Tune in to sustainability because we’re all involved here

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By Roland Racevskis
Guest opinion for the Iowa City Press-Citizen

Humanity’s interaction with its natural environments, our use of the resources we have available to us, and the long-term viability of that use, pose major challenges for the 21st century.

The University of Iowa is meeting those challenges on many fronts, from the daily operations of the institution to cutting-edge research that crosses almost all disciplines on our campus.

In recent years, we have seen more and more of the university community getting involved in efforts to improve sustainability practices. To give one example: Green Teams have formed across campus to evaluate and improve the ways that our various buildings handle waste, recycling and energy consumption.

Through the Certificate in Sustainability, UI students have the opportunity to combine courses from a wide range of fields in a credential that they can take with them into the changing world of the future.

In today’s WorldCanvass Forum, focused on the history of sustainability, a number of students and faculty who have been active in environmental education in the classroom will hold a wide-ranging discussion with the community. Before the forum, University of Illinois professor Gillen D’Arcy Wood will give a public lecture on “The Seven Sorrows of Yunnan: Chinese Famine Poetry and the Global Climate Dystopia, 1815-18” from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in room 304 of the English Philosophy Building. From 5 to 7 p.m. at the Old Capitol, Wood will take part in the WorldCanvass program hosted by Joan Kjaer, along with a number of UI faculty and students:

Jonathan Carlson, professor of law, a specialist in international and environmental law.

Barbara Eckstein, professor of English, who has studied the effects of climate on local populations and who teaches courses in ecological literary criticism.

Jonathan Finley, an MBA student who heads up the sustainability initiative Net Impact.

Craig Just, professor of engineering, who advocates for sustainability both locally and worldwide through study abroad programs in Africa.

Sarah Kanouse, professor of art and intermedia whose scholarly focus includes work on landscapes of Westward expansion.

Laura Rigal, professor of English, who has studied natural resource use in the American expansion.

Sara Rynes-Weller, professor of business and management whose course on “Strategic Management of Change” combines sustainability studies with the business curriculum.

Jerry Schnoor, professor of engineering, a specialist in water, global change and sustainability.

Kyle Stine, a Ph.D. student in cinema who organized and presented a series on environmental film.

Chad Vollrath, a Ph.D. student in communication studies whose work is on the history of the idea of sustainability.

As a professor of French, I do research and teach classes on environmental issues in European fiction. One of the most exciting things about the University of Iowa is the discovery that people from very different academic backgrounds can find common ground. The larger issues of our times require a great number and wide variety of vantage points, tools and techniques to help make sense of them.

Our impact on our world is presenting us with some serious challenges today — the planet’s sixth mass extinction of species is well under way while the human population will hit 7 billion this spring.

It is a sign of hope that scientists, humanists, business professionals, academic leaders, artists and, most importantly, students can come together to talk about something as complex and important as sustainability. Tune in, we’re all involved here.

Roland Racevskis is a professor of French at the University of Iowa.

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