Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day presenter encourages action for sustainable Future

By Courtney Westlake

UIS celebrated Earth Day on Tuesday, April 22 with a presentation on "Education and Action for a Sustainable Future" given by Dr. Debra Rowe, president of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, on Tuesday evening in Brookens Auditorium.

Earth Day, an annual event since 1970, is a chance for people around the world to celebrate the planet and our responsibility toward it. (For more information about Earth Day, go here.)

Rowe is a faculty member and administrator at Oakland Community College in Michigan, where she creates and teaches interdisciplinary projects about futuring, environmental sustainability and a more humane society. She is also a senior fellow with the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future, national co-coordinator of the Higher Education Association's Sustainability Consortium, founder of the Disciplinary Associations' Network for Sustainability, and senior adviser to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

As president of the U.S. Partnership, Rowe works with educational institutions across the country to integrate a sustainable worldview into formal education at all levels. "Sustainable development," as defined by the United Nations 2002 World Summit, is that which would improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future.

Rowe discussed topics such as what sustainability is, what the challenges in creating sustainability are, what solutions already exist, what national trends are occuring and resources for the attendees.

"This isn't about saving the planet; the planet's going to be fine," she said. "It's just a question of what kind of species is going to be able to survive on the planet and with what quality of life."

United Nations declared a decade of development for sustainable development starting in 2005. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, every ecosystem is degrading. Nearly half of the world's major rivers are going dry or are badly polluted, the fishing areas are collapsing or in decline, and there is dangerous climate change, Rowe said.

"With each breath you take, with each drink of water, each piece of food, you are receiving life-sustaining gifts from the ecosystem, and you're not paying the full price the way our economic system is structured," she said.

In higher education, we learn knowledge, values and skills, Rowe said, and we need to do two things with those.

"We need to change private choices and behaviors, or our habits," Rowe said. "And the second thing we need to do is change our public choices, our laws."