The tension in addressing environmental issues is always: how can we solve environmental problems without harming our economy? On a more individual level, it is often about the personal sacrifices we must make to ensure a collective sustainable world. The panel entitled Good for Me, Good for Us? addressed this tension with three distinct speakers: Julian Agyeman, Professor and Chair of Urban Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University, Sabine O’Hara, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Services at University of the District of Columbia, and Larry Rasmussen, Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary.
I’ve now been to dozens of panels and events on sustainability, but this one was different. This conversation among the three panelists was the first I’ve seen to feature morality as a central component to sustainability. In this sense, there was no discussion of the effects of climate change or a debate on the problems of overfishing. Rather there was a genuine ethical conversation about the ways people can work together or individually to make changes to the system.
I found Dr. Agyeman’s discussion of a movement towards sharing economies to be the most fascinating. As an example, Agyeman explained that we don’t need to buy a power drill that we will only use once, but can instead borrow it from a tool-sharing network. Examples of sharing economies exist all over, whether it’s couch-surfing, bike-sharing or car-sharing programs like Zipcar. I came away from the event feeling a need to change the way I participate in our economic system, because every dollar I spend is a vote for the type of future I want. Senior Janak Padhiar reflected on Dr. Agyeman’s contributions, “I was particularly inspired and intrigued by the ways in which the notions of spatial justice and inter-culturalism are vital to progressive, diverse urban communities; cities require responsible planning and multiple mechanisms of innovation, technology, infrastructure, education, and civic planning to positively advance human equality.” All three speakers made mention of social justice and equality as keys to a sustainable future.
Dr. Sabine O’Hara spoke from a background in neo-classical economics, and gave a different perspective from a field that often lacks inclusion of environmental problems in its analysis. As a college dean at a land-grant university in an urban environment, O’Hara, brought attention to the fact that that universities must engage with local communities to create a more sustainable future. First-year student Lauren Formica enjoyed the holistic nature of the panel. She said, “each of these individuals can claim expertise in a field in which ethics and values come into play everyday.”
Dr. Larry Rasmussen spoke with urgency of the need to change the way our society functions, as he made reference to the tragedy of the commons. Rasmussen asked the key question, “Can capitalism be fully ecologized?” His critique of the economic system included mentions of social justice related to justice for nature. He left these questions open for students to ponder.
Often discussions of environmental issues rely too heavily on trying to hammer home the scientific facts about why we need to change our behaviors. This panel, however, took a more philosophical approach to enlighten students on the ways they can revolutionize and change our current economic system. Senior Emily Bachman appreciated the focus on equity and environmental justice. She explained, “I think this focus is vital in making the sustainability movement about all people, rather than a privilege of the wealthy.” I was inspired by the open, diverse views and discussion on this particular panel and struck by how it catered to several different areas of study and backgrounds.
Sanders McNair, Campus Garden Intern (’13)