David Orr #AASHE2011

[my notes from David Orr’s Plenary Session at AASHE]

David Orr

Photo by Tanya Rosen-Jones

‘If in doubt tell the truth.’
Carbon is permanent in the atmosphere – we’ve already committed to 1000 years of impacts.

Geo-engineering is the last card we can play.  Still don’t know enough about impacts of tweaks.

Largest market failure & political failure in history & largest education failure in history. Told Lyndon Jonson about problem in 1965.

Most graduates don’t know about how world works as a physical system.

Curves: Coke, Nike, McD’s known. the Keeling CO2 curve is not known!

Alan Greenspan found flaw in his thinking in 2009. Economic systems flaws 234 years of economic theory.

Infinite growth is the problem.

Ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be – Thomas Jefferson

Ecological Design revolution – we know ways to fix the problems – lack of political will – slow story, not fast story.

The Oberlin project – rust belt, typical Ohio town.  Lewis Center 1995 – 100% solar, zero discharge – photo of array on Harvey’s Beer – in court for a case of beer:

PV Array at Oberlin - photo by David Orr

Lab for sustainability.

Problems are so big! Need to reduce them to a scale that is manageable – the campus is ideal. Food, energy, & waste.  180 data sensors throughout building.

Collateral benefits of doing things right.

Can we scale it up to the whole community?

Goals for Oberlin Project – ‘platinum at a community scale’

1-    green arts disctrict 13-acres replicate lewis center LEED

  • platinum/living building,
  • driver for economic revitalization

2-    Carbon Neutrality – city and college

  • Energy efficiency is quickest
  • Renewable energy

3-    Renew farmland 20k-acre greenbelt (imports most food) farms, forestry, biomass to grow 70%

4-    Educate -1000 students/ 10 years

  • Consortium of k-12, community college, and Oberlin

Full spectrum sustainability diagram parts reinforce the resilience of the whole -bubbles around center – lunch with lots of people

Full Spectrum Sustainability

Not as one off project – coordinated effort to create system.

Donella Meadows on leverage points to intervene in systems

  • Slow damage
  • Structure
  • Changing consciousness but how?

Need to create learning organizations

Need to move public

Oberlin has both science and arts

Cass Gilbert Allan Art Museum renovated to LEED gold

Hotel replacement because of bedbugs

Redeveloped brownfield site car dealer, dry cleaner $17m mixed-use with 33 condos sold out LEED Gold

65% of residents in Oberlin live below poverty line

Clinton Climate Initiative for climate neutrality

Politics matter for PV economics

California’s future as ag exporter is bleak because of climate change

Restoring wetlands on farms 35 farms on the 20k-acre


Pedagogy inspired by John Dewey, J. Glenn Gray, Maria Montessori, Wendell Berry

  • Active engagement of mind, hand heart
  • Place as curriculum
  • Service learning

All departments – all in

Environmental Careers growing

Aiming to create cool 24/7 downtown

  • Better facilities
  • More business
  • Economic renewals
  • Climate action
  • Education laboratory
  • Ecological design
  • National security – starts at home

Net Positive

Multiplier effect – climate change is a threat amplifier for terrorism – general tony zinnia

Blowback… not whether, but when

Cities, grid, internet, nuclear facilties, transportation, ports, food systems, water – from ‘Blowback’ Chalmers Johnson 2001

‘Security will become ever more perilous’

national grid will go down- question is when? For how long? Put us back to 7th century

Network – National security too important to be left to

National Sustainable/Security Network

  • Expected climate action – hasn’t happened
  • Imperative of resilience
  • Grassroots initiative
  • Threats of ‘black swans’ terrorism, climate change
  • Washington gridlock
  • Resilience
  • Withstand surprise
  • Absorb worst nightmares and walk away with core intact

Environmental Movement has not been political enough –

What are we for?

We know what we’re against

Constitution original intent – commerce only mentioned once

Didn’t want planet to perish

Build workable democracies

Founders didn’t want plutocracy

Didn’t want income dis-equality – tyranny

Not for tax cuts for wealthy

Wars $3t – what we could have done with that moneu

No American empire – why 700+ bases around the world – more spent on military then most other countries

Anthropocene – NYTimes and Economist  say this is survivable if we act now

Life in a greenhouse world

Thomas Berry ‘Great work’

  • Stabilize greenhouse gasses
  • Rapid transition to efficiency and renewables
  • Global bargain: survival for equity C/person
  • Precaution, humility, fairness
  • ‘Prosperous way down’ – the Odums  (way up to happiness, not consumption)
  • Politics as Trusteeship  – pass on legacy

Robert Fulgham

  • Clean up mess
  • Share cookies
  • Hold hands crossing street
  • Be kind to each other

Q -Mindset that we are part of the environment, not other.

Q- population growth as driver, what can be done?

History issue has morphed, was white folks to other stop breeding. Now problem of consumption and rising affluence– women’s rights are the solution, – ‘birth licenses’ make it a market issue. Redistribution is now a question.

Q- about fracking in Ohio, and legacy of coal extraction.  How can college investments change behaviors?

It is a problem; the federal gov’t estimates were overblown

Problem dealing with efficiency, easiest way to get 40% of energy use at no net cost.

Planetary emergency! Canyon between science and politics – need to push for efficiency.  We don’t understand consequences for geo-engineering or fracking.

Q- how to get message to ‘right wing’

Just as fragmented – need civil discourse. Silos of information via internet – leads to isolation. Possible to talk about security with the right.

Q – about Oberlin project, talk about process and how it was implemented?

Local level energy is astonishing (tea-party has a few good ideas), make a positive agenda – consensus about where we want to be in 50 years, problem agreeing about 5 years.

Need to accelerate positive change.  Need to articulate benefits of changes. Now is a dangerous time because folks are afraid. Network is about psychology of a movement. We’ve stood up for the past 20-years

Q – Can we get a green party in America? Or how can we influence a green agenda

The US is unique as a two-party system, problems with our democracy – ‘how the founders got it wrong’ article. Parliamentary systems leads to better representation – worse tendencies come from disproportion of wealth and population. Need to learn to be more political. Planetary management is a public issue. Tax is the price we pay for civilization – Wendel Berry.

Q – Who might change political system and get lobbyists out?

Registered democrat, worked for Obama. Wants a different Obama to win – needs audacity again.  The president will be determined by what we do – need to make it possible to be progressive again. Environmental movement became apolitical. Need to be effective about moving issues forward.  Need to organize. President won’t be any better then the constituency.

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