In Your Face lecture goes green: Writer speaks about sustainability problems

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More than 110 people crowded into Marsh Hall’s Taylor Auditorium on March 15 for the fifth annual In Your Face lecture, given by sustainability author Heather Rogers.

She has written for the New York Times and two novels, “Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage” and “Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy is Undermining the Environmental Revolution.”

Politics and Government professor Jules Boykoff, one of the sponsors of the lecture, said Rogers isn’t “a cynic or a naysayer. She really wants sustainability to succeed.”

Rogers covered many of the current hot topics of sustainability, from carbon emissions, mass transit, efficient housing and recycling.

“We need carbon to be going down now, not in 100 years,” she said, stressing that planting trees doesn’t immediately soak up carbon.
Trees store carbon during their lifespan, so the “offset” would not be realized until hundreds of years down the line.

Emissions can be reduced by implementing convenient mass transit, which will take gas-guzzling cars off the road. “Mass transit in Portland is pretty spectacular,” said Rogers, “obviously someone there gets it.”

Unfortunately, large automobile companies such as Ford recognized this threat to their profits, purchased such transit and ran it into the ground, she explained. The courts found them guilty, fined them $1 and allowed them to continue.

“If there’s technology there and we can’t have it, that shows a flaw in the system,” Rogers said.

Slides illustrated Rogers’s visit to Freiburg, Germany, and a successful complex of efficient housing. The apartment-style homes are seamless for almost flawless insulation, use one-fifteenth the energy of a conventional house and produce more energy than they consume.

There is a “growth barrier,” Rogers said, “So density makes sense.”

Cars cannot be parked on the streets surrounding the complex, only in one of two garages where parking spaces cost $24,000. This cost encourages bike riding and ride sharing, and helped push for extension of a mass transit line to the community.

When the lecture was opened for questions, the efficiency of recycling was brought to the table.

“Recycling is good to do, but we imbue it with all this power it doesn’t have,” she said. It doesn’t reduce waste in the original production process. Recycling is necessary for the system currently in place but requires a serious facelift if truly sustainable methods are to be considered.

“Everyone in this room shares the desire to live sustainably,” Boykoff said after the lecture. “[Rogers] gives us the information we need through environmental journalism.”


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