As expected, the 4th Annual Campus and Community Sustainability conference has brought together a group of exceptional speakers who are presenting on a number of thought-provoking topics.
My first session of the morning, entitled “Sustainability in the Media,” began as an exploration into the (limited) coverage of sustainable stories in the media. The panelists consisted of radio, television, newspaper, and website correspondents from the Tampa Bay area, and each weighed in on the challenge of reporting during such a dramatic change in the journalism industry. What started as a focused look at sustainability developed into a sometimes heated exchange regarding the shrinking size of newsrooms across the country and their increasing inability to validate and report on various technical issues due to staff reductions. We were unable to reach any definitive conclusions regarding the role of the media in educating the public (especially with the growing effect of “blurring the line” between fact and opinion that is taking place at many major news media outlets), but we all agreed that the main focus should remain on fact-checking, vetting, and confirming all sources and stories in order to retain integrity and credibility.
The afternoon sessions I attended ranged from the practical to the abstract, including one session on the importance (and feasibility) of using natural landscaping methods instead of fertilizers to promote healthy plant growth. Along with an exploration of the Zero Waste efforts taking place in our own Alachua County, other sessions included a look at starting and supporting Sustainability groups and programs on university campuses.
Perhaps the most interesting sessions of the day were the last 2 seminars which provided a look at the issue of sustainability from a religious and then anthropological perspective. Rev. Warren Clark spoke about many interfaith programs encouraging congregations to embrace environmental stewardship and energy waste reduction (see links below) The last presentation was made by Christian Wells, the newly-appointed Director of Sustainability at the University of South Florida, who is also the Director of the Anthropology Department. His main point was that land use management has a profound impact on soil quality and agricultural productivity, and ultimately, the survival of a society. Mr. Wells emphasized the error in determining land use policy based on a relative short timespan of 100-200 years, citing several case studies, including Maya and Roman population centers that, as a result of agricultural decisions made thousands of years ago, still affect the landscape and usability of entire regions. Perhaps his most striking statement was that thousands of years ago, the area now known as Iraq was a tropical jungle, that may have been dried out as a result of poor land management practices.
As if a full day of information and lively discussions weren’t enough, the conference also included an on-site tour and dinner at the Sweetwater Organic Farm, a beautiful oasis right in the heart of Tampa. Founded in 1993 by Rick Martinez, this Community Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) farm now has over 500 members who share in the risk and rewards of local organic farming. In addition to enjoying a visit to a pesticide-free agricultural oasis, we were also treated to a refreshingly delicious and healthy 3-course dinner. I can definitively say that the organic free-range chicken was the best I’ve had in years!
After all this adventure, I’m certainly looking forward to Day 2 and will post a new blog entry as soon as possible. Until then, please explore the following websites to learn more about how to get involved with sustainability in your community: