So now what? An open letter to the environmental community after the midterm elections

To my environmentally minded friends:

Clearly we are in deep trouble and truly meaningful legislative progress in the near term is no longer a reasonable expectation. Expecting progress on climate change and sustainability from Congress is off the table, now and possibly for the extended future. Compromise and wonky engagement continue to fail. With Obama we elected Miles Davis, but we got Kenny G.

When I arrived at Unity College in July of 2011, I found an institution in financial trouble and inwardly focused. Cost cutting was the only financial strategy, and this is a formula for extinction. The College had experienced two years of significant declines in enrollment and went on to experience a third. Faculty and staff salaries were in the basement and the physical plant was far from adequate for an institution of higher learning.

We have turned the corner on all of these shortcomings and our enrollment is surging. Why? I believe that it is because we embraced extreme change and chose to speak with integrity, honesty, and courage. These fundamental spiritual principles, most importantly honesty, have carried us to a new future. Put simply, the College had everything to gain and little to lose by facing our situation honestly and acting decisively.

Standing on the ethical high ground has served us well. We have not sugar coated our message and we have not flinched in the face of withering criticism. We are not wonky. We speak with conviction and clarity, and we now stride the national stage. We are the first college in the nation to divest from fossil fuels and we are the first to adopt sustainability science as a framework for all of our academic programming. This is built on transdisciplinary programming, a powerful new pedagogy that is necessary to train the next generation of sustainability leaders.  Our national brand is growing and we are making our message felt by institutions and constituents far beyond Maine.

From this experience, I recommend ten things for the activist community:

(1) Base everything we do on the ethical imperative of sustainability. Occupy the ethical high ground.  Stop compromising and seeking the middle ground on the foundational issues related to sustainability. These are extreme times and we need strong, courageous, decisive action that will be viewed as extreme by those supporting the status quo. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more important than establishing a sustainable future for our children. The status quo of business as usual is simply unacceptable. We have everything to gain, and little to lose.

(2) Go on the offensive and adopt a compelling and positive vision that extends well beyond five years and the election and funding cycle. Become strategic rather than disorganized and tactical. Stop seeing our mission as holding the line, or preventing more damage by the opposition. Instead, leapfrog the minor environmental arguments and aggressively propose explicit, major, positive change.  Give people a hopeful, positive vision.  Integrate environmental goals with economic populism that serves the working class and poor.  Do not waste your time with organizations that support the status quo. Any institutional strategic plan should lay the groundwork for radical change beyond its five year lifespan, and should not be viewed as an end in itself.  Demand change that will serve our children and our grandchildren. Policy and conservation initiatives must have 2100 as their target.

(3) Merge financially and politically with your allies and don’t sweat the small stuff. Adopt the 80% rule. If you agree with 80% of your allies’ message and mission, then ignore the remainder and join them. Progressives must stop the tyranny of democracy and agree to disagree while taking action. In Maine and in much of the environmental community there are far too many NGOs with overlapping missions and philanthropic needs. This is simply ridiculous. Executive directors need to share authority or step down.

(4) Understand and embrace cultural cognition. Get expert marketing and messaging management from professionals who passionately share our vision of the future. The messenger matters as much as the message.  If you haven’t noticed, the Republican party does this very well.

(5) Focus on adaptation as well as mitigation, and quit having the absurd academic argument about one diluting the other. We need both. Now. Proactive adaptation is far less expensive than reactive adaptation. Mitigation is usually less expensive than any form of adaptation.

(6) Become aggressive and direct about seeking funds from the 1%. Organize and seek them out, and do not compromise your message. Educate them. Become insistent and persistent about seeking resources from those with the means to truly make a difference. Most will reject us. All we need is a few with significant wealth who are willing to contribute to a sustainable future.

(7) Focus on sophisticated resource management rather than pure conservation and preservation. Preserving nature as it is, or was, is increasingly not a realistic goal. We should seek to manage ecosystems for form and function, while restoring nature when possible and appropriate. Learn when it is time to give up your sacred cows in the conservation movement. Shed a tear and move on.

(8) Take direction from those who can lead. Your voice is important and you can make it heard. Then step off your soapbox and become a worker among workers. We need your hands, as well as your passions.  None of us have the truth in a corner, but some are able to lead.  Follow them.

(9) Long term extreme change must include a new economy that is not diversified on fossil fuels and is not driven by a mandate for continuous growth. Many in the opposition will interpret this as an assault on the primacy of capitalism. They are correct. Unregulated and unrestrained capitalism is not consistent with the future of civilization. Have the courage to say so and demand a better way.

(10) Have faith and take care of yourself and those that you love. Whenever I am asked where one should go to escape climate change, I give the same answer that Bill McKibben does: Anyplace there is a strong community. Build strong communities.

Stephen Mulkey, president
Unity College .

President’s message for the next issue of Unity College magazine

We are out of time. Our collective action or inaction within the next decade or so will determine the fate of civilization. Climate change presently driven by historic emissions from burning fossil fuels will affect everything about the lives of the current generation of students in college. It will determine what they eat, where they work, how they get to work, where they can live, the kinds of careers available, and most of all, their quality of life. Failure to significantly curtail emissions will result in an estimated 4-6˚C global average temperature rise by 2100 and unthinkable consequences for civilization. Because environmental change will be the dominant theme of the coming decades, I believe that this century will come to be known as the Environmental Century. This is a watershed moment for our species.

Despite the utter clarity and unassailable validity of this science, higher education has generally failed to provide students with the tools to address the environmental challenges of the Environmental Century. The vast majority of institutions in the U.S. continue to treat environmental studies and science as niche disciplines and regard sustainability as important only as it applies to operational efficiency. To be sure, institutions of higher learning should lead the way in energy efficiency and sustainable design, but this barely scratches the surface of this critically important area of learning and research. The purpose of higher education is not operational sustainability – it is teaching, learning, and research. It is in the classroom and in the field that sustainability needs to be universally developed. The U.S. National Academy of Science has identified the focus of this effort as Sustainability Science, and I believe that sustainability, like writing and basic communication, must be taught across the curriculum.

At Unity College we are passionately dedicated to the proposition that the status quo of higher education is unacceptable. Failure to integrate sustainability throughout higher learning is a breach of our social contract with our students. The ways that teaching, learning, and research are structured and delivered at most universities and colleges have not fundamentally changed in centuries. Such hierarchical delivery of knowledge from singular sources such as a professor does not move students to understanding and action. It does not empower them to seize the opportunities made available by universal access to information. Surely in the Information Age, we can and must find a better way.

The entire curriculum at Unity College is framed by Sustainability Science and emphasizes transdisciplinary integration of information from the social, natural, and physical sciences as necessary for crafting effective solutions. We build our effectiveness on a solid foundation of the humanities and liberal arts. This makes us unique in our approach to crafting solutions. A short walk around campus will convince you that the College is entering a new era of infrastructure development in which we will increasingly be able to offer excellence in instruction and facilities to help students meet these challenges.

Over the course of my career as an environmental scientist, I have sometimes found myself feeling hopeless in the face of the litany of environmental woes. My own antidote to hopelessness is action. At Unity College, we take action…..and we have hope.

Is studying sustainabilty worth it?

Unity College  has an academic focus on sustainability science.  Will this get you a job?  You bet!

See the excerpts from an article below posted from Greenbuzz.

According to Marsha Willard, executive director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals and CEO of Axis Performance Advisors, the value of a sustainability degree is “increasing as each day passes.”

“The field of sustainability is still fairly new,” she said. “When job titles started showing up 20 years ago, most of us who were working in the area at the time came to the profession from a disparate set of backgrounds; there were people who were environmentalists, architects, organizational development specialists … there were a bevy of skill sets. That collective perspective created a pretty rich foundation for the field, but since that time, it’s no longer enough to have a degree in organizational development, environmental studies or engineering. It doesn’t sound specific enough. And higher education has responded by offering more degrees that have sustainability in the title.”

Research also reveals increasing interest in sustainability-focused higher education. Last year, Net Impact — a nonprofit membership organization for students and professionals working in the sustainability field — released the Business as Unusual Guide 2013 (PDF). Net Impact’s research found that making an environmental and social impact through business has gone from “nice to have” to “must have” for prospective graduate business students. A full 91 percent of 3,300 graduate students reported that social and environmental issues are very important or essential to business’s long-term success, and 85 percent said they wanted to tackle these issues while in graduate school.

Stats from the Business as Unusual Guide 2013 show an increased interest in sustainability. (Credit: Net Impact)

For those looking to take on these important issues, a sustainability education make a lot of sense. The best programs offer targeted training, experiential learning, networking opportunities and, of course, “proof” to prospective job prospects that a core base of knowledge in sustainability has been attained.

Real world experience vs. academic training

One common critique of sustainability degrees is that they focus too much on academia and not enough on the kind of hands-on experience essential for success in the sustainable business world. So it’s often critical to seek out programs that mix in a healthy amount of on-the-ground learning with academic knowledge.

“Working in the field is a key part of becoming a sustainability leader. No doubt. After all, the laboratory for sustainability is the world and success is measured in the real world,” Basile said. “But this is definitely not an either/or. This is all about ‘and.'”

The value of  sustainability

As sustainability becomes an increasingly prevalent part of the business world, it stands to reason that the value of sustainability programs will continue to grow. “We’ve never heard anyone say that having a sustainability-related degree hurt them,” said Ray Berardinelli, marketing director for ISSP. “As more and more sustainability programs are created inside organizations, it can only help to have such credentials.”


Beehive Design Collective Coming to Unity!

When: 4-6PM Friday, May 2nd

Where: Unity College, Room PW207

Free of charge.

True Cost of Coal posters available on a siding scale donation! 

Come join the Beehive Collective as we use the True Cost of Coal graphic, engaging storytelling narrative, and collaborative learning techniques to talk and learn about complex issues such as colonization, industrial capitalism, resource extraction, workers struggles, the military/prison industrial complex, environmental  racism, big NGOs, resistance, resilience and regeneration. Don’t know what some of those things are? This workshop will be a great place to learn about them.

In this two hour workshop we will use graphics, storytelling, and interactive activities to break down these issues and see how they all connect. We will talk about how they play out in our individual lives and what steps we can take to bring justice and healing to our individual and global communities.

For more information and to see the True Cost of Coal graphic check out:


Heritage Breed American Guinea Hogs Arrive at Unity College Barn


Please join the Unity College Animal Barn in welcoming our new breeding pair of American Guinea Hog heritage breed meat pigs, listed as Critical Breed Status by The Livestock Conservancy. ‘Luna’ (pictured) and her partner ‘Lurch’ were provided by Sunnywood Farm in Unity and are part of an effort to re-introduce this hearty, medium sized foraging breed to the American Homestead. To read more about this and other heritage breed animals, please visit:

These pigs will help us close the loop on campus food systems by converting food prep waste into manure, piglets, and pork products to be utilized by dining services. Our first litter is due the second week in June so stay tuned for some adorable AGH piglets.

Graphic rendering of the new LEED Silver Residence Hall

Graphic rendering of the new LEED Silver Residence Hall

In response to a trend of increasing enrollment and the popularity of campus living, Unity College is beginning construction of a 70 bed, suite style residence hall.
 Constructed to meet LEED Silver standards, the approximately 18,000 square foot, $4.2 million hall will house about 70 students and is expected to be ready for occupancy during the fall semester. Designed by SMRT Inc. of Portland, Maine, it will be located just within the tree line adjacent to the soccer field.

Katahdin Lambs Have Arrived!

Our much anticipated lambs have entered the world! Our Katahdin ewes made quick work of the three births (all within about 24 hours of one another) and are now bonding with their lovely lambs. The Unity College barn crew, in keeping with the ‘Mountains of Maine’ theme, welcomed Bigelow, Sandy Bay, and Goose Eye early this week. We couldn’t be happier to have these spring babies just as the sun is gaining ground and the temperatures are climbing.

Proud mum Moxie with her ewe lamb, Sandy Bay

Proud mum Moxie with her ewe lamb, Sandy Bay

Ram lamb Bigelow - born to Blueberry

Ram lamb Bigelow – born to Blueberry


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 507 other followers

%d bloggers like this: