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SSU's Sustainability Day


SSU's Sustainability Day

By Tish Levee

It’s always difficult to distill an amazing day with more than 18 speakers and panels, a variety of displays and poster sessions, and opportunities to hear leaders on climate change such as David W. Orr, as well as local people who are making a profound difference, into a 700-word article, but here’s my best effort.

SSU’s second Sustainability Day provided many ways for students and community members to learn about sustainability. Hundreds of students joined faculty and community members on October 21st in the third floor ballrooms of the Student Center and at a Sustainability Fair with climate games, exhibits, and posters in the Sea Wolf Plaza.

In one ballroom, students in the Family Nurse Practitioner program presented several poster sessions covering a variety of climate related topics and health. I was especially impressed by one on the dangers to health (and the climate) of artificial turf, sometimes touted as a solution to drought, which traps heat and can get hotter than170 degrees.

In the hall between ballrooms hung a series of posters entitled “Renewables – Made in Germany,” which Dr. Sabine Blankenship, the Science Liaison Officer at the San Francisco’s German Consulate General, was instrumental in bringing to SSU; it will be on display through November 11th. She also spoke for an hour about Germany’s energy policy, “On the Way to Sustainability – Germany’s ‘Energiewende,’” describing Germany’s energy transformation and its implementation, to a standing-room-only audience in one ballroom.

However, most of the speakers and panelists were local, from Sonoma County non-profits and governmental agencies, and SSU faculty or alumni. Two keynoters spoke mid-day and a third followed later in the afternoon. 

The first was Oberlin College’s Dr. David Orr. Orr, the author of seven books, including Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse (2009). For nearly 30 years, Dr. Orr has been an award winning scholar, teacher, writer, and speaker on the environment; he is the founder of the Oberlin Project, which is turning a rust-belt city into a sustainable and vital place to live ( 

Dr. Orr’s presentation, “The Road to Montana: Climate Change and the Long Emergency,” referenced the novel, Lonesome Dove. He said sustainability was like Montana was for the cowboys in the novel. We don’t know where it is or what we will have to do to get there. We don’t even know if there is a Montana, and it’s going to be a long trip – we should pack accordingly. 

Global destabilization – his term for climate change – affects everything, and it’s going to be with us for a long, long time. Even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, we could be looking at 1,000 years of rising temperatures before the CO2 levels drop to reasonable levels.

While his initial words seemed full of doom, he also spoke of the miracles all around us: the price of solar power is in free-fall, college kids are active in fossil-fuel divestment, young people are suing climate polluters, organizations exist such as Farmsters (which made a presentation in the morning), and Pope Francis himself were examples he gave. Speaking primarily to the students he called them to take part in “our great work.”

Following him was Geof Syphers, CEO of Sonoma Clean Power, who spoke on “Getting to Zero,” and the importance of absolute impacts vs. relative impacts. When we don’t look at the total impact – not only the energy use – we don’t see all the possible solutions. We need to change from “something is good so we should do it” to “do something because it is good.”

The third keynoter, Chris Fadeff of NextGen Climate spoke on“Changing the National Conversation on Climate Change,” talking about acting politically to preserve climate for all and using it as a wedge issue. Noting that in 2012 climate change was not even mentioned in the presidential debates, he said it has come to the forefront as the environmental movement spent more money on ads. 

The day wrapped up with an open chat with Bioregional’s co-founder Pooran Desai, the head of One Planet Living Communities, including one planned at Sonoma Mountain Village.