe Scholarship of Sustainability, a series held each spring, attracts students, faculty, and community members to engage in discussions about sustainability. (Photo courtesy of the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics)

Sustainability has become a catch phrase in discussions over how to preserve the environment. But what does the concept really mean? Answering that question is one of the purposes of an ongoing series at Illinois that organizers hope will inspire fresh ideas on the issue.

This is the third year of the series, called the Scholarship of Sustainability, held once a week for roughly nine weeks each spring. It has grown and developed, with speakers selected to bring a unique perspective to a debate that’s raged for years.

For example, speakers this year discussed the legitimate use of natural resources; how religion affects our views of nature, science, and environmental policy; the effects of individualism; and how the economic system affects our attitudes toward natural resources.

The series was started by Eric T. Freyfogle, Swanlund Chair and professor of law, with assistance from Robert McKim, professor of religious studies and philosophy. It’s sponsored by the Center for a Sustainable Environment, along with the School of Earth, Society, and the Environment (SESE); theSchool of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics; and the College of Law.

Freyfogle says he sensed that efforts to preserve the environment were increasingly focused upon generating new science and technology, but he felt that the problem could be addressed on a deeper level.

“We weren’t really getting to the root causes of our misuses of nature,” Freyfogle said recently, after giving a talk on how market forces are affecting the issue. “I also thought we were not giving adequate attention to the end goals. If we were living well on nature, what would that look like? What should the goals of conservation be?”

The series has evolved with time. It draws students, faculty—Freyfogle says they are hoping for more as the series continues—and interested members of the community. Several courses have run in conjunction with the series, including those in religious studies, natural resources and the environment, political science, engineering, and law.

Lately, more emphasis has been placed upon drawing outside speakers, such as Professor J. Baird Callicott of the University of North Texas, who is recognized as being at the forefront of a new field of environmental philosophy, and Carolyn Raffensperger, director of the Science and Environmental Health Network.

Speakers also come from the U of I, including Don Wuebbles, professor of atmospheric sciences, who is recognized as one of the leading voices on the science of climate change. He shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Freyfogle and McKim were also speakers. They also each run courses through the series, with McKim running a course called “Religion, Ethics, and Environment,” with 32 students from an array of majors and minors. It’s his second course through the series.

McKim’s lecture in the series, titled “Otherworldly Religions,” addressed environmental goals and whether religions might help in achieving those goals.

“The series permits my students, and the students in other courses who attend—and indeed the members of the public, faculty, and students from various departments who attend—to get a broad array of perspectives and to encounter a rich set of ideas,” says McKim.

Anna Nesbitt, program coordinator with SESE, instructed a course, called “Environmental Issues Today,” along with Rob Kanter, communications coordinator at SESE. The class regularly attends the series meetings.

Nesbitt says they are trying to use the series to bring issues of sustainability to life for the 36 students enrolled in the course. They have studied hydraulic fracturing in Illinois, for example, as they hope to broaden students’ understanding of environmental problems.

“It has been invaluable to the students,” Nesbitt says. “Our students from the SESE major have a strong background in sustainable processes, development, and related issues, but they know less about local environmental issues, and that’s what we hope to bring them specifically in this class.”