In colleges and universities across the United States, students, faculty, and staff are forging new paths to sustainability. From private liberal arts colleges to major research institutions to community colleges, sustainability concerns are being integrated into curricula, policies, and programs. New divisions, degree programs, and courses of study cross traditional disciplinary boundaries; Sustainability Councils become part of campus governance; and new sustainability issues link to historic social and educational missions.
Buildings are the nation’s greatest energy consumers. Forty percent of all our energy is used for heating, cooling, lighting, and powering machines and devices in buildings. And despite decades of investment in green construction technologies, residential and commercial buildings remain stubbornly energy inefficient.
Attempts by local governments to privatize water services have met with furious opposition. Activists argue that to give private companies control of the water supply is to turn water from a common resource into a marketized commodity. Moreover, to cede local power to a global corporation puts communities at the center of controversies over economic globalization.
McDonald’s promises to use only beef, coffee, fish, chicken, and cooking oil obtained from sustainable sources. Coca-Cola promises to achieve water neutrality. Unilever has set a deadline of 2020 to reach 100 percent sustainable agricultural sourcing. Walmart has pledged to become carbon neutral. Today, big-brand companies seem to be making commitments that go beyond the usual “greenwashing” efforts undertaken largely for public relations purposes.
Americans take for granted that when we flip a switch the light will go on, when we turn up the thermostat the room will get warm, and when we pull up to the pump gas will be plentiful and relatively cheap. In The End of Energy, Michael Graetz shows us that we have been living an energy delusion for forty years. Until the 1970s, we produced domestically all the oil we needed to run our power plants, heat our homes, and fuel our cars. Since then, we have had to import most of the oil we use, much of it from the Middle East.
The biosphere—the Earth’s thin layer of life—dates from nearly four billion years ago, when the first simple organisms appeared. Many species have exerted enormous influence on the biosphere’s character and productivity, but none has transformed the Earth in so many ways and on such a scale as Homo sapiens. In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere’s stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day.
“Buy local,” “buy green,” “buy organic,” “fair trade”--how effective has the ethical consumption movement been in changing market behavior? Can consumers create fair and sustainable supply chains by shopping selectively?
Can a celebrity chef find common ground with an urban community organizer? Can a maker of organic cheese and a farm worker share an agenda for improving America’s food? In the San Francisco Bay area, unexpected alliances signal the widening concerns of diverse alternative food proponents. What began as niche preoccupations with parks, the environment, food aesthetics, and taste has become a broader and more integrated effort to achieve food democracy: agricultural sustainability, access for all to good food, fairness for workers and producers, and public health.
In a little more than a century, the Japanese diet has undergone a dramatic transformation. In 1900, a plant-based, near-subsistence diet was prevalent, with virtually no consumption of animal protein. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Japan’s consumption of meat, fish, and dairy had increased markedly (although it remained below that of high-income Western countries).
Energy supplies are tightening. Persistent pollutants are accumulating. Food security is declining. There is no going back to the days of reckless consumption, but there is a possibility--already being realized in communities across North America and around the world--of localizing, of living well as we learn to live well within immutable constraints. This book maps the transition to a more localized world.