Panel discussion on sustainability, climate science on April 4

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — There will be a panel discussion titled “Sustain What?” on the complexity of sustainability, what it means in relation to a changing climate, and how it impacts life on earth. The event is scheduled for 4 p.m. on April 4 in 101 Chambers Building. It is free and open to the public.

Lauren Kooistra, assistant research professor of humanities and associate director of The Humanities Institute, said the event was created to help conceptualize the goals of sustainability in ways that are sensitive to the varieties of ecologies and people at risk all over the world.

“Spreading the truth about climate change and the need for sustainability is clearly important,” Kooistra said, “but while ‘sustainability’ is a word we use frequently, there are many perspectives as to what it should look like, not all of which are given as much play in the social arena as others.”

Peter Buckland, the Sustainability Institute’s academic programs manager, said sustainability has become a buzzword that needs to be clearly defined.

“Small-scale organic farmers use it and so do huge food and beverage companies. Radical anarchists in communes used to use it and now middle-of-the-road politicians use it. There are rating systems for municipalities, buildings and food packaging,” Buckland said. “What are we saying we should sustain and for whose advantage?”

According to Kooistra, when talking about sustainability, diversity is essential.

“When dealing with any socially pressing matter, there are many more angles that need to be considered than what tends to float to the surface of media and other communications,” Kooistra said. “This panel enables us to consider how scientific facts have been marshaled in the history of science in ways that bear consequences for us today, and how there are day-to-day impacts on the ground level for many people whose voices are often left unheard.”

Buckland added that a discussion about sustainability must involve dignity, compassion and responsibility.

“There's a lot at stake in a world under as much social, environmental, economic and political stress as ours is,” Buckland said. “Too often we ignore our brothers and sisters from poor nations or historically marginalized people in our own nation. If we don't have a conversation about how we treat one another and the creatures we live on this planet with, then we can't talk about sustainability in a meaningful way.”

The panel will feature Bryan McDonald, Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute and associate professor of history; Erica Smithwick, associate professor of geography, faculty member of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment and director of the Ecology Institute; and Courtney Morris, assistant professor of African-American studies and women, gender, and sexuality studies. Buckland will moderate the panel discussion.

In addition to The Humanities Institute, support for this event was provided by the Sustainability Institute and the Science Communication Program. “Sustain What?” is a part of The Humanities Institute’s lecture series called The Truth Project.

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Last Updated April 09, 2018