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September 24, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – The environmental crisis and ways to address it through resilient communities was the topic September 16, 2019, as the Adrian Dominican Sisters hosted its third symposium on resilient communities. The Growing Resiliency Symposium at Weber Retreat and Conference Center drew a full crowd of Sisters, Associates, partners, and interested community members.
“I’ve been asked to give a context about the environmental crisis we’re in – the sense of urgency,” said Dr. Nancy Tuchman, the keynote speaker. “In my opinion, if we don’t get this right, it doesn’t matter what we do in the realms of justice and racism because we won’t have a planet.”
Nancy, the Founding Dean of the Loyola University-Chicago Institute of Environmental Sustainability, gave sobering reports on the latest scientific evidence of climate change and the environmental crisis. She cited the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which tracks how close Earth is to the “tipping points” in aspects of the environment such as climate change, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, and biodiversity.
“You can harm the planet to a certain extent within certain boundaries,” she said. “We can extract resources to a limited extent and the Earth can rebound. … But if you exceed that tipping point, all these systems break down.” She said Earth is at the danger point in many aspects of the environment and we need to make changes before it’s too late. But she did add an element of hope, explaining that, with the banning of fluorocarbons years ago, Earth has retreated from the danger zone in the area of ozone depletion.
Nancy issued a somber warning. The last report by scientists indicates that “we have 11 years to get off of fossil fuels or the climate will be spinning so out of control that we’d be in crisis management all the time.”
Our culture needs to change its understanding of our natural resources, Nancy said. The model of capitalism “is based on infinite growth – the gross national product always has to grow or we worry about recession.” Earth is finite, Nancy said, explaining that if everybody were moved out of poverty and lived a middle-class U.S. lifestyle, “we’d need five planet Earths. The people on the high end of the economy need to lower their lifestyle” to use fewer resources. “We should live today – plant trees, steward the environment – for seven generations out.”
Nancy noted that all levels of the human population – individuals, families, communities, organizations, businesses, cities, states, nations and the global community – need to get involved in working toward a “zero waste environment” and a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle. The United Nations is doing well in this area, and so are many individuals and communities, but the middle groups – such as some businesses, states and nations – need to do better.
She compared the situation of today to the time of World War II, when the people of the United States rallied and car manufacturers stopped producing cars and focused on military vehicles. “That’s the kind of change that we need to see here, and we need to be all behind it and realize we’re in imminent danger,” she said.
Much of the rest of the symposium focused on signs of hope – organizations that are working to bring about zero waste and sustainable, resilient communities. Nancy spoke of her own work at Loyola University’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability. Loyola University-Chicago began focusing on the environment in 2002 with a two-pronged approach: lowering the carbon footprint of the campus and education.
Through the years, Loyola has lowered its carbon footprint through a number of changes to the campus. Older buildings were upgraded or replaced with energy-efficient buildings. Loyola collects rain water and uses it to water the lawns and greenhouse plants, as well as to flush toilets in an administrative building. Through a geothermal system involving 500 wells, water is chilled or heated and flows through pipes to cool or heat the buildings.
Loyola also reduced food waste by 60 percent, first by educating students to be intentional on what they select to eat and not to waste it. Wasted vegetable oil is now used to create biodiesel, which runs the university’s shuttle buses and is sold to other area universities and museums.
In the area of education, Loyola University added environmental science to its curriculum. “Every student, regardless of their major, has to have some proficiency in environmental literacy,” Nancy said. Non-science students are required to take two science courses, including one on environmental issues. “Once they take an environmental course they usually come back to us for their second course” and learn to become change agents, Nancy said.
Following Nancy’s talk, three representatives from the Center for Resilient Cities (CRC), based in Madison, Wisconsin, spoke on the resiliency and sustainability efforts of the organization as it works with small communities. Marcia Caton Campbell, Executive Director, said CRC was founded in 1996 and over the years has shifted its focus to resiliency and sustainability. “We also talk about ‘thrive-ability,’” she said. The organization values diversity, networking, and innovation in its work with communities.
One of the innovations that community members developed with the help of CRC was Badger Rock. Originally Badger School, it was standing on 3.5 acres of land that had been vacant for years. The site now houses the Badger Rock Neighborhood Center to bring neighbors together to get to know one another and work together; Badger Rock Middle School, a charter school focused on environmental sustainability; and outdoor, year-round food production for the community through a community garden and greenhouses in what had once been a “food desert.”
Marcia spoke of the special challenge she has as a white woman working with an African-American community. “I am white but what I think is crucially important for white people doing work with people of color is to come with humility, acknowledging white privilege and being a force to change it,” she said.
Sarah Karlson, Farm Manager and Garden Educator at Badger Rock Center, explained: “Our job is not to change the community but to work with them. We do our very best to come to our work from a community-driven place that involves deep listening. We are all about partnerships and resource sharing.”
Hedi Rudd, Director of the Badger Rock Neighborhood Center, noted that at first, some people stayed away from the Neighborhood Center because they didn’t feel welcome. “Now they feel welcome,” she said. “Now everything that takes place in that center is for the people. The programming that takes place is led by the people.”
The Growing Resiliency Symposium focused on two areas that the Adrian Dominican Sisters committed themselves to in their 2016 General Chapter: sustainability and working with others to form resilient communities.
Feature photo: Panelists at the Growing Resiliency Seminar were, from left, Hedi Rudd, Sarah Karlson, and Marcia Caton Campbell.
Videos below added 10/10/19.