Xavier University is proud to have hosted a multitude of influential, innovative, and investigative thinkers. Maude Barlow, Cynthia Barnett, Jeremy Rifkin, Sandra Steingraber, Amory Lovins, and John Fitzgerald stand out, among many other dedicated students and faculty. To fully capture the essence of each of these speakers is a task that would require ardent research and analysis, but below are a few presentations that took place at Xavier to give a sampling of the kinds of conversations that occur on campus within the sustainability department and related student/faculty communities.
Cynthia Barnett, renowned journalist, environmental activist, and water expert outlines some of the concerns, issues, and triumphs surrounding a global water crisis. Her discourse provides the audience with an in-depth look at water scarcity around the globe and admonishes us to be more mindful in our water usage. In addition, she advocates for a more comprehensive water ethos. Her vision calls for action before it is too late. (Video is in a 6 part playlist.)
Jeremy Rifkin’s seminar at the Cintas depicts the sense of urgency with which we must accost both the “sunset” of the 2nd industrial revolution and the subsequent degradation of the environment. Rifkin focuses largely on lateral integration, the collaborative commons (a system for sharing everything free of charge), energy at zero marginal cost, and examples of multitudinous revolutions occurring across the globe. He continues by highlighting the three aspects of economic and energetic revolution: communication, transportation, and a source of power. Although we are a long way from a comprehensive zero marginal cost society, Rifkin chooses to view the impending energy/economic crisis as a tremendous opportunity for communication, collaboration, and cooperation, precipitated by the development of the internet.
Dr. Amory Lovins opens with a lengthy elucidation of transportation reform, as well as the salutary effects of undertaking such an arduous reformation of policy and manufacturing. His proposal for smarter car manufacturing completely removes our dependence on foreign oil, reduces costs of production and environmental costs, and reduces traffic. The sum total saving of all of his changes (hidden and unhidden) would sum $12 trillion. Lovins surmises that both oil and electricity use will fall as technology allows for drastically increased efficiency. His prophecies are exemplified by his own practice of integrative design and retrofitting. Lovins also debunks myths regarding the so-called inefficiency associated with using renewable energies, pointing out myriad inefficiencies rampant in the current system.
Joan Fitzgerald’s delivery focalizes on urban planning and realized sustainable city policy. Although she acknowledges that discussion regarding issues of sustainability is a touchstone of American governmental discourse, she highlights our lack of action based on said discussions. Citing examples of experimental communities and various other countries, Fitzgerald convinces us that through good policy and comprehensive urban planning, we can fabricate idyllic cities through government and social incentive. In fact, the leaders and innovators in solar and wind power are not in the places with the most energy available, but where incentives, research, and emphasis on new energy technology. In essence, Joan Fitzgerald urges us to “just do it.”
Founder of Recology in San Francisco, Robert Besso spearheads the effort to manage and utilize waste in new and innovative ways. He recounts the history of recycling, starting with the implicit assumption that recyclables would be reused in the early 1900s, then the downturn of recycling up until the 1970s, with the advent of the environmental movement. In San Francisco, the government has incentivized responsible waste management by cajoling the public via policy to pay for the trash they produce that ends up in landfills. Such simple measures encourage composting and recycling, resulting in increased sustainability. Besso points out that waste diversion (i.e. recycling, composting) decreases CO2 burden on the atmosphere, and decrease the carbon debt by enriching and enlivening the soil, and consequently, surrounding plants. Subsequently, Besso describes the specific aspects of his company that effectively reduce and remove waste.
William McDonough, professor at Stanford, environmental pioneer (cradle to cradle business structure), and erudite leader in the environmental movement discusses the importance of sustainable business practices, our current pitfalls, and opportunities for greater success. McDonough emphasizes the importance of new business models being “more good” and not “less bad.” He also proceeds to highlight the ideological alteration necessary for enacting real change – supporting nature instead of attempting to domineer it (i.e. nature is NOT capital. Nature is nature). In addition, McDonough elucidates the energy crisis, depicting it as an issue of allocation and not of availability. He spends a good amount of time etymologically deconstructing “sustainable” language, and rewriting the proverbial book on how we interpret sustainability. McDonough advocates using the laws of nature to aggregate revenue in terms of human capital.