— Bijoy Ghosh
Dr. Paul Shrivastava, Chief Sustainability Officer at Penn State, Director of the Sustainability Institute, and Professor of Management at the Smeal College of Business, opened this year’s Integrity of Creation Conference at Duquesne University with a presentation concerning the role of universities in global sustainability in the “Anthropocene.” Dr. Shrivastava began his presentation by saying that we as humans today are living in a different time, and it eventually culminates in a few actionable changes that people can take back to their universities as students, teachers, or administrators.
Transdisciplinary solutions are the answer for modern sustainability challenges.In the 1950s, the parent-child relationship inherently changed due to increase consumerism and broken households. The church began to lose importance around the same time. Dr. Shrivastava says that arts have been a major source of inspiration in the design of more sustainable products during this time. Showing how good the future can look may present the strongest case for sustainability, as the initial costs of more sustainable projects are almost always increased in comparison to the standard. Dr. Shrivastava also said that while it was not his intention to get rid of disciplines in universities (which have grown to over 8000), they are not providing a holistic view of the planet or solving any of the world’s problems. The knowledge being generated in these disciplines is futile without some overarching framework to make them usable, and while they should not be abandoned, it should be known that those disciplines alone will not solve anything. Transdisciplinary solutions are the answer for modern sustainability challenges.
Over the past few centuries, people have overstepped planetary boundaries and used resources linearly as if they were not in scarcity. Biosphere integrity (also known as genetic diversity) and biogeochemical flows are considered to be in the worst conditions in history. Debt to the next couple of generations seems imminent, with global debt in excess of $233 trillion but global GDP sitting at only around $83 trillion. Additionally, the 7 billion humans on the planet are expected to grow to 10 billion during the Anthropocene age, and with .7% of the world population owning 46% of the wealth, inequality is rising as well. Using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a universal, interdependent guide for growth combined with existing interdisciplinary study should give universities an opportunity to become engaged with the sustainability issue in a more participatory role, rather than an educative one alone. This role should include engaging students and the community by hosting competitions and expositions in order that the advancements made by universities and their professors and students might be one day used in practice instead of relegated to academic writing.