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The bookshelf of Nancy Tuchman, Director of the Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES) at Loyola University Chicago tells quite a story of her prominence in her field, including a 2013 Green Award from Chicago Magazine. The bookshelf includes a picture of her two children, who share her love of nature – her son is a beekeeper and her daughter a medical student and bird lover. Also on the bookshelf are titles such as This Changes Everything and other titles by Naomi Klein, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
Tuchman is a Michigan native, but has been part of the Loyola family for her entire career, beginning as a professor in the biology department before assuming more administrative roles that ultimately led to the founding of IES, which was the vision of Fr. Michael Garanzini, chancellor of Loyola and its retired president.
Sustainability at Loyola is driven by its Jesuit tradition of social justice, service to humanity, and role as an institution of higher education. While Pope Francis is the most prominent Jesuit preaching the social justice issues surrounding climate change, Garanzini had previously identified climate change as a social justice issue, and Tuchman had been a task force member of Healing A Broken World, a Jesuit task force on ecology.
Sustainability at Loyola also has grass roots beginnings; students saw the waste associated with single use water bottles and plastic bags, and championed their 2012 elimination on campus.
Tuchman is “in love with nature”, and sees stewardship of nature as integral to human health. She notes the contribution of environmental issues to increased incidences of cancer and emotional disorders such as ADHD. To this end, Loyola has on its campus an organic farm that produces 8,000-10,000 pounds of food annually that in part is donated to A Just Harvest, which fights poverty and hunger in the Rogers Park and greater Chicago areas. She cites Michael Pollan as an influential author, and observes that few people cook anymore, which is incongruous with good health habits, since processed foods often are less healthy than home cooked.
Tuchman has a gleam in her eye as she discusses Paris2015 (or COP21, the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). The Conference is crucial she says because the expected outcome is a new international agreement on climate change, applicable to all, to keep global warming below 2°C above pre-industrialization levels (later lowered to 1.5° C). She notes that representatives including presidents of almost 200 countries agreed to the accord, which among other things includes significant commitments from wealthy countries to help poor countries.
Tuchman called the agreement an historic first, an “11th hour framework” to reduce fossil fuel consumption and speed the use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal. She stated that there are 10 million climate refugees whose countries are underwater or suffering from the effects of drought or typhoons, and can no longer grow food.
Addressing the criticisms of the agreement, including many voluntary or best effort commitments, Tuchman is confident that the agreement is sufficiently public and transparent that special interest groups and NGO’s will police compliance if necessary. “If we have the will, it will work” is her opinion. Her hope is that government subsidies of fossil fuels soon are shifted to renewables, which she is confident will create jobs, too.
She expressed hope that citizens will work to better understand the sources of the energy we consume, which is an important step to demand renewable sources of energy from our providers. She also believes that recycling in the USA requires significant improvement, and cited Sweden as an example of best practices in this area.
Discussing bottled water, Tuchman considers the industry a huge marketing success, but her studies of water quality indicate that tap water frequently is superior to bottled water; she called Lake Michigan water, for example, among the “best on the planet”. The environmental cost of the billions of single use water bottles that find their way to landfills goes without saying.
It is tempting to expect that a leader in sustainability might oppose industrialization and capitalism as contributors to the CO2 problem, but Tuchman works closely with Loyola’s business school, and easily was able to identify Patagonia and Eileen Fisher as companies that deserve high marks for their “triple bottom line” attentiveness to social, environmental (or ecological) and financial measurements.
IES is in its third year; Tuchman finds leadership of the Institute “exciting” because of its attractiveness to students that are “change agent”, who will go on to work in government or industry. A role of the Institute is to teach students about nature, plants, soil and ecology. The curriculum also includes classes on ethics, morality and theology, which are dear to the Jesuit mission.
The Institute also holds an annual Climate Change Conference; the 2016 keynote speaker is award-winning journalist Naomi Klein. The conference “Global Climate Change: Economic Challenges and Solutions” will delve into international policy, new economics, and the climate justice and grassroots activism occurring worldwide due to climate change.
The Institute has achieved a great deal during its first three years, including supporting Loyola’s designation as one of the greenest universities. In an era where universities compete on their sports successes (and Loyola has its share, as two-time defending NCAA men’s volleyball champs), it’s refreshing to see one competing to make the world a better place.
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