Students Inspired by Sustainability Expert
A group of Principia College students and several faculty interested in sustainability issues recently attended the keynote address at the Sustainable Cities Conference at Washington University in St. Louis. The address was delivered by Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and one of America’s best-known environmentalists. McKibben has written a dozen books about the environment, including The End of Nature, which was published over 20 years ago and is considered the first book on climate change written for a general audience.
For the first time in human history, the majority of the world’s population live in cities. McKibben spoke about how this new reality presents many challenges, including rising greenhouse gas emissions and unsustainable resource consumption, particularly related to fossil fuels. He emphasized that finding solutions to global problems requires a high degree of individual commitment as well as international cooperation.
Attendance at the talk was sponsored by the Principia Center for Sustainability (PCS), which coordinates a variety of programs and opportunities associated with the study and practice of sustainability on the College campus, including an academic minor in sustainability, career-related experiences, and student-led campus “greening” activities.
“Our students are uniquely suited to solve global-scale challenges that, by definition, will require us all to become change agents,” says PCS director Dr. Karen Eckert. “Talks by experts such as Mr. McKibben go a long way to empower our students to think deeply about the important role they play in envisioning and advocating for a more livable world. They are learning to reach beyond the problems and start defining the solutions!”
Sophomore Vanessa Waller found McKibben’s talk very inspiring. “I have never heard anyone speak so passionately about environmental topics,” she comments. “Mr. McKibben said that young people should not feel intimidated by the magnitude of climate change, since his global 350.org climate change movement was started by a small group of college students communicating online.”
“It was really good to hear someone talk bluntly about the problem in person, as opposed to just reading about it online or in a book,” adds freshman Adam Eckert. Sophomore Kyle Meserve agrees, noting, “Bill McKibben explained the scope of climate change issues, and the international movement that is fighting it, with such skill and precision—and in a very understandable way.”
Along with providing inspiration and information, the talk delivered a rousing call to action. “Mr. McKibben showed us that no one is too young or too old to reach outside themselves, learn about global issues, and make the world a better place,” says sophomore Nadine Tidwell.
As these comments suggest, the talk achieved what Dr. Eckert hoped for. “Knowledge and awareness have to come first, and then these can ignite lifelong passions and pursuits,” she explains. “I’m really pleased that our students were able to experience McKibben’s address—and that they’ve brought the dialogue back to their peers and classrooms!”