Dean’s Message: A Risk Worth Taking

Spring 2006 By the Numbers

The generosity and commitment of the school’s supporters have made tremendous improvements possible. ... The gifts noted here have led to a new home for our school (the Kroon Building, to be completed in 2008, will be Yale’s flagship green building…), a half-dozen new professorships, our growing work with undergraduates and a major increase in scholarship and internship aid for our students. Counting this year, we have now raised close to $100 million with the help of farsighted friends, and that has made all the difference.

Fall 2006

But now imagine that … [y]our world has just learned that it is going to be demolished to make room for an intergalactic hyperspatial express route. When your people complained to the Hyperspace Planning Council about this planned destruction, you were told that the proposed expressway plan had been duly posted in the local planning department in Alpha Centauri, and that the time for public comment had long since expired! (With apologies to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

As a result of these unfortunate developments, your people—all 6.5 billion of you—have now decided to colonize the pristine Earth. Your new assignment as environmental steward is to settle Earth in a way that allows all of you to enjoy a decent standard of living while having the smallest possible impact on Earth’s environment.

In contemplating this difficult assignment, two things occur to you right away. First, if you are going to sustain Earth’s environment, you had better understand how Earth works: how Earth’s abundant species interact among themselves and with the landscape; how Earth’s great natural cycles of water, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and others work together to sustain life; where the areas of greatest species richness and diversity and also the zones of greatest fragility are located. If you hope to disturb Earth minimally, then you have first to understand it. So there is, first and foremost, a huge project in science to be undertaken – the science of environmental sustainability.

Second, you see right away that all the nation-states fleeing your planet together must agree at the outset on a set of principles to guide your settlement of Earth, to do so in such a way that the planet will provide a lasting home for you and your people.

Spring 2007 Protecting Creation a Moral Duty

In January of this year I participated in a fascinating meeting of top U.S. scientists and leading evangelicals, about 15 of each. Being neither, it was not clear what I was doing there! But I’m glad I was, because it was an extraordinary and very hopeful experience. … The real focus was the environment, and the goal was to see if the two groups, spanning devout Christians to confirmed atheists, could unite to protect the Creation, a word we all agreed to use. … This diverse group truly came together, and we were able to capture that agreement in a powerful statement. And the two groups did not merely agree, they found that they liked, enjoyed and respected each other.

Fall 2007 Green By Design

One of my great pleasures as dean has been … steady strengthening of the school’s capacities in the emerging field of sustainable design. From the green chemist’s design of new molecules to replace the toxic ones of yesterday, to the design of new transportation and water systems for great cities, F&ES is increasingly in the business of designing the future we want to see. That requires creativity and inventiveness, backed by hard science and engineering and by an awareness of economic constraints. The good news is that the school is building enormous faculty strength – top people who can bring all these considerations together. I hope our school will gain increasing recognition as a major center for designing a sustainable future.

Spring 2008 Time for Civic Unreasonableness

Finally, I would argue that the failure to rise to the climate-change challenge is part of a larger failure to treat as priorities a number of major environmental threats and that we are all complicit in that failure. It is worth remembering what it has taken to build the current momentum for climate action: after a quarter century of neglect, societies now risk ruining the planet. And while the threat of disastrous climate disruption does seem to be motivational at last, many other environmental risks continue to be largely ignored. Our values are too materialistic, too anthropocentric and too contempocentric, with the result that we have hardly begun what Thomas Berry has said must be our Great Work—“moving the human project from its devastating exploitation to a benign presence.” George Bernard Shaw famously remarked that all progress depends on being unreasonable. It’s time for a large amount of civic unreasonableness. It is time for the environmental community—indeed, all of us—to step back from the day-to-day and develop a deeper critique of what is going on.

Fall 2008 The Fitful Birth of Kroon Hall

Now, most of the big decisions and, I trust, all of the big struggles are behind us. Kroon is rising. It is fun to see it take shape, and it will be a joy to be in it. Soon we will be able to enjoy the gift that the remarkable generosity of Mary Jane and Rick Kroon, Ed Bass, Carl Knobloch, Gil Ordway, Jonathan Rose, Coley Burke, Adrienne and John Mars, Joan and Dick Tweedy, William Waxter and many others, has made possible. We have learned a lot from this process, from working with some of the most talented and committed people in the world, like the inspired architects at Hopkins and Centerbrook and the green-building gurus at Atelier Ten. It’s been quite a ride. Yale has learned a lot. The whole process has brought the university forward. It has been a blessing and will be for a long time.

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