I was talking the other day with a staff member on our campus about moving forward with sustainability in our physical operations and the topic got on to solar parking lots, one of my favorite options to help us meet climate change goals and to shift to energy self-sufficiency through renewable sources. I was told that this had been a topic of conversation several times in the last few years but that it hadn’t got any traction because a former, now departed senior administrator thought they were ugly and would be detrimental to the university’s image. That took me aback and immediately spurred me into questioning whether the lack of a sustainability aesthetic in our broader society is a significant obstacle in shifting not just our university but our nation toward sustainable solutions. With a new university President and new administrators in charge, we are about to enter an era on campus in which we’ll move forward more rapidly I believe. But I had to ask myself, have we been a little slow so far to cover acres of baking asphalt with shade providing and energy producing solar canopies in part because people in the past who were generating the Request for Proposals didn’t like their appearance? Did solar panels make it only onto building rooftops hidden away from view and therefore out of people’s consciousness because, in part, it was considered visually unacceptable to bring them down to ground level and take the place of vast areas of lawn that no one walks or plays on because they’re the wrong type of “green”. How much of our society’s failure to be more ambitious in advancing sustainability is due to a prevailing design aesthetic rooted in the traditional and familiar? Just this past week, Donald Trump created a stir in Scotland opposing the offshore installation of electricity-generating windmills within the viewshed of his proposed new billion-dollar golf resort, predominantly because of their visual qualities. Are Donald Trump and others like him modern-day Don Quixote’s, confused and disoriented, seeing the proposed windmills not as elegant and functional stepping-stones to a post-carbon future, but ugly, ferocious giants assaulting their sensibilities, be they economic or aesthetic? I wonder if back in Rembrandt’s days such an aesthetic existed, and if he were chided for his exquisite immortalization on canvas of the Dutch windmills, so vital to the growth of the tiny and insignificant Netherlands into the major agricultural and economic world power it became in the 17th century?

Guardian Article


    Michael Lee is Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Cal State East Bay. He is currently Faculty in Residence for Sustainability & Pedagogy for 2012-13.


    May 2012


    Obstacles To Sustainability

    RSS Feed