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COMMENTARY: Rutgers’ climate task force has work to do

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Wow, my first letter to The Daily Targum, which I read most days as a student at Rutgers from 1973-1977. 

I remember asking at orientation where to find the newspaper. Often I picked up a used copy on the campus bus.

In further nostalgia, one of the co-authors of a reading in the first environmental course I took was from Donella Meadows’s "The Limits to Growth." Decades later, I just submitted an article based, in part, on her “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System.” Guess it took a little while to soak in! Helpful to know if you get a C, of which I got a few.

Since my time at Rutgers, I have had many careers and roles, most of them involving pushing sustainability thinking in one way or the other.

So regarding the Targum commentary, “Students are obligated to support environmental justice,” about the Rutgers town hall meeting on sustainability by Anjali Madgula, I see some bases well covered, especially activism, justice and climate change. I remember when the latter two were minimally present, so this is nice progress. 

Two visits ago, I was impressed by how far the cafeteria had come on the food sustainability connection from when I worked putting spaghetti on plates in Davidson Commons to paying for expenses.

But as I continue to explore various sustainability circles around the world, through many initiatives and in many fields, I wonder if Rutgers is asking what it might not know, and in a range of areas.

I made a rare visit to the Rutgers Business School (RBS) last week to hear a lecture on corporate social responsibility. While it was very good in an academic and narrow sense, it missed the point of the larger potential of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to address difficult sustainability problems. The very paradigm under discussion, while not wrong, was not where it needs to be.

Does Rutgers know about new trends in the sustainability field, such as the subfields: transition and transformation, the push for alternative concepts like restoration to replace sustainability and whether that it is such a good idea, the unsettled debate between the “always be positive” school, versus “acknowledge your depression and learn to have a still-meaningful life?” 

Does it know about the ambiguities in the field, the deeper properties of the concept, its most exciting ideas, the very checkered past of various initiatives and what could be learned even from the failures? 

Are certain key departments coming to re-think even some of their core ideas based on sustainability, such as economics, business, agriculture, international development, political science, psychology, planning, design (if it exists at Rutgers), humanities, education and journalism? If not, are their majors asking them to?

Are the barriers to interdisciplinary thinking being overcome?

Someone should be asking, aside from justice, while environmentalism and sustainability are highly related, they are not the same thing. Are we conflating the two?

And as the article implies, even if these things are happening, are they happening quickly and deeply enough?

Hopefully it will not be another 40-plus years.

Matt Polsky is a Rutgers University graduate of the Class of 1977. 

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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