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Sustainable Hampshire: A Model for Cultural Change

Submitted by on January 1, 2013 – 8:34 amNo Comment

By President Jonathan Lash

Transitions are under way. Our recent Sustainable Hampshire celebration generated energy and anticipation on campus. We are examining how we operate, what changes we want to make, and what our model could mean for the future: Where are we going? What can we dream of? How do these dreams connect with a Hampshire College education and with the world?

We will begin our sustainability transitions with food. As an everyday need that we produce and share, it’s a great place to start. It connects to health, and to global sustainability. With our farm, faculty, staff, and students, we can create, innovate, and influence.

How will we feed 9 billion people in a warming world? The need to grow more food creates demand for land, water, and energy. Eighty percent of deforestation and 85 percent of human water use are connected with agriculture. Agriculture is the source of approximately 24 percent of greenhouse emissions worldwide. Extended droughts, worsening storms, and floods have already raised food prices globally, and will get worse. What used to be worst-case scenarios for the effects of climate change now look more like business as usual. We need to reduce emissions, adapt to a changing climate, and, at the same time, produce more food.

Hampshire students and graduates have already had a profound impact upon the culture in many ways.

I don’t believe this is a technological problem. Human ingenuity will help, but we have technological tools we’re slow to use. I don’t believe it’s primarily an economic problem. Even the conservative International Energy Agency has concluded that the benefits of a rapid shift to low-carbon technologies greatly outweigh the costs. The failure to adopt food and energy policies that protect our future is certainly political, but those politics are a symptom.

This is a cultural problem, particularly in the United States. It’s about what we value, what we believe, what we perceive, and what we expect. Understood this way, the problem is not one for the sciences but for the humanities, the artists, the communicators—all of those who communicate values and inspire new ways of thinking.

Hampshire College is a great place to tackle these issues. Hampshire people are comfortable working across boundaries. And, as we all know, they don’t listen to authority telling them what the limits are. Hampshire students and graduates have already had a profound impact upon the culture in many ways. As we think about Sustainable Hampshire, my one request is that people think big. Our challenge is to imagine what we might accomplish and ways that we can, in that uniquely creative Hampshire way, provide a model that once again helps lead cultural change.

Read more from the Winter 2012/2013 edition of NSS >>