I am still not taking the position, because as I said in a previous blog post, it's not personally sustainable for me. But the whole thing has made me think about it from a bigger perspective as well.
I've been thinking about it in regards to how carbon footprints relate to sustainability. Personally, I believe that the smaller your carbon footprint, the more you are contributing to a sustainable future. Less dependence on fossil fuels is the key, whether it's using less gasoline to power your car or not adding to the amount of petroleum-based fertilizers put into the ground by buying less mass-produced food from the supermarket.
So, with that in mind, the future of teaching and academia is clearly not in burning fossil fuels to commute, especially if you're going to be teaching about sustainability.
|Traveling to a sustainability/homesteading class, no doubt.|
Sustainability is (I believe) best served by utilizing today's modern technologies to disseminate the ideas and share knowledge about things. In this case, the "things" I speak of are of some very back-to-basics ways of living, like growing food naturally and making much of what you'd otherwise be buying. Do those things alone and you've lessened the amount of pollutants going into the atmosphere by a significant amount. We don't all need to live like we're completely Amish. But adopting just a few "Amish" practices can make a huge difference in the carbon footprint of what is otherwise a very lovely and modern life.
In other words, we can still live in both centuries. We can use 21st century technology to teach 19th century country skills, wherever possible, thereby melding the best of both those worlds into something workable and, yes, sustainable.
So this means if you want to learn how to can foods, it's better to get on the internet and watch free instructional videos about canning than to drive 100 miles to attend a class. If you know someone down the road who does it and is willing to show you, then you're luckier still. But if not, there are plenty of plucky, self-sufficient types out there making very good YouTube videos on the topics you're interested in learning how to do.
One writer I know holds workshops on homesteading-type topics and brags about how how far some of her audience members come to take her workshops. That's not anything to brag about, to me. Because I believe that...
1) Teaching about sustainability is something we should be passing on to whomever wants to learn, free of charge. Intern on a sustainable farm, if you need truly intensive, hands-on knowledge, which can only be built over time. But layman's knowledge about growing food and sustainability are not things you should have to pay someone to teach you. They're skills you should have learned at your great-grandmother's knee, but didn't have the chance to. And like any basic skill they should be passed on, person to person, generation to generation, for no other reason than to make the future a better place.
2) If you're teaching about sustainability yet you (or your students) are putting hundreds of pounds of carbon pollutants into the air by using a private car or airplane to get to the workshop venue, you're missing the whole point. Don't talk the talk, walk the walk. Lighten your load on the planet by teaching locally or sharing your skills via your blog, the internet, or writing a book about it. The book can travel in a more eco-friendly fashion than you or your workshop attendees ever could.
Bottom line, you cannot untie the connection between sustainable and local. They are the two concepts that, put together, can change the future of the planet. But the minute it becomes a "for-pay" kind of knowledge, as soon as words like "net profit" or "commute miles" come into the picture, I think we've blown it.
Let's not blow it.