Sustainability Thematic Programming

2012-2013

Directors of the Sustainability Center of Investigation:

Diane Husic, Professor, Biological Sciences
Don St. John, Professor, Religion

The IN FOCUS theme for 2012-13 is sustainability—an important and complex topic that goes well beyond recycling and energy efficiency projects that are popular on many college campuses.  This initiative will be an opportunity for Moravian College to be at the forefront of an education movement in sustainability that involves classroom activities, faculty-student scholarship, and to create change on campus and in the broader community. 

In the 1980’s, the U.N. established the World Commission on Environment and Development which has become known as the Brundtland Commission—named after the chair of the working group.  This commission provided the first definition of sustainability:

Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Since the Brundtland Commission report (1987), globalization has intensified along with its negative environmental and social impacts. Over the same period, the definition of sustainability has undergone changes.  The goals for achieving “sustainability” now encompass and seek to integrate a range of environmental, social and economic factors.  The growing consensus is that sustainable development must be less resource-intensive and less polluting, but also result in a more equitable distribution of wealth and education opportunities.

In the U.N. Report, “We the peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century,” the section on “Sustaining our Future” discusses the importance of climate change, water crises, soil, and preservation of biodiversity, along with the need to build a new ethic of stewardship.  In order to tackle these complex global issues, we will need to address inequitable and unsustainable patterns of consumption and focus on fundamental questions of what does and doesn’t constitute prosperity, wealth, wellbeing, and happiness in the 21st century. 

Since the 1987 report, the environmental and social justice movements have also increasingly joined together under the umbrella of sustainability. This is reflected in the definition of sustainability put forth by Agyeman, et al.: 1

To ensure a better quality of life for all, now, and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, while living within the limits of supporting ecosystems.

This merging of movements is also clearly documented in Paul Hawken’s “Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World”.2

Increasingly, voices from the Global South are insisting that the previously disenfranchised be represented in decisions regarding sustainability. Speaking at Moravian College on behalf of an “Earth Democracy,” Indian physicist, environmentalist and feminist Vandana Shiva envisaged sustainability as a planetary condition of flourishing biological and cultural diversity, renewed by “living” economies and safeguarded by participatory, inclusive democracies.3

The Earth Charter

Perhaps the best example of a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to sustainability is found in The Earth Charter4 which has spawned “The Earth Charter Initiative.”5 Finalized in 2000, the charter is a “declaration of fundamental ethical principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century”6 that connects beautifully to the other three themes of the InFocus series given its focus on these key areas:

  1. Respect And Care For The Community Of Life
  2. Ecological Integrity
  3. Social And Economic Justice
  4. Democracy, Nonviolence, And Peace

Our intent is to use this document as a general statement of our approach during the 2012-2013 academic year.

We offer a very brief glimpse of the vision of the document in excerpts:

We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.

The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause of great suffering.

We urgently need a shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community. Therefore, together in hope we affirm the following interdependent principles for a sustainable way of life as a common standard by which the conduct of all . . . is to be guided and assessed.

Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.
~~~

The IN FOCUS program offers members of the Moravian college community an opportunity to confront these questions and challenges both intellectually and in practice. As a principal and ongoing theme in the College’s curricular and co-curricular programming, members of the College community can explore the meaning of sustainability as they pertain to life on campus, in the local region, the nation and the world. The IN FOCUS program will also seek to identify the connections between the issues of poverty and inequality and matters of sustainability, health care, war and peace. As we proceed, we seek to help the College realize its promise to engage our students in ways that better prepare them to build a strong foundation for personal and professional futures as well as make contributions towards a just society and a vibrant democracy.

 

1 Agyeman, J., Bullard, R.D., and Evans, B. eds., 2003. Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World, The MIT Presss (Cambridge, Mass.)
2 Penguin Books, (New York, 2007).
3 "Earth Democracy: Human Freedom and a Fragile Planet," 5th Peace and Justice Scholar Presentation, October 10, 2010 ,Moravian College.
4 The full charter is available at http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/pages/.
5 See: http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/. Moravian College's choice of the sustainability theme for the 2012-13 year is timely as it coincides with the forthcoming U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development ("Rio 2012 Conference") which also marks the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit that launched the writing of The Earth Charter.
6 From: http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/pages/What-is-the-Earth-Charter%3F.html