By BETTY RIDGE
Northeastern State University is well on its way to becoming a leader in the sustainability movement, a national expert said Monday.
Dr. Kelly Cain challenged the university to take an even more active role in achieving sustainability goals on campus and in the community as he began a three-day visit here.
Cain, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls and director of the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development, spoke twice at the Tahlequah campus and is visiting the campuses at Muskogee and Broken Arrow during his stay.
Cain is no stranger to two NSU leaders. At River Falls, he worked with NSU President Dr. Don Betz and Mark Kinders, NSU vice president for community relations. They invited him to view the campuses and advise them on sustainability efforts for the university’s 20-county service area.
Sustainability can be developed on campus and extended into the community, both by the university and by the students who graduate and take what they have learned into their careers.
“I think there is no more important work,” Cain said. “Those on campus are literally the ‘walk the talk’ indicative as to what we say.”
Cain doesn’t limit himself to the academic world. He has worked to further economic development as a town supervisor, planning commission member and serving on community action boards. He also has served as an international consultant, working with China, Nicaragua, and Trinidad.
He views a “triple bottom line” in development issues – involving economic performance, social issues and the environment.
“We have historically made tradeoffs between economic development and the social and environmental performance, as if we could only have one and not the others,” he said. “This is not about liberal or conservative. This is not about Republican or Democrat or Tea Party. This is about traditional American values.”
He listed those values as self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and entrepreneurism, along with a reverence for the environment established before the European immigration, by American Indians.
In today’s polarized political environment, mention the word “sustainability” and you will often be regarded as promoting a liberal conspiracy, he said.
For example, in 2004, Tom DeWeese, founder of the conservative American Policy Center, said if Americans wanted to protect their children, guns and liberty, they should avoid sustainability.
“But it [sustainability] is looking at how we have developed as a society over the past 200 years,” he said.
Cain cited a report issued by the U.S. Joint Forces Command in April, predicting that peak petroleum production is approaching. By 2015, the capacity for producing petroleum using today’s relatively inexpensive technology will be reached and exceeded. Prices are expected to rise from $75 per barrel to $200 or more.
Although there are larger reserves, the oil cannot be extracted using today’s methods.
“It’s not the size of the tank, it’s the size of the spigot, and we appear to be reaching that,” Cain said.
California produces half of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States. But in the near future, as transportation costs skyrocket and California’s water supply dwindles, it may become more economically feasible to rely on locally-grown produce, Cain said.
Some sustainability efforts require methods such as adapting new technologies. Looking around the Roger Webb auditorium at NSU — one of the university’s newer buildings — Cain noted the lighting systems in it and other facilities will be converted gradually to the more energy-efficient LED technology.
Other means toward attaining sustainability are more readily and simply achievable. One audience member noted that as he passes Haskell Hall daily, he notices the lights at its entryway are left on, even in the brightness of noontime. Turning them off would be simple and reduce the university’s energy consumption. Cain recommended enlisting students and faculty members to notice and report such easy accomplishments.
“You have clearly put your finger on the jugular,” he said. “It is the social behavioral side that is so difficult.”
People debate personal freedom versus public responsibility.
“We have the exact same issue on my own campus and virtually every campus. It’s unfortunately one of those things that doesn’t happen overnight,” Cain said.
The University of Wisconsin at River Falls has the goal to become carbon-neutral in its energy consumption, and also to produce energy that can be sold to provide additional revenue for the institution. The university is negotiating for four megawatts of commercial turbines which will supply about half the energy it needs.
The university is working with the community to expand its sustainability effort. For example, 10 energy-neutral Habitat for Humanity houses have been built.
The climate action plan is about 90 percent complete, Cain said. The sustainability campus-community plan is about 65 percent complete.
Cain’s first impressions of Oklahoma and NSU are positive.
“This is the first time I’ve been to Oklahoma — beautiful, beautiful place,” he said.
Betz and Kinders supported Cain’s work with sustainability in Wisconsin, and as a result, NSU is ahead of many other institutions in the movement.
“There are so many campuses that don’t even have a focused mission position and value statement,” he said. “We can put all kinds of words on paper, but unless they’re acted upon, it is worthless.”
NSU leaders and students must ask themselves, “in the race for leadership, where does NSU want to be?” he said.
As an ideal sustainable campus, it would:
• Produce sustainability-literate, lifelong learners that are an asset to their employers and communities.
• Produce more carbon-negative energy than it consumes.
• Be a “walk to talk” economic force in developing entrepreneurship.
• Be the “go-to” model in Oklahoma for sustainable economic development partnerships.
Cain challenged campus entities to participate in the eighth national Campus Sustainability Day, Oct. 20. It will involve a webinar, and he’d like to see local activities organized.
He said sustainability is a goal, to be achieved over a period of time — and an ideal it’s unlikely can be achieved totally.
“There is no way we can get to 100 percent self-sustaining unless we give up coffee, or any other items we get from the international market,” he said.