There are a variety of critiques a conservative position could make about our sustainability theme. The term sustainability itself is vague: Who exactly are we sustaining? Only ourselves? Intellectual Takeouts essay would suggest that the sustainability of others off the Hill should enter into St. Olafs decision-making, but does that fit into the responsibilities we have as citizens and as students?
The goal of social justice, as connected to environmental stability, is apparent in the sustainability theme, but is the sub-goal of social justice a legitimate element of the pursuit of environmental sustainability? When we aim to preserve the lands integrity, through what lens do we judge that integrity?
Even if we agree upon the basic goals of sustainability renewable energy, safe food, preserved natural areas there are a variety of means to achieve these ends. Are our methods the most efficient and economically available?
But Intellectual Takeout touches on none of these scholarly questions. It does make some cheap shots at landfills and economics, shots which any scientist or economist would question. But primarily, the articles arguments center on the need to preserve a set of cultural values which remain unarticulated in so many words.
The article also points out that Professor Farrells paper assumes were burning too much fossil fuel, were not eating healthy foods, were not respecting workers rights, were wasteful, and were spoiling the environment. Those are serious and controversial charges against our culture.
Professor Farrells statements are indeed normative, and they could be an important springboard for moral and ethical discussions, and for asking questions like, How does one determine whats wasteful and whats economic self-interest? How does the science of the environment affect our cultural values? Is culture a mutually agreed upon image? What assumptions and biases are inherent in a liberal environmental perspective?
Maybe its unrealistic to expect a short article to address such large issues, but if Intellectual Takeout aims to offer an alternative perspective which challenges college students to see the other side, it should represent the other side with all the clarity and legitimacy it deserves.
Instead, the article leaves its readers with a surfeit of the kind of generalities and cultural stereotypes that have created todays polarized, unpleasant and unintelligible political environment, an environment which both conservatives and liberals should lament. Instead of being elevated to a scholarly subject with precision and civility, the sustainability theme has been lumped into the sloppy category of cultural opinions, a divisive us and them grouping.
Liberal bias in colleges including St. Olaf may be a reality, but exposing such a bias through incomplete arguments and reactive vocabulary does not fulfill the larger mission of encouraging students to re-examine their assumptions.
A well-written, thoughtful conservative article about sustainability could have been a crucial keystone in environmental discussions at St. Olaf. But for now, the nature of college at St. Olaf remains as unexamined as before, and at a liberal arts institution an unexamined life is to be deplored.
Contriubuting writer Mary Sotos is a junior from Elmhurst, Ill. She majors in environmental studies.