Shedding Light on Sustainability: UPC, Dan Fiscus Educate on Global, Campus Sustainability

On February 25, 2015, FSU Sustainability Liaison Dan Fiscus (above) gave a comprehensive presentation concerning sustainability, both as a concept and campus issue. Fiscus’s presentation explained the concept of sustainability to students and explored the topic in terms of campus life, involvement, and goals.

In addition to his role as Sustainability Liaison, Fiscus formerly worked at the Appalachian Lab facility on campus for five years prior to his current teaching position. Fiscus is also heavily involved with Frostburg Grows, a campus sustainability initiative which simultaneously grows local produce and trains individuals on farming and sustainability.

Fiscus began his presentation by defining the concept of sustainability. An evolving topic, sustainability is difficult to definitively pigeonhole. However, the concept generally concerns the preservation of the planet and its resources for future generations. Such a goal is included in the FSU Climate Action Plan of 2009, which states that FSU aims to achieve sustainability by “improving the quality of life for current and future generations by addressing environmental, social, and economic needs at FSU.”

An important distinction to be recognized when discussing sustainability, Fiscus asserts, is the distinction between renewable and non-renewable resources. Fiscus turns to Herman Daly, Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland at College Park, for guidance on resource use. Daly argues that sustainability can only be achieved when certain benchmarks are achieved concerning resources. Specifically, Daly asserts that: the rate of use of non-renewable resources (natural gas, coal) must be less than the rate at which a renewable substance is developed; the rate of use of renewable resources (coal, water) must be less than the natural regeneration rate of said resources; and, finally, pollution emission rates must be less than the rate at which pollutants are recycled or filtered.

Related to responsible use of resources is the concept of “Just Sustainability,” a mixture of justice and social responsibility with sustainability. This particular concept was coined by Tufts University Professor Julian Agyeman, who Fiscus cites as an invaluable leader in the cause of sustainability. Agyeman’s theory concerns the need to ensure a better quality of life for all peoples on Earth, both now and in the future, specifically through fair means which respect human rights and international responsibility.

After defining sustainability, Fiscus went on to describe current trends and patterns in society relating to sustainability. While CO2 emissions and climate change patterns coordinate with rising sea levels, and while species extinctions continue to progress at exponential rates as the human population skyrockets over seven billion people, there remains some light at the end of the tunnel. Positive trends include a “rapid increase in renewable energy development,” as well as development of sustainability-related academic programs and education across the globe. Locally-sourced food is in vogue and tree-plantings are on the rise.

In the U.S., promising figures indicate that sustainable sources of energy are on the rise, with 49.81% of U.S. energy added to the grid in 2014 being renewable energy sources. In comparison, 48.65% of energy added came from natural gas. The 49.81% can be broken down into 26.52% wind energy, 20.40% solar energy, and 2.89% of energy coming from biomasses. Not all of the news is good, though. Currently, Fiscus stated, the United States of America makes up about 5% of the entire human population. We consume, however, about 25% of the world’s resources. Such skewed figures call into question environmental ethics and will likely be challenged in the near future.

At FSU, students encounter sustainability in the classroom through a “Sustainability Studies” minor and can get involved through the President’s Advisory Council for Sustainability, which is currently in it’s second semester of operation and features representatives from SGA, the Sierra Club, FSU staff, and FSU faculty.

A fresh development on campus is the impending “Sustainability Fee,” which will be effective in the fall of 2015. Unanimously approved by the Student Government Association, the $15 fee with provide sustainability efforts on campus with an unprecedented budget of roughly $120,000. Fiscus credits the student body with this development and is eager to see sustainability efforts on campus rapidly increase in light of the new funding. Student proposals, Fiscus notes, will be requested to determine how the funds should be used, in conjunction with the President’s Advisory Council on Sustainability.

When asked what the largest challenge on campus facing sustainability is, Fiscus stated that “everybody agrees that this [sustainability] needs to be done,” but a combination of factors, mainly time and money, “can impede progress.” Fiscus compares some efforts to “pulling teeth” and noted that people on campus are “insanely busy.”

On a more positive note, when Fiscus was asked how FSU compares to similar state institutions, he noted that the university has obtained a “Silver” rating from the national Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS). Additionally, FSU President Jonathan Gibralter is a founding signatory of the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). The SERF and CCIT campus buildings, as well as Frostburg Grows and recent efforts by Chartwells to compost the majority of campus food waste, merit consideration of FSU as a quasi-leader in sustainability, albeit with plenty of room for improvement and progress.

Students interested in sustainability, both in a general and campus context, can investigate the Sustainability Studies minor and consider attending “Focus Frostburg,” a free day of activities and education on campus concerning sustainability and the environment. Focus Frostburg will be held on April 22 in the Lane University Center.

(Featured photo attributed to Nick DeMichele)

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