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Opinion

Sustainability about more than planet

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February 7, 2013

Ethical citizenship does not have to mean living with doom and gloom and constantly making sacrifices. Lately, I’ve chosen to not be discouraged by the damages we have caused to the earth. Instead, I look for ways to be happier by being closer to nature.

Throughout human history, we’ve evolved to heal faster, be more content, live longer and thrive in nature. I might be hypersensitive, but I’m wired to be headachy, dry-eyed and lethargic if I don’t do one meaningful activity outside each day. And sometimes, in negative 10 degree weather, that simply means shoveling the driveway or making the short walk to the library.

As an alternative to punishing myself for all the unsustainable things I do everyday, I choose to focus on what will make me happy as an individual within nature. For example, this weekend, I’m going on the Kinni Outdoor Adventures (KOA) cross-country ski trip (http://www.uwrf.edu/RecreationAndSportFacilities/KinniOutdoorAdventures/). Maybe I’ll meet some new friends and enjoy some sunshine. Maybe I’ll realize I’d rather sweat while cross-country skiing than hibernate while watching TV when it’s freezing out. Maybe my first contact with KOA will inspire me to want to come back for their volunteer day in April they host a community clean up of the South Fork of the Kinnickinnic River.

It might be more effective to learn what you love and let the hard decisions come later. Ducks Unlimited is a great example. Over 70 years ago, sportsmen began to notice that waterfowl numbers were dwindling alarmingly. Because of their love of hunting, thus the concern for the game’s survival, they created Ducks Unlimited, an influential and effective conservation organization. I grew up in Chicago, and as of yet have never hunted. Now living in rural Northwest Wisconsin, I’ve been exposed to hunters that know and protect the land I value as home. Hunters concerned with sustainability are (to me) powerful agents of change in the wildlife world because it is intertwined with their interests and desires.

Often the full definition of sustainability is waylaid to highlight its environmental aspect (‘Planet’). But it encompasses ‘people’ and ‘profit’ as well. ‘People,’ or social justice, is about achieving equity for folks of all walks of life. UW-River Falls’ PEACE (Peer Empowerment and Community Engagement) program is a great example of working toward social sustainability. Last semester I attended an amazing workshop they hosted on campus called “Introduction to Kingian Nonviolence.” We got the honor of working with Bernard Lafayette, a longtime civil rights activist, and worked as a group to problem solve how we might foster inclusivity and diversity on campus.

‘Profit,’ the other overlooked aspect of sustainability can directly relate to us as students. Are low-income students getting the funding they need to succeed and stay in school like their peers? Are we receiving a living wage (sustainably meeting our basic needs) by working the entry-level jobs we -as of yet- only qualify for? Will I make a living by pursuing my passion? In order for a social justice or environmental program to succeed, the profit to sustain the program and its people has to be there.

I’m a conservation major, so one might argue that my passion for sustainable living comes from my studies. A bond with nature is accessible to everyone though. The academics provide the scientific reasoning of “how?” but the real answer to “why?” is, perhaps, because you love to go hunting on land that is threatened by suburban sprawl, or because the lake that your family cabin is on is infested with zebra mussels, or like me, because you grew up in a city and glimpses of nature were rare and thus valuable.

UWRF is not the first college I’ve attended. I started out as an art history major and then spent summers working and living on small-scale farms focused on social and environmental justice. My interest in sustainability came through my studies in art history as well as my time laboring in the fields. Where did your path in sustainability begin?

What do you see that’s lacking in regards to campus sustainability? What deserves applause? What are you doing or would like to do on campus that relates to people, planet and/or profit? I will feature your sustainability events (please give me two weeks notice), ideas, successes stories, gripes, etc. E-mail: molly.breitmun@my.uwrf.edu.

Molly Breitmün is a non-traditional student majoring in conservation with a minor in GIS. Her interest in campus sustainability was fostered by becoming an undergraduate fellow for the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development as well as by her peers in the Student Alliance for Local and Sustainable Agriculture.