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Sustainability becomes second nature at Carleton

<ny Cortese, founder and president of Second Nature, a non-profit that works with college and university faculty, staff, and students to institutionalize sustainability on campuses, paid a visit to Carleton last Tuesday. Cortese met with College administrators, the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC), and in the evening praised Carleton’s commitment to green initiatives in a talk entitled “Sustainability in Higher Education.”

Cortese described higher education institutions as critical tools in “cultivating a new way of thinking” and inspiring a “cultural shift.” As places of higher learning, colleges and universities not only train future teachers, they also develop community leaders and CEOs. Seeing higher education campuses as the training grounds of a future generation and not simply high-maintenance facilities purposefully challenges college administrations to make enduring and comprehensive changes to the school. It also compels students to confront the psychological and sociological issues of consumption that play central roles in environmentalism.

According to Cortese, who argued that the environmental leadership exhibited by colleges and universities within the last twelve months is unprecedented, higher education is answering an urgent call. Again and again, Cortese described the courage of higher education in embarking on such an untrod and obscured path. He explained that while well over 400 colleges and universities have declared themselves committed to carbon neutrality by signing the President’s Climate Commitment (PCC), no institution knows how to get there. Cortese applauded Carleton and the other signatories on “stepping forward [by signing the Climate Commitment] because it is the right thing to do.”

During his talk, Cortese also offered historical context to explain the difficulties of becoming carbon neutral. “Modern life depends on fossil fuel and this makes it [carbon neutrality] even more difficult to achieve because it is the way we have evolved as a species.” He continued to lay out his claim in plainspoken English saying, “The planet will survive. This is not about saving the planet. It is about saving us as a species.”

This message, not new to the signatories of the PPC, is finally reaching beyond Carleton College and Boliou 104. The “Higher Education Sustainability Act of 2007” (HESA), a piece of legislation that would provide colleges, universities, consortia and associations with $50 million in grant money for a wide range of sustainability projects, is making Cortese’s unnerving message audible to legislators.

However, HESA has not yet been passed or enacted and the non-profit Campaign for Environmental Literacy, a partner organization of Cortese’s Second Nature, is still looking for colleges and universities to endorse HESA. The Campaign for Environmental Literacy believes that such endorsements will bolster support for HESA in Congress and send the message that higher education deserves and desires this support.

Thus far, 34 colleges and universities and 23 higher education associations have endorsed the legislation. Not on that list is Carleton College or any other Minnesota school.

However, HESA, originally penned by Earl Blumenauer in the House of Representatives, is now just one component of the complex “Higher Education Reauthorization Act” – a piece of legislation that President Oden and Elise Eslinger, Associate Vice President and Chief of Staff do not feel comfortable supporting.

Eslinger reported that she sought advice on this matter and spoke with Carleton’s legislative liaisons. She also commented that President Oden and others were disappointed that HESA is now a piece of the Higher Education Reauthorization Act ,since they fully support the objectives of HESA.
Another one of Carleton’s concerns was that incorporating HESA into the Higher Education Reauthorization Act could leave it underfunded, a common fate for of legislation in omnibus bills.
According the The Campaign for Environmental Literacy, Congress could take up HESA this month and end the speculation surrounding its future.

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