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Remarks by Kathy Lambert, Dartmouth Sustainability Manager
I am pleased to join the students in welcoming you to the grand opening of the Sustainable Living Center. While many of us wring our hands over the complex environmental challenges of this century and invest considerable energy in the hope that government regulation might eventually dig us out, this group of students is making a difference every day through the earnest work of reducing their own impact and living lightly on the land. They are at the leading edge of a global movement to rethink the way we live.
When I look at what the SLC students have accomplished so far, two qualities emerge that I believe are worth noting and celebrating here today. The first is a dedication to learning the art of sustainability not just by studying but by living it. The second is a commitment to nurturing the joy inherent in a lower-impact lifestyle.
By establishing a living laboratory for testing sustainability practices, the SLC has created what Donella Meadows once referred to as a "think-do tank." The experiential approach to teaching and learning embodied in the SLC has deep pedagogical roots in the works of educational philosopher John Dewey. In his essays "On Education," Dewey urged that teachers and students consider not only the ends of an education, but also the means of an education. He proposed that we learn and teach best not through vicarious experience or dictate but by creating conditions which are conducive to learning; and allowing understanding to grow. There is no doubt that the SLC will foster these conditions, not only for the students who live there but also for the members of the larger Dartmouth and Upper Valley communities who take a workshop there, or attend a lecture, or experience the application of a new Engineering 190 design in action.
I too have pursued a course of learning through living, though sometimes with much less intention than these students. In my own familyís effort to live more sustainably, we purchased two sheep that would mow our grass without the use of fossil fuel and provide wool that could be spun and made into hats and sweaters. Neither my husband nor I had a farming background and I set to work reading every book I could put my hands on to ready us for the arrival of our new family members. When the day came, we drove to a nearby farm (a real farm) and loaded the sheep into our station wagon. Back home, as we struggled to get them out of the wagon and into a makeshift pen, one of the sheep escaped. Despite everything Iíd read, I could not help but chase her - leading us both into the woods (literally and figuratively). We called many sheep farmers that night looking for advice and perhaps the greatest wisdom came from the seasoned, understated old-timer who said, "youíre going to learn a lot about sheep tonight." He knew he could not simply tell us what to do - there was no formula for this one.
Well, we eventually got the sheep back but it wasnít until we tried a lot of things that failed. It was only when we cast off preconceived notions of how to herd a sheep that we succeeded. Since our one remaining sheep was too depressed to baa, we downloaded sheep sounds from the internet and played them back on a CD to lure the lost sheep in. It worked! Of course, it also worked in our favor that the sheep was smart enough to evade us, but not too smart to distinguish between digital and real sheep sounds.
We learned a great deal about ourselves, about sheep and about the trials of farming that night. We learned to stay flexible when things donít go as anticipated, to seek the wisdom of others when confronted with a challenge, and to employ the appropriate use of technology when needed.
Since Iíve been Dartmouthís Sustainability Manager for just three weeks, I can say without conceit that these students and Dartmouth got it right when they created the SLC. They have created a place where we can role up our sleeves and learn with our heads and our hands; and avoid the potential pitfalls of higher education. Pitfalls Henry David Thoreau captured it so well in the well-trodden ground of his essay Walden. When referring to College students he wrote,
"I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game. But earnestly live it... How could youths better learn to live then by at once trying the experiment of living." He goes on to lament, "To my astonishment I was informed on leaving college that I had studied navigation! - why, if I had taken one turn down the harbor I should have known more about it."
The students and community members who avail themselves of the SLC will turn down the harbor together and therefore stand a good chance of not being astonished by what they should have learned about complex ecological systems or the value of sustaining human relationships as you work toward a common goal.
The second quality I mentioned that seems essential to the fulfillment of the SLCís mission is the commitment to cultivating the joy and aesthetic pleasure of a simpler and slower lifestyle. There is no doubt that growing your own food, minimizing waste, and cutting back on energy use can take more time and effort than conventional lifestyle choices, and the payback is not always direct or measurable. But I was reminded of this joy the other day when the main course of a dinner with friends included a beautiful array of colorful, homegrown vegetables featuring organic shiitake mushrooms they had harvested from their backyard, two years after injecting the spores into an old oak log. I canít think of a more pleasurable or memorable meal.
Author Bill McKibben in Hope, Human, and Wild, reminds us to embrace the beauty of these choices as we strive to make our world a more sustainable place, because this beauty provides the sustenance we need to do this work for a lifetime, not just a week, or a month, or four years; and it offers a necessary antidote to the despair we might otherwise face when confronted by the very real losses brought on by decades of environmental neglect.
I look forward to contributing to the advancement of the SLC and want to acknowledge the artful support provided by the many others who have made it possible for us to gather here today. First, of course, is Scott Stokoe who I has dedicated many countless hours and visionary ideas to the effort. And to Associate Provost Mary Gorman, Deans Tom Cardy, Carol Folt, Joe Cassidy and Marty Redman; and to Dan Nelson -- thank you for taking a chance on a good idea and putting your energy and resources behind it.
Finally, as I pass the baton to President Wright, Iíd like to add that the effort over the past several years to create the Sustainable Living Center does not stand alone within the history of the College, it builds on a 200-year tradition of wise stewardship, resourcefulness, and appreciation for the wonder of the natural world. In recent years, these "green" traditions have flourished under the leadership of President James Wright. As 16th president of the College, his support has been fundamental to the success of sustainability initiatives on campus. We are delighted he could be here to celebrate the opening of the Sustainable Living Center. Please join me in welcoming President James Wright.