Monday, June 16, 2008

MSLS Distance Learning!

I'm thrilled to pass on the announcement below about distance learning courses from the master's in strategic leadership towards sustainability program. Of course, it just won't be the same as being in Karlskrona, swimming around the archipelago and enjoying Thursday nights at the Rotundan, but I'm sure it will be an incredibly valuable and effective way to get a much deeper understanding of SSD very quickly. Stay going...


Do you have any friends/family members/colleagues who are interested in learning about sustainability, but cannot commit to the one-year MSLS degree in Karlskrona?

We are launching some new distance courses related to sustainability. You can view a brochure of 3 of them side by side, here. There are two courses at a Bachelor's level and one course at a Master's level. All of them are 100% online, part time, with free tuition, and possible to complete while still working or studying elsewhere.

The Master's course is a 'light' version of our Intro course in the MSLS programme. It offers an excellent introduction to the core concepts of Strategic Sustainable Development (i.e. The Natural Step Framework). I attach a second brochure which has some more information specifically about that course. The application process for this Master's level course will open Monday June 16th, so please pass this along to anyone you know who might be interested. Since the tuition covered by the Swedish government, this will be a popular option for many people. We are limiting this initial course offering to the first 60 qualified applicants. You do not need to be a currently registered student to participate in this course.

If you are on the digest version of the Yahoo group, you may not see the attached file, but if you are interested in learning more, please visit

Reminder: The application for this Master's level course opens June 16th (not before) and closes June 30th.

I would be grateful if you could pass this along to anyone you feel would be well suited for this course.

Any questions about the course content can be directed to

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Ravaging Tide

Another interesting perspective of the impacts of climate change, and another good, quick read, comes from The Ravaging Tide by Mike Tidwell, released in 2006. The basic premise of the book looks at New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina as hint of what’s to come from global climate disruption.

While a commonly expected impact is more frequent, and more intense, storms, that is not the focus of the book. Instead, Tidwell pulls on his intimate knowledge of the coastal zone around New Orleans to show that Katrina was a model for what any big storm hitting any major city will be like with 3 feet of sea level rise. That’s because our activities around New Orleans have replicated a 3-foot rise, by allowing what is essentially a 3-foot sink in the land mass around the city. Before the years of Army Corps of Engineers projects to build levees and dams towards the mouth of the Mississippi, there was a dynamic equilibrium in the delta area, where land was washed away, and new land was deposited by the river. With the earth works, the new land washed right through, leaving only the washing away, with the end result of what basically equated to a 3-foot rise in sea level. The outer islands have been disappearing, marshes sinking underwater, and the natural defenses to the coastal city dissolving.

Without these defenses to slow the storm down, without the millions of blades of grass providing some friction, the storm hit the city full on with disastrous affect. Putting the pieces together, the book paints a frighteningly clear picture of how exposed our coastal cities will be to storms with sea level rise.

The book also runs through much of the more common aspects of climate disruption – its causes and impacts – and the maddening lack of response from us. Towards the end, it also, refreshingly, gets into the heartening opportunities that we have to minimize the damage we’ve already created. I think one little example in particular is worth quoting at length:

Here’s what gives me hope: In the middle of the U.S. Capitol, stands a tall and shiny symbol of rural America. It’s a twenty-ton corn granary, full of organically fertilized, Maryland-raised corn. Every few weeks during the winter, a Mennonite farmer forty miles away dispatches a feed truck to refill this two-story tall, cylindrical granary. Then, in the shadow of high-rise apartment buildings within earshot of D.C. subway trains, fifty families in and around my neighborhood come at their convenience to withdraw the fuel the need to heat their homes with corn-burning, climate-friendly stoves.

This first-in-the-world urban corn cooperative exists because the granary exists. And the granary exists because my city government in Takoma Park, Maryland, has a policy of fighting global warming. Indeed, the granary itself sits on city property at the public works compound. Among other things, Takoma Park’s leaders recently purchased wind energy to power all government buildings. And in 2002 the city worked creatively with local citizens, farmers, and private industry to establish this unique granary system that’s now being replicated in other parts of the region.

After I installed my own corn stove on September 11, 2001, I told people I was fighting terrorism. Now I tell people I’m fighting hurricanes, too. And so are many of my neighbors thanks to the outpouring of creativity and problem solving that comes when elected officials adopt innovative policies that convert common problems into public gain. The Takoma Park granary, at no cost to taxpayers whatsoever, has reduced the heating bills of lots of people. It’s helped preserve at least two Maryland farms, enhanced the bottom line of a stove-manufacturing company in Minnesota, and oh yeah, kept hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in the process. It’s also made local politicians look very, very good…

So imagine – just imagine – what would happen if we did this sort of thing on a national scale. In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to a policy of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. What made that national commitment particularly audacious was that it required lots of technology that simply didn’t exist in 1961. So we had a policy – go to the moon – but not the technology to get there, and still we succeeded in eight short years.

It’s the opposite with global warming. We have all the technology we need to solve the problem, we just don’t have a policy.

A policy is coming. Hopefully it will be soon enough, and hopefully it will be strong enough. There are plenty of effective models out there. The growing momentum of international (Kyoto, iCAP), regional (RGGI, WCI), state (AB 32), local (US Mayors), and institutional (ACUPCC, US CAP) plus the promise of Obama or McCain in the White House guarantee that we’ll have a policy. If the vested interests in coal, oil, and nuclear make the wise decision to spend their money on creating safe solutions instead of on PR campaigns against the laws of thermodynamics it has a shot at happening soon enough and being strong enough.

One aspect I like about the example above is that the corn for the stoves that he talks about is local and organic. The biofuel debate rages on under the assumption that the agricultural system is necessarily dependent on fossil fuels, pesticides, chemical inputs, lots of transport, and subsidies. With innovative policies and concerted focus on high-yield, low-input, sustainable agriculture, we could do a lot more with a lot less and address another huge and fundamental sustainability challenge around destructive agricultural practices. Imagine extensive permaculture design incorporated into the medians of our expansive highway systems providing food, fuel, and jobs for the surrounding local areas. There is plenty to rethink. Stay going.

You say tomato, I say Economicology

I’m on my way home from the 2008 ACUPCC Climate Leadership Summit in Grand Rapids, MI. It was a great success with about 150-200 people in attendance – mostly college and university presidents or their senior-level representatives, plus some sponsors, staff and colleagues. Ray Anderson was the keynote – his speech was great, as usual. The video of him talking is available here: . We also heard a good talk from Mayor Cownie, of Des Moines, who has been a driving force behind the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, and called on mayors and ACUPCC presidents to work together to meet their respective climate commitments – something I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about.

The event was generously hosted by the Wege Foundation, started by Peter Wege, who used to run the family business – Steelcase, Inc. – a big office furniture company based in Grand Rapids. I got a copy of Wege’s book, Economicology: The Eleventh Commandment, which I just read on the trip home (clearly, it’s a quick read). The book runs through highlights and quotes from Wege’s favorite thinkers, and in the process draws out his concept of Economicology. In many ways, it’s essentially another way of saying ‘sustainability’ – with the focus, as the word suggests, on the potential for a mutually beneficial marriage of economics and ecology, instead of the common view that the benefit of the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. That is the trade-off mentality that is so deeply ingrained into our thinking – in many ways from birth and through the media – but in particular in economic classes in higher ed.

The book pulls from many great sources – some of which I was familiar with, some I wasn’t – and hits all the big topics – consumption, over-population, non-renewable resources, GDP vs. well-being, quantum physics, systems thinking, etc. A main tenant of Economicology is the 6 “E’s” – Economics, Environment, Ecology, Ethics, Empathy, and Education – all of which are inseparable and vitally important. Again, this is less a departure from sustainability as it is looking at it from a different angle in a different light. While in some ways it doesn’t have the cohesion or rigor of some other frameworks or approaches, that’s not really its intent – the intent is to bring those concepts to everyone (particularly those in business) in plain language, and in that I think it does a brilliant job.

Given that the Summit, and much of our work of late, focused on higher education, it is particularly heartening to see that element come through in the book. Two of the big themes in sustainability with regard to higher ed, are 1) the need for structural shifts to allow for more collaboration and work across the disciplines and 2) the need for an explicit articulation of sustainability – creating a healthy, just, thriving, sustainable society – as the goal for higher education. Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, and chair of the ACUPCC, addressed the second point brilliantly in his closing remarks at the summit, saying something to the affect that we can’t just keep trying to do good science with ever-greater specialization, and hope that the outcomes are useful or commercially viable.

The mandate of the higher ed sector is to fulfill education, research, and public service missions to create a thriving civil society. What is a thriving civil society other than one in which we meet our needs today without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. We so often lose sight of the most fundamental aspect of our activities – to what end they serve. The Sustainability Principles provide that definition of success on the principle level, and in combination with an understanding of basic Human Needs, enable us to make decisions and design cities, buildings, processes, goods, and services in ways that meet needs today and tomorrow.

Wege quotes H.G. Wells, writing on the heels of the Depression in 1939, who said with regard to the importance of an expanded world vision for the future: “and since the existing educational organizations of the world do not provide anything like that vision, nor establish the necessary conceptions of right conduct that arise from it, it (the world vision) needs to be rebuilt even more than the political framework needs to be rebuilt.”

Later, Wege notes that “We have to pull together the world’s intelligence to solve the tremendous challenges we face. Technology alone cannot solve them. Religion in itself cannot, nor can government. Our best hopes are to work through the world’s universities to link industry and technology in a union I’ve called Economicology.”

Call it what you like, it’s great stuff, and the kind of thinking we need more of – particularly from people of influence. It’s tremendously reassuring to come across another great leader in this regard. Stay going.