Monday, November 19, 2007

The Woods by the College:sustainability and synchronicity

Sustainability and Synchronicity? Now this seems as an odd combination of concepts, so let me explain. The whole thing started a couple of weeks ago when and another faculty member and I were discussing our College's push to promote sustainability across the JCCC campus. Several faculty members and one of our vice presidents had gone to a League of Innovation conference about sustainability and came back all fired up. This of course from my way of thinking is quite laudable and has led to lots of discussion about sustainability on campus.

But I wondered aloud to my colleague if people really understood the sort of sacrifices that true sustainability might entail. For example there are studies which have looked at our civilization's use of planetary resources and the damage we have done to the ability of our planet's systems to sustain our population. Several studies claim that we have effectively overshot the planet's capacity to sustain our population and that we would need to have the resources, biological and otherwise of several Earths to have a sustainable planetary population with the standard of living equal to that enjoyed by people of this country. See for example http://www.footprintnetwork.org/gfn_sub.php?content=footprint_overview.

Since we only have one Earth we have a little problem of insuring that everyone has a decent standard of living. Now one might argue that technology might help us here, but our track record on mobilizing new technologies has not been particularly good, unless you count the development of hybrid SUV's mobilizing technology in a sustainable way. We can hope for a transforming technology to save us. Scientific and technological development is notorious hard to predict, but the trend in resource use, destruction of habitat seem pretty clear and hard to avoid in the short run even we to develop a set of new sustainable technologies. Sustainability is important but I wondered to my colleague if it isn't in danger of becoming a feel good buzz word...like organic or ecology.

At any rate...to the woods. At JCCC we have a wonderful campus wonderful resources for teaching, great staff and an energetic new President. Last week I was riding to work on the bus and was noting the contrast between the college's brick work architecture and well groomed appearance and the scruffy looking patch of woods next to the college's entrance. What a contrast-we are thinking of sustainability in terms of the engineering and management systems we use and how we can tweak them to reduce waste-kind of the Spaceship Earth paradigm. And yet natural systems as epitomized by this patch of woods manage to sustain themselves quite nicely even though the self regulatory nature of biological communities is really an illusion compared to the designed regulation of our technological systems. So from here came this poem that attempts to capture in a few lines some of these ideas:

So to the poem:

The Woods by the College

Not all that long ago this whole space
Was prairie of tall and mid grasses
Swaying across the decades following
The shifting rains east then west,
Except here where a spring feeds
The roots of mock orange and locust
And hack berry and brambles.

Somehow this lot survived by a whim
The building of the campus.
But no one visits here unless
We take our students to see
The stream cut in the grey clay,
Let them pick among the briers,
Trees muffling traffic and shouts
From the tennis courts.
We let then scrape samples
From the wood's trickling womb
And a cardinal scolds us over the water sounds
As we leave for the geometry of brick,
Leave behind the illusion of design
That sustains itself in the real world,
One Earth deep as we say we want
Though our design is many Earth's deep
Beneath the illusions we create.

Now to the synchronicity. That night my wife and I decided to get Chinese food and my "fortune" which by the way I pasted into my poetry journal reads:

"The one that recognizes the illusion,
does not act as if it real."
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