Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A visit to Columbia University grad school of public health

Several months back, at the start of this blog, I set out two approaches to advancing the sustainability discussion in NYC.  One was promoting an appealing, win-win sustainability initiative at the grassroots level, the other was delivering a very detailed message about our multifaceted predicament to a network of thought leaders.  The first project has been rolled out through the white roof campaign.

For a campaign of the second sort, I contacted Dan Bednarz, a public health PhD who writes about how medical and health institutions can become sustainable in preparation for climate change, resource depletion and financial crisis. 

He agreed to take the bus from Pittsburgh to NYC if I could book him a talk at Columbia University's graduate school of public health, which I did.  My theory was that spreading the word about these issues, and ways to respond, within specialist networks, might accelerate the change process. That whole viral marketing thing, you know?  Well, we can only guess at the final effects, but we did get about fifteen grad students to hear Dan, way uptown at the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital complex north of Harlem around 168th Street.  Dan's a nice guy, an occasional contributor to Energy Bulletin.  It turns out the American Journal of Public Health is planning a special issue on fuel depletion, and Dan will have an article in it on how hospitals can prepare for volatility of price and supply of fuel.  He's not yet a big star in public health academia.

Bednarz repeatedly tried to explain
that physical constraints on fuel supplies would have real world effects, and that while technical innovation can extend limited fuel supplies, it cannot magically increase or replace them.  It was amazing to listen to the students.  Although clearly very bright people, they were mostly unable to grasp his points.  

Dr. Bednarz writes about how health institutions, facing financial and resource constraints, will have to increasingly focus on having highly trained medical personnel teach community volunteers about public health and preventative health practices.  Before such a conversation can take place, the audience must be willing to accept that the possibility that such constraints are likely, and that preparing for them would be prudent.  Since neither was the case, the work of the evening was to present an introductory peak oil talk, which Bednarz did.  We thanked our graduate student hosts and went our separate ways into the night.  Such is the nature of the work. 

With the completion of the campaigns based on the two organizing approaches mentioned before, neither with outstanding obvious success, at the moment, I'm at a crossroads, seeking new project ideas, and potential collaborators.  

Also, by the way, I'm starting to look for a new day job.  It looks like the conventional job I've been at for many year has just come to the end of its story arc, or I'm in a different place, or both. If you have any ideas regarding full time work promoting or implementing sustainability initiatives, please contact me.


Last week there was a panel on peak oil and peak soil, with James Howard Kunstler, Joan Gussow and Michelle Owens, organized by Eating Liberally and the New School.  Kudos to blogger Kerry Trueman of EL, and Nevin Cohen of the NS, for being willing to connect the safe and acceptable topics of
local agriculture and healthy eating with the fuel depletion issue, still deeply taboo in NYC.  Perhaps more important than whatever wit and wisdom the panelists displayed was the opportunity to have these issues connected in public with an audience of over 80, by sponsoring organizations perhaps willing to repeat the exploration.

Last night, sponsored a rare appearance of author and activist Starhawk, who has been famous for decades, within certain modest circles. 
In contrast to the Columbia talk, a room of over 100 seats was entirely sold out.  Yes, she's famous enough to actually sell tickets! As aware of the multiple crises as Dr. Bednarz, she has responded through spiritual, psychological, cultural and political practices. 

How have those responses managed to make her so popular and so famous? Notes from the Starhawk talk coming up in the next post.

1 comment:

  1. Since I believe public health measures have been responsible for most of the quality of life increases in the last century, protecting public health (along with localizing food, etc.) is a vital part of the mission. Thanks for the re-cap, look forward to Starhawk's notes.