Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

"Observe that the 'haves' are those who have freedom, and that it is freedom that the 'have-nots' have not." Ayn Rand

"The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not 'selflessness' or 'sacrifice', but integrity." Ayn Rand

03 July 2008

Sustainability on Campus

In a publication called Academic Sourcebook, the lead article of the June 2008 issue is entitled "Sustainability on Campus" by Skip Derra of Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. It describes a program in sustainability at Arizona State University. He begins with "One convert at a time is a noble goal for any altruistic endeavor, especially sustainability, which has long laid low in the grassroots of society." Convert, noble goal, altruistic endeavor, grassroots of society are words and phrases ringing of religious zeal and selfless, underdog struggle for the sake of society at the expense of self, following paths well pioneered by many religions and all forms of socialism.

ASU's president Michael Crow has made sustainability a university-wide priority. He also was much involved in creating the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. This is a man with a deep commitment to the politically correct worldview. So, ASU has the first freestanding, degree-granting School of Sustainability in the United States. Jonathan Fink, director of the Global Institute of Sustainability and ASU's sustainability officer says that "We work with government agencies to make sure the problems we are working on are the ones that actually will have an impact." Yes, this is a good strategy to be close to the sources of government funding and stroking the egos of the bureaucrats in them. It is also an admission that the universities are not able to discern the important problems and must turn to government, which has a long track record of not being able to prioritize problems of any sort or of providing practical solutions to those it tackles. This is the blind leading the blind, big time.

So, ASU is providing free bus passes to all faculty, staff, and students in the name of sustainability. Sounds like a nice perk. They are renting cars on a Flexcar program to encourage alternative methods of commuting. I have no idea how that saves energy, though possibly it does reduce the need for parking lots, providing the Flexcars are used enough. They have a program requiring the purchase of recycled products, though many recycled products cost more energy to produce than the original manufacture did and others offer reduced product specifications, such as recycled paper products. They have a commitment to solar energy and have a goal to provide 15% of their 4 to 7 MW of power from solar energy. I am not sure whether the 4 to 7 MW range means that they are unsure of their energy usage, unsure how much energy they will be using when they achieve their 15% goal, or this is an annual rate projected from their winter usage versus their summer usage. They are also growing some of their food on campus, planting citrus, date, and nut trees. They are also growing herbs. A picture shows a narrow strip of garden plowed next to a building. It is hard to imagine that the farming of this narrow strip will reach the efficiency of a farmer managing his agro-business. But, it may educate students to recognize a few of the plants whose fruits they eat, at least.

They do talk about the need to conserve water on the desert campus. Certainly if people are going to insist on living in human inhospitable areas such as the Arizona deserts in large numbers, they have some real sustainability problems. Learning ways to economically conserve energy is also a good thing. Finding ways to recycle products that actually make sense economically, such as recycling aluminum cans, makes good sense. But, sense on university campuses is in short supply. These programs of study would make more sense if they were coupled with close interactions with businesses other than those seeking subsidies from the government for sustainability programs.

There is a sidebar describing programs in sustainability at Stanford University, at Rochester Institute of Technology, at Portland State University, and at Berea College in Kentucky. Rochester Institute of Technology is the university at which my youngest daughter Katie is entering her senior year in a biotechnology degree program. The Galisano Institute for Sustainability there focuses on research and education in sustainable design, pollution prevention, remanufacturing, and alternative energy development. Such a program may have merit, if it is carried out as a matter of rational investigation and education, rather than as the all too popular religious and socialist crusade.


miss breeziness said...

I've heard of a similar thing going on at the University of Delaware. Only, in that case, it was far more coercive, and also featured programmes about "white privilege" and "social justice". The details can be found here.

To tell the truth, as much as these things annoy me, as much as I feel they are a threat to my happiness and that of others, as much as I detest guilt trips of any kind, I cannot be very angry at the perpetrators. They themselves are, after all, probably the worst victims of so much undeserved guilt. Case in point: My wealthy white liberal friend who wrote a long, angst-filled post on how she had "white privilege" and everyone else did too. Reading it, you'd think this was America in the 1940's...

I've realized that we automatically give ourselves the permission to treat others the way we find it acceptable to treat ourselves, and so all this guilt tripping is...projection.

Charles R. Anderson said...

I too have read about the racial stereotyping program at the U. of Delaware. Because the U. of Delaware has a biotechnology program, it was one of the universities we looked at carefully for Katie. She decided she did not even want to apply there as it turned out.

It does often seem as though there are people who work overtime trying to find reasons to loathe themselves. In the process, it appears that some of them are actually setting up excuses for their bad behavior. For instance, if merely being white means that you cannot understand black people and that you must be prejudiced against them, then you may feel a bit guilty about that prejudice, but how can you feel very bad about it, since determinism makes you that way? And this viewpoint is also associated with a refusal to believe that any other white person is not highly prejudiced, therefore your prejudice is normal. At the same time, whatever inability to escape prejudice for white people exists, then it must also exist for every other racial group. So there is a very inconsistent angst going on here. You are bad, but you cannot help it, so you are neither abnormal nor morally responsible. But this is such a flimsy viewpoint that you must maintain a fury at anyone who would point out the inconsistency of the viewpoint.

Not surprisingly, many who take up this viewpoint are among the more highly prejudiced people themselves. Many of the Democrat elitists I have known have been especially prejudiced against blacks. They really do view them as helpless children whom they, the elitists, must provide parentage to. They really look down their noses in many cases at the blacks and not surprisingly sell them a package of frauds. For reasons I cannot understand, most blacks think these people have their interests at heart, even though many of them have some sense that they do not and believe that all whites are conspiring to take advantage of them. I think the white political types in the Democrat party are doing just that in many cases. As a result, these white liberal elitists do have much to feel guilty about.

miss breeziness said...

I'm glad Katie decided not to go there, then! :) She was spared a lot of horrendous stuff, from what I've heard about the Delaware program. It's pretty Orwellian, to say the least.

It's not that bad in New Zealand universities - not the one I went to, anyway - although left-leaning lecturers abound. At least, from what I know, they're not making anyone sit through "sensitivity training".

Actually, I heartily applaud those programs that seek technological solutions to environmental problems. Or I would if, like you said, they didn't come with all that political baggage. The trouble is that, in some circles, being against the typical leftist slant on environmentalism "means" that you like smoggy air, dirty water, and all the trees chopped down.

As for the social justice issue, I agree that there are many rich white liberals who do indeed have more than a bit of racism inside them. But regarding my friend, and other young people like her, I'd say they were motivated by liberal guilt. (Of course, liberal guilt and racist feelings aren't mutually exclusive, but I'll have to have lots of evidence before I tag someone with the "racist" label. It's a very serious charge, after all.)

As Allan Levite wrote, there needs to be some way to free those liberals from that undeserved guilt. I wonder how. (Of course, there are liberals who are genuinely guilty of things. But I'm referring only to the undeserved guilty feelings here.)

Charles R. Anderson said...

It is a great thing that we are finding ways to clean the environment. It is good that we make a rational effort to decrease pollution and the health problems it causes. As with many things, there is a rational balance to be made of the effort and resources devoted to cleaning up our activities and the many other good things we might do with our time. If the cleaning up of the environment is primarily to be mandated by threatened violence to those who will not willingly go along with the plan, then we need to be careful not to recklessly resort to force. We need to hold a rational concern that we may override other valid individual goals than those of cleaning the environment. There are judgment calls that have to be made here and the issues can be quite complex. The wisdom to make these judgments well does not come easily, but we are obligated to make a serious effort to do our best. This means we must become informed about the means of cleaning the environment, the benefits of doing so, the costs of doing so, and the effects mandates will have on the goals of individuals.

I think that you are right that many young people are free of racial prejudices, but at least here in America, are taught in the public schools and the universities that they should feel guilty if they are not members of one of the anointed victim minority groups. They are seriously pounded upon that they cannot know the many ways in which these minority groups are victimized, so they must simply learn to accede to any demands the victims might make upon them as a reasonable retribution or at least a way of balancing the ledger of wrongs. Of course, it is the present generation of the minority group who will reap the benefits, not those who were actually harmed. As such, it is a symbolic atonement, but one which creates a new injustice on top of the old injustice. This second wrong does not fix the first wrong. It is simply a doubling of the wrong. We must break free of this nonsense and truly strive to evaluate each and every person on the basis of their individual merits. We have lost sight of that as the one primary responsibility that we have to each other.

If we do this, then there is no guarantee that each racial group will be held on average in equal esteem, but there is then a guarantee that each individual of any race will have his or her efforts and achievements recognized for their merit. If everyone were to accept this as our aim, then I suspect that we would see a general rise in the quality of individual character and achievement.

miss breeziness said...

Bravo! (Claps.) Well said, Mr. Anderson. Very well said. However, you have not yet defeated my legions of privileged white people who believe this! BWAHAHAHAHA...Ahem. :)

(Sorry, just some humour to lighten things up a bit.)

Charles R. Anderson said...

Surely we have convinced any possible liberal that we are right and they are now smiling broadly because they are enlightened at last! Doesn't it always work that way? People surely will respond to our overwhelmingly convincing argument. Isn't this what people do?

No, Charles, they usually cling to their familiar principles, however weak they may be. But hope springs eternal! Sometimes someone is delighted to make the truth their own.

yashiromishoone said...

Hi Charles

I came across your blog after running a search on google for “objectivism and sustainability” Anyway, Fascinating stuff. I’m doing some research at the moment and looking at how objectivism might tie in with sustainability. It’s a pretty fundamental issue in my opinion. I wonder what your views are on that. I think up to now at least the reasons given for the need for sustainability have always revolved around some sort of social responsibility. It seems to always be looked at through collectivist goggles which I think is the reason for the slow take up in America in relation to Europe. I’ve just been introduced to Ayn Rand and I have to say, I’m struggling to see how we can marry her views with the need to act responsibly with regards to our individual impact on the environment. The objectivist’s rational for embracing sustainability is not very clear. Generally I don’t understand what motivation an individual with objectivist views would have for reducing/eliminating the negative externalities of their actions. I would be grateful if you could shed some light on this issue. cheers

Charles R. Anderson said...


In my next-to-last comment above, I made a partial response to this issue, but much more should be said. The principle point would be that our environment is important to us as human beings and because we must alter it to improve our lives and to ensure our survival. We cannot leave it generally alone and pristine, but we must treat it as rationally important to our lives.

I believe that the value that the environment has is not innate. Its value is precisely its value to human beings through its effects upon the quality of our lives. The resources we use from the earth are of value only insofar as they have value to us. It is our creative and productive activities that make resources such as oil, coal, water, tungsten, nickel, diamonds, tin, lead, uranium, peat, and much more valuable. The value of these resources changes as our use for them and our ability to use them changes. We have proven very adaptable and resourceful over time.

It is impossible to imagine that John Galt would dump his garbage in Midas Mulligan's backyard. I am sure that he would respect Midas's property rights and he and other members of Galt's Gulch would find a very suitable way to handle their garbage which would be consistent with a benevolent regard for one another and would certainly respect all property rights. I believe that any truly rational person has an appreciation for the effort of living that results in substantial respect for other humans, and even for other animals and plants. A person with a good sense of life enjoys living and takes some pleasure in seeing other humans, animals, and plants flourishing. Benevolence and joy of life yield respect for other life. That respect should be greater for humans, but it also includes animals, especially those of higher intelligence, and even plants. This is not a playground for religion, however. The real pleasures of seeing other life flourish have to be judged rationally at all times. Choices and trade-offs have to be made, usually to favor the quality of human life over that of other animal and plant life. Individual choices will vary and this is one of the reasons why we have property rights to the land.

Sustainability is primarily a matter of people making rational choices with their time and their creative effort. In many contexts, recycling aluminum cans makes sense. This is primarily an economic issue and people should be free to profit from their recycling efforts, not be required to do so. Recycling glass probably is never economic and therefore is likely to be irrational, yet one should not litter trails and waterways with bottles. Generally, recycling paper is not really sensible either. It makes more sense to plant more trees on tree farms in the southeast, which already provide most of our paper.

Water use is a very real sustainability issue in the American West in many areas. But, this is an issue that again requires the utmost rational attention. It is not helped by government subsidies for some users of water, while others are left to fend for themselves. The free market pricing mechanisms are as important with respect to water use as they are with respect to other products. These issues are complex and I am not expert in them. I love water, so I have always chosen to live where water is plentiful. I do not wish to feel guilty or to pay a fortune for my morning shower! Besides, I like seeing flourishing green trees and grass. Life needs water, so I am mystified that so many people want to live where it is in short supply.

Pollution is again a very complex issue, but it is clear that the pollution that comes with living must be held within bounds that respect the needs of humans in living. We need steel, but we also do not want acid rain corroding our cars and all other metal objects and we do not want many people to have breathing problems. Trade-offs have to be made and they will take into account our overall well being. When people are living fairly comfortably in buildings of steel to keep them warm and have many bridges of steel to allow them to get to work and visit relatives, and cars of steel to drive to work and to their friend's home, they may then start becoming more concerned about the frequency of breathing problems. It becomes very rational to increase the requirements to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from steel plants. But...we should not forget that the cost of steel is still an important factor in the quality of our lives also. People own and work for steel companies and we must not excessively mess up their lives either. There may be times when the clean-up of steel production in a plant should be partially borne by the government that demands its clean-up. The clean-up requirement will cause steel to become more expensive and will cause people to shift to alternative materials, so a government decree for less SO2 emissions decreases the value of the business and is a form of government takings. Rational evaluations are required as always.

An example of a clearly irrational evaluation is that we should greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions because some fools are claiming that the earth is catastrophically warming due to human CO2 emissions. The scientific evidence for this is not only lacking, but the evidence is that this is not even occurring to a significant degree. Rationality should reign.

Sustainability with respect to oil use is another issue under discussion these days. Actually, it has been under discussion since the early 1900s. We have always found more oil than was predicted was available. This does not mean that fossil plant produced oil is not in some kind of finite supply. Of course it is. But, much of the world, including large areas of the U.S., has not been explored with modern oil exploration techniques. Many areas known to have oil have not been sufficiently checked out to know how much oil they have. In addition, there are sources of carbon which when hydrolyzed in the presence of iron will form long hydrocarbon chains, that is oil. One such source is coal, but there must also be huge amounts of carbon dissolved in the iron and nickel of the earth's core. Where the molten iron and nickel rises and cools, there will be much carbon at the surface of such deep deposits. This supply will be huge. Someday, we may use it.

In time, more direct uses of solar energy are likely to become more important, but we do not have to panic and develop them overnight. We really can afford to let the developments continue until these sources become economical. Crash programs are very, very wasteful. In the meantime, it is perfectly fine to use more oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear power in whatever combinations the economics operating in the free market give us. Wind farms are also fine, where the government is neither mandating them or subsidizing them beyond normal R&D effort levels.

We are in a era of heavy-handed government mandates on many environmental and energy issues, in which irrational evaluations rule the day. The Objectivist believes these issues are important and deserve a great deal of rational thought, while irrational whims are excluded from the debate.

yashiromishoone said...

Hi Charles

Thank you for your insightful and extensive reply. It was certainly a very interesting read. At times it offered a very different point of view from what’s out there which is absolutely fantastic. Dissenting voices are the currency of research. Your background certainly gives your views some authority (so I’ll have to go and do some checking) and as there were a multitude of different topics covered in your post I will need a few days to consider my response. I expect that I will be taking issue with a few of your assertions and look to delve a little deeper into some of the issues you brought up. I look forward to further discussion.


Charles R. Anderson said...

I will look forward to your future comments and such challenges as you may issue. The sustainability and environmental issues are sometimes very complex, but there is little excuse for some of the extreme nonsense that is often spouted as certainty by the more radical environmentalists and those who are very pessimistic about sustainability issues.

Some issues are difficult to resolve. Just how much effort and expense is justified to prevent pollution which causes health issues for some people? Clearly as technology for cleaning smokestack output improves and becomes cheaper, for instance, it makes more sense to require lower emissions. But, voters and government agencies have great problems with making rational decisions on such issues. They tend to become clouded in emotions and ignorance of what the other consequences of requiring lower emissions will be. We have seen cases in which efforts to clean up the environment caused great harm to many people. There is a delicate and shifting balance of forces here which people have a tendency to treat like a wildly swinging pendulum. Rationally, we may wish the forces to be in a centered equilibrium, but instead the pendulum spends most of its time at its extreme excursion points. China, India, and Russia like the pendulum at a very high emissions point, while western Europe and the U.S. want it at very low emissions. We tend to ignore the negative impact of very low emissions on production and on growth, since many of us are quite well off. When you are still very poor, it is harder to put the brakes on your economy in the interest of cleaner air. But, we surely do not want air quality like that in Russia, China, and India. Health is important and it is hard to be productive when you are unhealthy.