Seeking sustainable solutions
About 160 people attended a breakfast conference on sustainable development in Smith Memorial Student Union on Friday.
The event was the first in a series of civic-engagement breakfasts co-sponsored by the Center for Academic Excellence and the Corporation for National and Community Service: Learn and Serve America. Of the attendees, approximately one-third were PSU faculty, one-third were community partners and members, and one-third were students.
Devorah Lieberman, vice provost and special assistant to the president, who works in the Center for Academic Excellence, had a hand in organizing the breakfast.
Lieberman said the center chose to host this series in an effort to “provide a venue for community partners and faculty to interact and focus on ways to engage students in community-based learning and civic engagement.”
Three speakers were introduced to kick off the discussion: U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer; Tashi Tsering, a graduate student of political science and co-chair of the Environment Committee for the Tibet Justice Center; and Gary Larsen, forest supervisor for the Mount Hood National Forest.
Blumenauer and Tsering attended the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. The purpose of the summit was to draw up a document on implementation for sustainability. A decade before, Larsen attended the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Each speaker had about 10 minutes to express his views on the conferences before a 20-minute question-and-answer session.
Blumenauer expressed a sense of optimism after the summit. Although he was disappointed with the lack of U.S. representation as the world’s largest polluter at the summit, he feels that real progress is being made regarding global awareness of, and action toward, sustainability.
“The fact is, we know what to do. We have the resources,” Blumenauer said.
Tsering was encouraged by Blumenauer’s remarks but said that he came away from the summit frustrated. He feels that a moral element is lacking from the process and that the summit was a reflection of what certain nations are willing to do, not what they should do.
Tsering said he was prevented from participating in the process by China because he represented a group from Tibet.
Contrary to the summit’s stated objectives, Tsering feels that the process was “neither open nor transparent nor participatory.”
Larsen talked about where the world’s awareness of this issue was 10 years ago at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. He also outlined a theory concerning three traditionally conflicting perspectives in politics: environmental, social and economical. He said that instead of each perspective fighting for what it wants exclusively, they need to come together to find similarities and work on what they all need together. Larsen also mentioned the necessity to have business involvement in environmental issues, detailing the environmental efforts of large corporations, such as Nike.
“We need to depend on business to help us get where we need to get in the future,” he said.
In response to questions, Blumenauer commented on the lack of active participation by citizens in government.
“People have substituted demonstrations and screaming for civic engagement,” he said.
Blumenauer urged people to reflect on their own lifestyles as well as their levels of participation and dedication before getting “cranky” about a perceived lack of progress with social change.
“We ought to get real about what the process is,” Blumenauer said. “We’ve done the easy stuff.” He added that he thinks “it’s going to be tough sledding for the next 10 years.”
Lieberman was encouraged by the equal numbers of faculty, students and community partners who attended the breakfast. She said that when 160 people of differing backgrounds attend a breakfast on a Friday morning, it signifies a genuine interest in the issue.
“It’s not about marketing, it’s about the topic,” she said.
The next breakfast in the series is called “Sustainability Matters: Connecting with Area Sustainability Projects to Make a Difference” and will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The civic-engagement series is free and open to the public. For more information, call the Center for Academic Excellence at 503-725-5642.