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General News    H4'ed 4/17/14

Beyond Fossil Fuels: The Ecological Work of Stephen Mulkey of Unity College

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Stephen Mulkey
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Every morning, children are lined up to be "whisked" off into yellow buses, away from their immediate family, friends and community, only to spend several hours housed in a building that looks like most other schools to receive an education that pretty much mirrors the rest of the country.  This is called "standardization" in some vocabularies, and "no child left behind" in the lingo of George Bush. I call it "alienation" from the rich diversity of life.

What are the results of this type of education for our children and future generations?  How is traditional education leading to a better living for the people and for the environment?  Are children truly being taught to think critically, or are they being dumbed down to "pass the test?"  Are children being allowed to unfold their creative abilities?  Or is the goal to get them accustomed to standardization, in which the wildly influential creative is frozen stiff in a deadly embrace of uniformity?

What of college?  Is it any better?  Or do colleges fill students with mind-numbing materials that serve to isolate them in specializations and alienate the student from the whole of life? 

Is education true to its epistemological roots, educare, which means to bring forth?  Are the school systems of today more akin to systems of indoctrination than eliciting the rich potentials held within a student? 

One educator who doesn't support the uniformity of school systems is Dr. Stephen Mulkey, president of Unity College in Unity, Maine. Through his leadership, the college developed its central focus on sustainability science. This science is at the leading edge of transdisciplinary 21st century environmental problem solving.  Under his leadership, Unity has become the first college in the U.S. to divest from investments in fossil fuels. Unity is thus not standardized, and is a leader.

A climate change scientist with study and publishing spanning over three decades, Stephen has pursued research in Eastern Amazonia, Central Panama, and East Africa. He holds a bachelor's degree in fisheries and wildlife, a master's degree in ecology, and a doctorate in ecology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Stephen left his position as a climate change scientist to become Unity College president because he was so impressed with its mission:

Through the framework of sustainability science, Unity College provides a liberal arts education that emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Through experiential and collaborative learning, our graduates emerge as responsible citizens, environmental stewards, and visionary leaders.

In line with this mission, Unity built Terra Haus, the first American college residence designed to meet the European Passive House  standard, the highest international standard for energy efficiency. Unity College supports David Orr's contention that, "our buildings teach." From design charrettes to a course that is developing educational materials about the dwelling, Unity students have been a part of the Terra Haus project from the start. Students who live in the house will commit to participating in educational programming, including tours of the house. The college is also partnering with a local energy group to use Terra Haus   to promote green building practices, including those used in home weatherization. This 2186 square foot residence is modeled to use the equivalent of 80 gallons of oil per year for space heating, less than 10% of the average heating load for a home this size in this climate.

Stephen believes that ours is the century of environment and sustainability, a crucial concern that has been largely neglected for the past several thousand years.   He feels the environment must become our central focus because environmental changes will affect all aspects of our lives.  Indeed, he states that according to ecologists and other scientists, climate change is occurring faster than what was predicted a few years ago. Temperature zones are shifting faster than predicted and are changing at such rapid rates that animals and plants can't adapt.  Stephen also states that we are hemorrhaging biodiversity, the underlying mainstay of resilience and homeostasis. 

One of the wake-up calls for Stephen was his work in the eastern Amazon, where he saw devastated ecosystems.   He then realized that research was having minor impact on how we were treating the planet.   He also became frustrated that institutional college systems were poorly configured to make changes as needed to meet the problems with the environment.

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Burl Hall is a retired counselor who is living in a Senior Citizen Housing apartment. Burl has one book to his credit, titled "Sophia's Web: A Passionate Call to Heal our Wounded Nature." For more information, search the book on Amazon. (more...)
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