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Sustainability in Kentucky
I n the end, sustainability entails much more than merely talking the talk. Activists encountered this message time and again at the Campus Community Partnerships for Sustainability Conference in Berea, Kentucky, from April 21 to 23. In fact, with academics, organizers, and do-it-yourselfers from around the country in attendance, it proved impossible to theorize about a green lifestyle without making hands-on connections to landscape and community.
The setting for the weekend afforded an inspiring backdrop. Since the founding of its Sustainability and Environmental Studies (SENS) program in 1999, conference host Berea College has been steadily building an international reputation as one of the greenest campuses this side of the Atlantic. Just down the quad from the conference, its eco-village, living machine, greenhouses, and permaculture plot hummed away in their usual, ecologically avant-garde way.
But the rest of us have a lot of work to do yet. On Friday night, keynote speaker Pat Murphy, executive director of the Yellow Springs, Ohio-based Community Solution, juxtaposed an historical overview of U.S. energy policy with a dire warning about the health of our global climate. Ultimately, his statistics point toward a central question facing Americans. “The final result [of all these forces] is going to be a very low energy way of living,” he says. “We are going to get there violently or we can get there peacefully.”
But even a peaceful route requires forethought and cooperation. “I’m going to talk on the hope side of the equation,” announced Michael Shuman on the following Earth Day morning. His talk offered hopeful strategies for crafting a vibrant, locally-owned America. Shuman, an attorney and economist from St. Lawrence County, New York, had just authored a book, Going Local , in which he studies how small business owners are taking back control from large corporations like Wal-Mart.
Participants then split up into workshops to brainstorm possibilities and acknowledge roadblocks to sustainability. Joshua Bills, co-coordinator of the Kentucky Solar Partnership, outlined practical options for powering homes and buildings with solar power. While solar may be growing exponentially as an alternative technology, he cautioned, that shouldn’t be the only kind of solution we consider. Others, like Justin Maxson, president of the Berea-based Mountain Association for Community Economic development, proposed a more sustainably minded state level economic policy: “We need an economic vision that incorporates local economies and regional development models,” he suggests. In working toward that vision, Kentucky should invest in local processing capabilities and foster a spirit of local entrepreneurship, rather than offer tax incentives to multinational corporations.
“We are living an unsustainable story,” said Daniel Greenberg, president and founder of Living Routes, an Amherst, Massachusetts educational program designed to teach students about environmental ethics by placing them at “ecovillages” around the world. Current programs feature trips to places like Auroville, India and Findhorn, Scotland. According to Greenberg, this emphasis on “community scale, appropriate technology” is a critical component of any sustainable vision.
That night, some 300 participants convened for a dinner of home-cooked regional specialties from local farms. In his address to the guests, Berea College President Larry Shinn emphasized his willingness as an educator to craft a thoughtful, “upstream” curriculum that recognizes a collective responsibility to future generations.
Tricia Feeney, a Berea alum who followed Shinn’s speech with a powerful one of her own, served as a literal embodiment of that “upstream” attitude he had alluded to. Since graduating in 2005, she has spent the last year documenting the effects of mountaintop removal mining on Appalachian water resources and the communities that rely on them. “What are we leaving Appalachia if we’re taking the coal, killing the people, and leaving the waste behind?” she asked the crowd, encouraging everyone to challenge the state of Kentucky’s reluctance to engage mountaintop removal as a social justice issue.
Indeed, if sustainability was the overarching theme of the conference, then mountaintop removal quickly became its most pressing concern. Assuming no new environmental restrictions, this practice of strip mining will have destroyed over 6 percent of Appalachian forestland by the year 2012. Residents of rural Appalachia are currently suffering from mercury and selenium poisoning of their streams and soils, not to mention debilitating social effects on their municipalities and economic livelihoods.
After a Sunday of practical workshops on biodeisel production, solar panel installation, and native plant gardening, attendees gathered at the Union Church in downtown Berea to hear Berry and other notable Kentucky authors speak out on mountaintop removal. All of the writers in attendance have pieces in a new collection entitled Missing Mountains : We Went to the Mountaintop But it Wasn’t There . The book offers a smattering of fiction, poetry, and essays addressing both the ecological and psychological effects of this practice on the land and people of Appalachia.
“The word sustainability doesn’t mean much to folks around here,” says Maxson. “But a lot of folks are struggling to meet their basic needs, to recognize the value of protected mountains, clean water, and high quality soil. And that’s the rub.” Thus the conference may be just the thing to jumpstart awareness and community cooperation, in Berea and beyond: “The more conferences that relate to local contexts, the better,” he stresses. “There’s a lot more to be done.”
Mike Ives is a student at Middlebury College in Vermont. His last article, “The Road to Detroit,” appeared in the November 2005 issue of Z .
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.