January 23, 2012

Vol. 27 , No. 07   


View Entire Issue (Vol. 27 , No. 07)


Resilience in a Black Swan World
DAVID ORR
TUESDAY, JANUARY 24, 2012

“The real fault line in American politics is not between liberals and conservatives.... It is, rather, in how we orient ourselves to the generations to come who will bear the consequences, for better and for worse, of our actions."
-David Orr, from Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse. (Oxford University Press, 2009)

David W. Orr is the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics and Special Assistant to the President of Oberlin College and Executive Director of the Oberlin Project. He is the recipient of seven Honorary degrees and other awards including The Millennium Leadership Award from Global Green, the Bioneers Award, the National Wildlife Federation Leadership Award, a Lyndhurst Prize acknowledging “persons of exceptional moral character, vision, and energy,” and the Santa Monica Library “Pioneer Award for contributions to sustainability literature.”

Orr’s career as a scholar, teacher, writer, speaker, and entrepreneur spans fields as diverse as environment and politics, environmental education, campus greening, green building, ecological design, and climate change. He is the author of seven books and co-editor of three others. His first book, Ecological Literacy (SUNY, 1992), was described as a “true classic” by Garrett Hardin. A second book, Earth in Mind (1994/2004) is praised by people as diverse as biologist E. O. Wilson and writer, poet, and farmer, Wendell Berry. Both are widely read and used in hundreds of colleges and universities. Hope is an Imperative: The Essential David Orr (Island Press, 2010) is a collection of his writings from 1985 to 2010.

In 1996 he organized the effort to design the first substantially green building on a U.S. college campus. The Adam Joseph Lewis Center at Oberlin was later named by the U.S. Department of Energy as “One of Thirty Milestone Buildings in the 20th Century,” and by The New York Times as the most interesting of a new generation of college and university buildings. The Lewis Center purifies all of its wastewater and is the first college building in the U.S. powered entirely by sunlight. But most important it became a laboratory in sustainability that is training some of the nation’s brightest and most dedicated students for careers in solving environmental problems.

In an influential article in the Chronicle of Higher Education 2000 Orr proposed the goal of carbon neutrality for colleges and universities and subsequently organized and funded an effort to define a carbon neutral plan for his own campus at Oberlin. Seven years later hundreds of colleges and universities, including Oberlin, have made that pledge.

Recent projects include a two year $1.2 million collaborative project to define a 100 days climate action plan for the Obama administration (http://www.climateactionproject.com), and a project with prominent legal scholars across the U.S. to define the legal rights of posterity in cases where the actions of the present generation might deprive posterity of “life, liberty, and property.” He is also active in efforts to stop mountaintop removal in Appalachia and develop a new economy based on ecological restoration and wind energy. He is presently the Executive Director of the Oberlin Project which is focused on making the City of Oberlin a model of full-spectrum sustainability and replicating that effort through a National Sustainable Communities Coalition.

David Orr's talk is cosponsored by the Roberts Environmental Center at Claremont McKenna College.