Sustainability is based on the principle that everything needed for survival and well-being is dependent on the natural environment.
But in order for sustainability practices to gain momentum on a larger societal scale, a proper amount of political will is necessary to create policy changes, according to University of Mississippi associate professor of sociology Dr. John Sonnett.
Among the most compelling issues in sustainability discussions is climate change, he said.
Sonnett, who instructs environmental sociology classes at Ole Miss, said the issue of climate change has, unfortunately, been politicized.
“If you go back to the nineties, there wasn’t that much of a difference
in opinion between Republicans and Democrats on climate change,” he said. “That has radically changed.”
Because of the politicization of climate change, in which scientists and
scientific research are pitted against one another to conform to a particular
position rather than settled science shaping policy, Sonnett said that progress
toward a sustainable planet is made even more challenging.
On the other hand, Sonnett said he believes some progress is being made with alternative energy sources and organic farming, though the current political environment is restraining advancements in those areas.
“I think for them to have broader impact, there will have to be some kind of political will to make them go more mainstream,” he said.
Sonnett said that he believes people should think about sustainability in broader terms.
“We should think about all of the animals, the plants, and the oceans- all of the non-human elements of nature that we share the planet with because our own sustainability is based on the sustainability of these other systems, too,” Sonnett said.
At the University of Mississippi, sustainability practices have
substantially grown in the past decade.
Associate director for the Office of Sustainability Lindsey Abernathy
said that Ole Miss has “come so far” since the office was established in 2008.
Among the office of sustainability’s successes are the founding of the
composting program, recycling programs, the introduction of Oxford-University Transit (O.U.T) buses, and the bike-share program. There are also many University committees dedicated to sustainability, including the Transportation Advisory Committee, the UM Energy Committee and the Green Fund Committee.
Director of UM Parking and Transportation Mike Harris said that O.U.T buses have increased in popularity in recent years. According to data provided by Harris, O.U.T ridership has more than doubled in the last five years, from 584,677 at year end in August of 2013 to 1,302,909 at year end in August of 2017.
Abernathy said that the University has a vibrant green student internship program and that the environmental studies minor now has the most minors that it has ever had at one time before.
“Comprehensively, we have come really far in terms of our sustainability
efforts, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Abernathy said. “We have
come far, but we still have further to go.”
Abernathy said that the Office of Sustainability isn’t striving to
implement all of the sustainability projects at the University on its own.
“That wouldn’t be a very sustainable model for us,” she said.
Instead, the office works as a catalyst to bring people together across
campus to work together and make the University more sustainable.
As for contributions on campus, Abernathy said that there are some
renewables including solar panels on top of the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence (CME) building and geothermal
energy units in place as well.
“The university also purchased its first round of renewable energy certificates last year, which offset three percent of electricity use from the prior fiscal year,” Abernathy said.
While Sonnet in part measures progress in sustainability in terms of
what is accomplished by policy makers, Abernathy said she believes that a
single individual can make a difference.
Abernathy said it’s important to remember that every action we take as individuals has a large impact on other humans and our surroundings.
“Being sustainable to me means living consciously and understanding that
generations are coming after us that will need resources and being aware of the environment in which we exist,” Abernathy said.