Sustainability Conference, Pittsburgh

During fall 2011, SMU students are participating in a conference sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education in Pittsburgh.

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If not now, when?

An update from Leslie, a sophomore environmental engineering and Spanish major:

 Sunday

Our first day at AASHE started off great! Our group thoroughly enjoyed the adventure of picking up trash along the river in Pittsburgh with Friends of River.  Climbing through the vegetation to retrieve the various bottles, cans and bags that were deposited there was an adventure.

My sense of adventure was enhanced even more as I listened to the first keynote speaker for the Student Summit, Bill Mckibben, speak of how we must put into action all of the wonderful ideas that are formed during the conference in order to attempt to make a difference in climate change.  His speech impressed the urgency with which our Earth’s situation should be dealt while simultaneously giving me motivation to stay focused on the goals I came to the conference with: Absorb any information and ideas that I can apply at SMU.

The rest of our first day was complete with a lunch break at Partmani’s Bros, a famous Pittsburgh eatery that had some of the best pastrami sandwiches topped with coleslaw and french fries.  Re-energized, I was ready to listen to the opening keynote speaker, Majora Carter, deliver a seriously inspiring speech about how sustainability is more than improving the natural environment because it is deeply rooted in the effects on community, the “generationally impoverished” and crime.

She brought some of the lofty ideas produced by a conference full of higher education students and professionals and emphasized the importance of implementing organization and planning before moving on to complex engineering solutions.  Her own personal stories about the project of “greening” the neighborhood she grew up in of South Bronx provided tangible goals for the audience to strive to address. And with her direction and the aid of everyone else at the conferences, I had the feeling that I could do it. It’s just getting back to campus and doing it.

Our first day of the AASHE conference sufficiently got us pumped for the days to come!

 MONDAY:

Today, the second day of the AASHE conference in Pittsburgh, began with a speech from the Chancellor of the University of California, Riverside about the involvement of administration in the university’s efforts in sustainability.  His points of emphasis included the evolution of sustainability from a solely scientific, environmental and educational movement to an economic and eventually also a humanitarian ideal. He indicated that although we all know the simple fact that the Earth’s resources are finite, “Our behavior rarely reflects this level of intellectual understanding.” This again called us, the audience and anyone who will read this blog, to action.  With the questions we ask ourselves regularly – “If not us, who?” “If not now, when?” – I felt that what I was there for was real, necessary and, most important, purposeful.

Later in the day I sat in on a presentation by Daniel Greenberg, whose university has Study Abroad programs in Ecovillages across the globe to expose students to how an entire community can be successful with a high quality of life and a small ecological footprint.  The instant I heard about this opportunity I wanted to be part of it.  Although I may not be able to squeeze another study abroad trip into my schedule, I thought of how I can try to make SMU more like an eco-village and how the community of SMU and Highland Park can be integrated.

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