Thursday, June 25, 2009

Better Education

Last week I mentioned one of my heros, David Orr. He runs the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College in Ohio and is responsible for the creation of their high performance building, The AJ Lewis Center.

What makes the building different?
It derived it's materials locally, cycles it's nutrients and runs on current solar power—producing more energy than it consumes. Yes, the upfront costs were greater and it took time to plan, but consider the total costs (annual operating costs, externalized costs, i.e. pollution, and hidden subsidies not used) and the building is a fraction the cost of a typical building.

More importantly, the building is more comfortable to be in, e.g. toxin-free. Most importantly, Oberlin uses the building as a teaching tool for it's students, from science to math, to history and economics.

What does it have to do with nature? It's modeled on how nature works.

The only thing crazy about the story is ten years after the building has been completed, there are not more buildings like this.

More on Orr:
David Orr argues for radical reform to our education. While nothing radical with that, Orr doesn't argue for change to better prepare a labor force for the global economy or to promote maximum upward mobility. Rather, Orr argues we've got to move past the Industrial Revolution and prepare students to create an economy that works on a planet with finite resources. In his words:

"The generation now being educated will have to do what we, the present generation, have been unable or unwilling to do: stabilize a world population which is growing at the rate of a quarter of a million each day; stabilize and then reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, which threaten to change the climate; protect biological diversity, now declining at an estimated rate of one hundred to two hundred species per day; reverse the destruction of rain forests, now being lost at the rate of one hundred and sixteen square miles or more each day; and conserve soils, now being eroded at the rate of sixty-five million tons per day. Those who follow us must learn how to use energy and materials with great efficiency. They must learn how to utilize solar energy in all its forms. They must rebuild the economy in order to eliminate waste and pollution. They must learn how to manage renewable resources for the long term. They must begin the great work of repairing, as much as possible, the damage done to the earth in the past two hundred years of industrialization. And they must do all of this while addressing worsening social and racial inequities. No generation has ever faced a more daunting agenda."*

*from "Environmental Literacy: Education as if the Earth Mattered."

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