Sustainability is:
a balance in environmental, social, and economic consideration of all components of the world's living and non-living systems. To fit into this balance, humanity must achieve resilience, continued learning, and consciousness of our relationship with the Earth.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Resources Mobile (Rock-mobile)

I created a mobile with items group-members have collected from the landscape in Iceland as a way to focus in on how the group has learned about resources. The stones, shells, and sea glass most of us have acquired during our time here are pieces we have taken from the land: resources provided by the land, which we take for our memory, pleasure, and inspiration. Slowly, we have picked up these pieces from all of the places we have gone, for their beauty, uniqueness, their feel, weight, or distinction from their surroundings. We have shown them to each other in cupped palms; like treasures, we have murmured approval and appreciation for each others collections. I have always felt a conflict about these types of collections, and I am not alone in tis feeling as one member of our group has not gathered any rocks or shells. I continue to take a couple here and there, but is it right to gather these pieces of beauty? Is it right to take one stone, just a little one, made up of the materials of this place, miles and miles across the ocean, never to contribute back into the land that creates it? I remember someone telling me as a child, "If everyone took a stone from the summit of this mountain, no matter how small, the mountain would be a whole lot shorter." I remember this every time I pick something up, and silently struggle with it. I know if every member of the human race came to Iceland and took one stone, that it would result in quite the excavation. In this sense I liken our mobile to the way humans use resources in general -- I relate it in the questions of how much to take, if it is right to take any, and how our use effects the environment from which these resources are taken. I am not claiming it is wrong, as an expose of our bad habit, but rather as a representation, in part, of my questions about resources.

Mobiles are whimsical and hang over the cradles of infants. I conducted interviews with each group member, from which I gathered statements and ideas about how humans use resources, what needs to change, and in what ways time spent in Iceland has influenced these opinions. All of these ideas, as well as each of our little treasures, hang in this whimsical frame, floating above us. In a way I hope these ideas, criticisms, and inspirations are to float above future generations of our species, a mobile for the infant of the collective human race, to inspire change.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What I Learned

This semester has helped me a lot in terms of my understanding of myself and my relationship to my role as a sustainability leader. This semester has allowed me the time to think about what I can do to become a better person both in sustainability and also as the person I want to become, this time has allowed me to questions most of the things that I thought about myself and to rethink what I must do to become the person I want to be. One realization is that the things I do are not the best for the environment and that I have both the ability and the responsibility to try and live as sustainably as I can not only for the good of myself but also for the good of this planet. This time has also allowed me to re-discover my drive for “glory”, “greatness”, “perfection” or any other word that people strive for which wasn’t lost before I came here but wasn’t a priority of mine, it allowed me the time to think and understand what I truly wanted and why I wanted it, and why it was important for me to make these changes. Why was this semester important to my understanding of myself and my role in sustainability it wasn’t the fact and figures that I learned about or the methods and styles of sustainability either it allowed me the time to understand why I choices this lifestyle in the first place and why I need to make these changes not for anyone else but for myself and for the health of my family. This is what I learned while in Iceland, the value of health, friend, family, the value of goals and drive, as well as the value of me.
-John Charles Grunde


          I began the start of this past semester without a real solid idea of what to expect from the CELL experience aside from taking part in “experiential learning” for the first time.  My reasoning for working so hard to get into the program centered on my increasing drive to seek out greater personal and academic fulfillment as well as a smaller community in which to take an active role; something vastly different from the normal classroom experience I had been partaking in over the last three years of my college career.  What I got was a greater understanding of myself as well as what “resilient community” really means and why working towards a great increase in the number of these kinds of communities is vital to the reconstruction of a society which I have instinctually felt for a long time is fundamentally broken.  Community is one of the greatest ways we can work, through collaboration and continued learning, towards a greater awareness of how we as humans should participate as members of the global environmental community.

In our classes, “community” and “resilience” were two words which got tossed around an awful lot this semester, and although I liked the sound and idea of both of them, it made good sense to double check on the dictionary definitions (taken from to be sure I had the right understanding of them.


noun, often attributive
1: a unified body of individuals: as
b : the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly : the area itself
c : an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location
d : a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society
e : a group linked by a common policy
f : a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests
g : a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society
2: society at large
3 a : joint ownership or participation 
b : common character : likeness
c : social activity : fellowship
d : a social state or condition

1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

From these two definitions, it’s safe to ascertain that my understanding of these terms is correct and it is possible to define a resilient community as: a body of persons linked by common social and economic interests with an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change while living together within a larger society

I have found great inspiration throughout this semester from a variety of sources, most notably my fellow CELL members and the individuals who have graciously invited us into their homes throughout our stay in Iceland in order to think, converse, and share meals as a family.  From our readings in the Northwest Earth Institute series, I got the most from a piece from Scott Russell Sanders; this article spoke simply and beautifully of the importance of building our communities by reaching out to those around us and taking responsibility for our place in the world.

Excerpts taken from “The Common Life” by Scott Russell Sanders

“There are days when I can see nothing but a spectacle of cruelty and waste, and the weight of dismay pins me to my chair.  On such days I need a boost merely to get up, uncurl my fists, and go about my work.  The needed strength may come from family, from neighbors, from a friend’s greeting in the mail, from the forked leaves of larkspur breaking ground, from rainstorms and music and wind, from the lines in a well-worn book, from the tste of an apple or the brash trill of finches in our backyard trees.  Strength also comes from memories of times when I have felt a deep and compex joy, a sense of being exactly where I should be and doing exactly what I should do.”

“We all needs seasons of withdrawal from responsibility.  But if we make a career of being unaccountable, we have lost something essential to our humanity, and we may well become a burden or a threat to those around us.”

“We should not have to wait until gunfire breaks out in our schools, rashes break out on our skin, dead fish float in our streams, or beggars sleep in our streets before we act on behalf of the community.  On a crowded planet we had better learn how to live well together or we will live miserably apart.”

From my time here as a part of the CELL group, I have come away from the experience observing and asking: Seperate entities can only exist so long before fading into obscurity  and then, what have they left behind but fewer resources?  Community is vital to our existance and for me personally, I can think of no better way to play my part as a responsible member of our environmen than than to act as a community builder.

-Sarah McKenney

Cell Photo Collaboration Slideshow

"As humans we are all, at the core of everything, connected to our environment. We may have our own perspectives on it, but we can all find beauty in it."

Christina Donovan

A Breakdown

Beauty, this is why I am doing what I’m doing. Natural beauty is why I care about being here, getting something out of this time. And I have gotten a lot of out of this. My opinions and thoughts have a purpose, something I’m trying to fight for, conserve, and see in an every changing light. Human’s mindset towards nature is one of the most powerful things that can sway our future completely. How we see ourselves as being a part of this world and connected to all things hits at the heart of every issue. When I think about our systems, social and political I always just step back and say “international cooperation” is what we need. Now, it’s more of human cooperation, finding what they love about the earth and appreciating it. Respecting it.

There is a growing inequality between the first world and the third world. Obviously we experience inequality everywhere but there is far more than half of the population in developing or undeveloped countries. How does this make sense? How did countries ever get the right to exploit, demand, damage, buy, and sell things that were never within their boundaries or sovereign land? There needs to be a new example of development. No one should ever develop in the same way. There should be no created route towards a development, especially not one that is written by a developed country. Development is something that should happen within and amongst communities of people. It should cater to what those people need in order to survive. Growth will happen naturally, and growth without an overarching goal of “luxury globalized wealth”, that development will most likely come as something necessary yet limitless for the future.
There are specific reasons however, why countries haven’t been able to develop to the level of development we see as the standard today. These things mostly have to do with where these countries are geologically and geopolitically located. Whether or not a country is landlocked will affect most trade ability and economic growth in that country. If other countries that have a long history of conflict are surrounding an un developed country, it will hinder its ability to create a stable infrastructure. If a country has an abundance of natural resources, this surprisingly will diminish that country’s development. Because this is the imbalance begins. An undeveloped country with natural resources won’t need to overuse those resources, but a more powerful country that needs those will immediately start crossing boarders. There is also the issue of overall bad governance. This comes as no surprise and is usually one of the only things thought of when it comes to developing countries, but a lot more than just bad governance goes into this issue.
These “traps” as Paul Collier explains them in his book, The Bottom Billion, are what we need to move past for future sustainable development. I believe that countries need to start giving aid and governance in different forms. Money won’t solve everything, and more money without proper infrastructure will only accentuate the problems. We need to start giving aid in the way of setting examples and spreading education. Governance needs to come from neighboring countries banding together. Breaking down some kind of boarders and becoming a collective system with one another. They will build each other up; create local economic systems that work with each other’s strengths. Their infrastructures will slowly build in a natural way, and a natural growth will be encouraged. It will start to break the global system down to a local level and take the time and focus to strengthen across. Hopefully once this system is globally re-introduced it will have created a new kind of economy and political system.

I started thinking back to one of my favorite quotes of all time, “And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty, and beauty stayed his hand. And from that day forward, he was as one dead.” I’ve always found this quote to perfectly show the power of beauty and not the kind of beauty as in physical human beauty but inner beauty, natural beauty, untouched, uncontrolled, ever strong, ever-alive beauty. This kind of beauty overcomes and stops “beasts” in its tracks. This kind of beauty I have been experiencing here. This is the kind of beauty I cherish in my life and what has caused my passion for all I’m learning and doing. Now it’s a different task to identify who the beast is in the quote. The meaning of this character has changed many times in my life but also just today. It’s easy, in the environmental field, to see humans as this “beast” that challenges the place, safety, and even existence of beauty. When we all watch movies that tell about Monsanto (and most mass food production) or read articles on the “average” human consumption I just feel so bad and feel like such an ugly part in the natural world. We as humans have developed with an intelligence that sets us apart as a species. We can think of the future and implications, and can imagine outside ourselves and can release our basic survival instincts and think about others. I am starting to realize that our place in the world is to figure it out. We are created with the capability to make mistakes and see and learn from the consequences. We didn’t harm our planet with the point to harm the planet. We didn’t evolve technologically to further remove ourselves. We aren’t terrible people because we can begin to understand what we have done and do something about it. The quote still has relevance to me but after my experiences here, both sides of the story hold beauty within.

Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty. –Jon Kortajarena, in A Single Man

Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it. –Confucius

Beauty happens. It’s a startling event one collides with suddenly. It is like truth. In the face of another, in the felicity of a phrase, in the dancer’s line, it occurs. And familiarity is never its enemy. It is not novel but profound. The same face, the same phrase can occur and occur and occur. The same beauty can stir you forever. –Richard Ford

People are so consumed with arguing whether or not we caused environmental degradation, they can’t see that our environment is something to value and the fact there is any degradation is something we need to act on. Somewhere along the line, the society and cultural values we have created has separated humans from nature. We think we can live without it, control it, and replace it. Despite this, we are still natural creatures and are directly connected to, and are part of, our environment. Whatever damage we cause the earth is damage we are causing ourselves. We end up destroying the system we can’t live without by creating lifestyles we can live without. If people stopped seeing ourselves as separate from our environment we would all start to clearly see the values in preserving what we have and once had. We would start looking towards a more sustainable future and start emulating the systems nature holds. If our mindsets changed we could make waste inconvenient, we could move beyond blaming the west for our problems and start becoming role models for developing nations, rising powers could realize their opportunity for leadership and reverse the detrimental development path they’re taking. Cooperation amongst nations could exist if our values and societal infrastructures shifted towards the same mindset that the environment is something to appreciate, and we can start giving back.
Our entire existence we take and take from the earth and in that way we are separate from natural cycles. We need to bring ourselves back into the natural cycles we were once part of. This is the only way we can collectively change the way we are degrading our environment. We shouldn’t underestimate the power we have as individuals. Any individual’s action can have limitless effects on other people who in turn can affect even greater numbers until a true change has happened. Even if we can’t come to a consensus whether or not humans are the cause of environmental degradation we have a responsibility as people of the earth to move beyond. If we start looking ahead with clear eyes and realize what we are capable of we can change the course our environment is heading in.

Some people take these choices for their grater purpose. I see people using technology and education and growing on their best abilities that they then share with the world and in these days, the whole world and I think it’s a beautiful thing. With these choices, abilities, and opportunities that we currently have available to us, we can do great things. We just need everyone in the world to see what may be unnecessary for them and have them make an informed choice to get rid of it all and then they can have a clearer path to be the best person they can be. We as human beings also need to realize our individual power. We don’t need a market to tell us what is good, the best, or necessary.

Christina Donovan 

The Role of Renewable Energy Today

I am passionate about all forms of renewable energy. I know there are drawbacks, and there always will be. But what humans need to look at is the bigger picture. Energy demand is always going to be high, no matter how many conservation efforts are made. Renewable energy is really the only way humans can continue their lifestyle, which, realistically speaking is never going to change as much as environmentalists would like it to, without getting their electricity from a fossil fuel burning source. Do we want to continue to deplete the world of its fossil fuels, poisoning the environment while we’re at it, or implement cleaner methods to generate this energy without taking anything from the earth? What we need to do is make more wind turbines and solar panels with what resources we have left, then put a stop to the corrupt and degrading industry of fossil fuels and rely solely on the power of the sun, the wind, and to a certain extent the world’s water sources.

The movie Dreamland gave me a shocking perspective from the other side of this argument pertaining mostly to hydroelectric power generation. Yes, dams are bad, but maybe not as bad as the effects fossil fuels have on similar ecosystems? Our focus should shift to wind and sun: We should take advantage of what will always exist. As long as there is an earth, there will always be wind, and there will always be sunlight. There may or may not always be water, and we should save what is left of that as best we can, because clean fresh water is one of the world’s biggest problems right now.

It is inspiring to see one small country like Iceland use so little nonrenewable energy. Shouldn’t the United States be taking better advantage of its geothermal resources on the west coast? I cannot wait until the first offshore wind farm gets built, and how that can cause other wind projects currently in the planning phases to spring into action. These positive changes towards a more sustainable future require a change in attitude. Yes, we lead comfortable lives. I have had clean water and limitless electricity my entire life. No, I did not know where my electricity at home came from until I had to look it up for a project here, but that is an easy enough step for those who are unaware to figure out. If everyone knew how important renewable energy is to the United States, there would be so much more support. Californians wanted the electric car, and protested when they were taken away. Watching auto companies destroy electric cars so they could continue to make problematic and repair-necessary gasoline cars to make more money made me so angry. That is the epitome of what is wrong with this world and a perfect example of the lack of sustainability.

Now, Americans want clean energy. America needs clean energy. Yes, it is expensive, but more often than not it will just take a few years before a renewable energy installation will pay for itself. I would like to see renewable energy promoted more back home, and I would love to see everyone who can afford solar panels to get them or to select the option on their electric bill to have part of their electricity come from a renewable source. These are the first steps that will inspire others to take a more open-minded approach to helping reverse climate change, and maybe think about implementing cleaner energy and conservation efforts themselves. When one person sets an example, others will follow. This is how humans work. We just need the example to be big enough to actually have an effect, and before we know it the average household could be running their appliances on clean renewable energy sources.

-Lily Alverson

Iceland In A Poem

3 months in the arctic we signed up to brave, to the land of volcanoes and magical staves.

Past mountains and steam vents and rivers we went, to a beautiful place where 3 months we spent.

We saw horses and sheep though not many trees, the landscape held beauty no one could have foreseen.

We travelled to farms and forests and mountains, across rivers and waterfalls and natural fountains.

But what really made these 3 months all worthwhile, was living and learning and teaching in style.

We built a turf house and toured power plants, and greeted each day with an Icelandic chant:

Lof sé guði ljómar dagur, lífgar sólargeislinn fagur

Renewable energy, Iceland's fame and glory, turned out to be not such an optimistic story.

We learned all the drawbacks and what they can harm, and all the things hidden by Iceland's charm.

Aluminum smelters that hoard electricity, cleverly disguised from outside publicity,

Release all kinds of greenhouse gases that warm the earth as we learned in our classes.

Cheap energy attracts all kinds of industry, centered around wealth and prosperity.

Blocked rivers have fish populations in peril, trapped upstream by dams so sterile.

We knew this place couldn’t go on being abused, and talked to some writers to find out their views.

Turns out Icelanders have gotten the picture, to work towards a future that they can ensure.

Their collaborative effort is on the right track, protesting and fighting to keep nature in tact.

So off we go with wool in our pockets, our imaginations soaring like rockets.

We made action plans to take back home, to guide us in the future, where ever we may roam.

To Iceland, I can say you will be missed, your rainbows and sunsets are hard to resist.

But maybe someday we’ll come back and visit, to bathe in your hot springs and learn how to knit.

Until then we’ll remember your mossy hills and wear your sweaters when we get the chills.

This country has been so very sublime to make this an experience beyond a lifetime. 

-Lily Alverson