Sustainability comes to life

Sandra Steingraber's book was used as the first book for all incoming freshmen this year in part with the sustainability theme. Shelby Shepherd/The Buzz.
Sandra Steingraber’s book was used as the first book for all incoming freshmen this year in part with the sustainability theme. Shelby Shepherd/The Buzz.

Snow in October is a weather phenomenon most would describe as ‘crazy.’ But biologist and author Sandra Steingraber says it is not crazy at all.

“The weather used to be the safe topic,” said Steingraber during her Oct. 22 lecture at St. Ambrose University. “To be polite we could summarize it as crazy. That’s the safe answer.”

Steingraber says the word ‘crazy’ is people’s answer for anything they cannot really explain, like 30 degree weather and snow on the day of her lecture, only a week after the area had seen temperatures in the 80s.

All the scientific evidence to back up these so called ‘crazy’ instances are out there, it is just a matter of taking the time to learn about them.It is then that people stop seeing things such as unseasonable weather as out of the norm, and realize it has become the norm.

“(The weather) is in fact consistent with the fact that we have loaded up our atmosphere, but we still see it as crazy rather than rational,” Steingraber said to an auditorium packed with students, faculty and members of the surrounding community.

One question she wanted to answer is why don’t people know, or why do they refuse to know these scientifically proven facts all pointing to the environment being in trouble. Steingraber answered that question with what she referred to as simply psychology.

She says people do not want to know about a problem that seems too big or out of their control. It makes them feel helpless, so they would rather live in their utopia instead of face reality.

But Fr. Robert ‘Bud’ Grant, chair of the sustainability committee for St. Ambrose University had a different opinion.

“I’m not sure people are, (this) generation particularly, disabled by fear,” Grant said.

While Grant says he does understand Steingraber’s point of view, he personally thinks the problem lies somewhere else.

He says that many people are just uninformed, and even those who are informed do not truly understand the extent of environmental issues. This can be attributed to the fact that society seems to be more interested in immediate problems and does not look towards future issues.

“We tend to put off the longer term and more complicated difficult questions because we can,” Grant said.

Regardless of why nothing is being done, the consensus from both was simple, changes in the environment need to happen now. Steingraber says that falls on each individual.

“I think we are all a part of an orchestra and now we must play to save the world symphony,” Steingraber said.

She explained that each person must find what instrument they play. This is in reference to individual people’s talents. Steingraber’s instrument is made up of many things, like biologist, writer, poet, activist, but for the symphony to be played, all must take the instrument made up of their talents and join in.

St. Ambrose University has already begun playing their part in the symphony. The school’s academic theme for the year is sustainability. Steingraber was a part of the lecture series, and all incoming freshman were required to read her book Living Downstream. 

The challenge now is for each individual to use their talents and abilities and become part of the solution rather than continuing to contribute to environmental problems.

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