University of Oregon

Pioneer of Sustainability

Peter E.

October 11, 2009 - 7:15 PM

So far in this blog, I've tackled some really tough pop culture topics like daytime TV and Oregon Ducks football. Taking the natural next step in this progression, I think it's time I tackle sustainability.


This term I'm taking an Honors College colloquium called "Pioneers of Sustainability." I signed up for the class because I figured sustainability is a hot-button issue and I'd really like to learn more about how to live "more green" and understand some of the bigger social and political struggles that are currently being played out. I was not familiar with Professor Robert Young, but I read his quick bio and found he was appointed by Governor Kulongoski to the Oregon Way Advisory Group doing advising on sustainability (as I've discovered it only took him 18 months of being in Oregon to gain direct attention from the governor!).


In the two weeks I've been in Professor Young's class, I've all ready read a Federal government report from 1977 which predicts what resources, population, and sustainability will look like in the year 2000 according to studies and statistical models. We will research the estimates to see how close they were, but it appears many predictions are not too far off (i.e. world population, increased reliability on gas, etc.). We have also read Gaia: A new look at life on Earth by James Lovelock. The book is quasi-scientific in producing the hypothesis that the Earth itself is a living organism. Lovelock is a "pioneer" of the sustainability movement and his hypothesis is still debated and supported today. Throughout the term we will continue to look at sustainability from different angles such as economics, poetry, science, and culture to get a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to live sustainably.


Tonight Professor Young invited us all over to his house for a potluck dinner, and it was really eye-opening and refreshing amid the grim reality of how unsustainably we're living as a nation and world to see that someone is practicing what they preach. Professor Young's backyard is a thriving garden with greenhouse, fruit trees, beehive, and chickens. He is able to produce almost all the food he and his family needs, and then he composts his waste to help regenerate his garden. Professor Young noted that all he's missing is the grains. He thought about planting a grain field in his front yard, but as he joked, "I want my kids to grow up semi-normal, so they need a place to play." His sustainable operation and living is phenomenally inspirational, and he even treated us with a quiche made from his garden produce, eggs, and then cooked in a solar oven!


The works we are reading provide a pretty depressing outlook for the way we are living because everything from resource consumption to economics to social inequities seem to be on a fairly unsustainable course. However, it was great to see that Professor Young demonstrates both hands on and in the classroom that we can live sustainably, and he's teaching hundreds of students at the University of Oregon that it's possible. If there's any consolation or optimism for the future, it's that we, as students, are being provided the knowhow to proceed into the future with the knowledge base that may transform a more sustainable society and people like Robert Young are planting those seeds today.

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