Phi Beta Cons

Sustainability and the Ideological Monoculture

Over at Minding the Campus, Charlotte Allen has a great piece outlining the various ways in which universities are splurging with your tax dollars in the name of “sustainability.” The details of the programs can be comical:

The Iowa project involves encouraging students to sit next to windows so as to study by natural daylight and to bring their own reusable coffee mugs to the dining hall. The students, who share a residence hall, also take a required “Introduction to Sustainability” course “intended for students who plan to be agents of change for sustainability in whatever profession they choose.” There is also a mix of mandatory and optional offerings that include working in the student garden, obtaining a “Sustainability Certificate,” and planning sustainability events on campus.

There’s nothing like carrying around your own coffee mug and hoeing the student beets to make a person feel like they’re saving the planet. Never mind, of course, that the number of mugs and home-grown beets necessary to offset, say, Qatar’s massive World Cup construction binge can’t be measured using conventional mathematics; at least students feel like they’re doing something.

The irony is that these sustainability programs plow forward even as public concern about global warming wanes. On the university campus, that ship has sailed. Without much real debate and without any substantive response to the myriad concerns raised about the science of climate change, the green party rules, unchallenged. After all, when there’s an ideological monoculture, who will raise an objection? The sustainability fad reminds me of any number of other issues where campus conventional wisdom emerges in — historically speaking — no time flat. Take same-sex marriage, for example, We’re not even eight years removed from the Massachusetts court decision that launched the national controversy, but does anyone doubt where the academic establishment stands on the issue?

The scientific basis for anthropogenic global warming could collapse tomorrow, and colleges would still press their sustainability initiatives.

One final aside, sustainability-minded administrators often train students to become locavores. But how can there possibly be “locavorism” (is that a word?) on a large scale? For example, there’s roughly 19 million people in the New York metropolitan statistical area. They couldn’t all be locavores, could they? Feeding 19 million people requires vast tracts of land, and wouldn’t feeding them fruits year-round would require, well, Florida? I’m well outside my area of expertise, so perhaps one of the commenters more versed in this arena can tell me the best locavore argument for practical, large-scale implementation.


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