Major: Woodrow Wilson School
Professional Role and Organization:
Masters Student, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
Former: Urban Farm Manager, D&R Greenway Land Trust
How do you define sustainability?
Sustainability, to me, is both a goal so lofty that it is unattainable, and a goal not lofty enough. Based on how we are doing things as individuals, as businesses and institutions, and as a society, we will never reach sustainability - which is defined as "using resources at the rate at which they are being renewed." The renewal rate for forests is decades, for cropland is centuries, for fossil fuels is on a timescale we can't even imagine. The renewal rate for communities devastated by current and historic violence and by climate change is decades and sometimes centuries. The kind of rapid, radical shift that would be required to be "sustainable" is not something we can actually do if we remain so wedded to our current way of life. That way of life is, itself, exploitative - of people, of the Earth, of Spirit, of living entities of all species, sizes, colors, genders, ethnicities, nationalities.
Sustainability is also not lofty enough. Our goal should actually be regenerative. Think about it: we have degenerative (using more resources than are being renewed); sustainable (using resources as they are being renewed); and regenerative (creating more resources than are being used). The only way to go from such a degenerative, exploitative way of life to something sustainable - is to be regenerative in our interpersonal, economic, ecological, and food systems practices. We can be regenerative through community building and healing; through regenerative agricultural and ecosystems practices; and through radically reshaping our businesses and institutions to create more value than they use. This even goes so far as materials, product design, waste, and energy. These systems can all be designed in a regenerative (or, at least, sustainable) way. It does take a radical shift in values and reevaluation of practices because this is so far from the mainstream of how we are living nowadays.
How does your work relate to sustainability and how did Princeton prepare you for your role?
My work is in the area of land conservation, agriculture, and spiritual ecology. Through this work I am seeking to tangibly impact how land is used on the township and county level and encourage regenerative land management practices of both preserved land and active farmland. Although I'm not farming at the moment, I aspire to farm again in the future. Farming and personally serving a parcel of land can be one of the most regenerative acts, as we build this intimate tie with the land and with the other living entities who live and work it, as well as provide food for people - which brings people together, and is a spiritually as well as physically nourishing service. At Princeton, my studies led me to focus on how environmental problems affect political and social conflict. Through University-sponsored travel in Southeast Asia, I saw firsthand how the wellbeing of land, people, and the entire society are deeply intertwined. Examples of this abound worldwide, including in US history. After gaining a somewhat global perspective, I felt called to (literally) get my hands in the earth through farming to get a very personal perspective on these issue. The combination of direct experience and global experience has been very helpful in my work in a number of ways.
What advice would you offer to students seeking to focus on or incorporate sustainability in their careers?
Princeton prepares us with an understanding of policy, history, and global systems, but there's nothing like personal experience working in one's sector of interest to prepare one for a life of service. Learn diverse perspectives while in college and then try out different roles in your sector of interest, no matter how small. The most "menial" roles can be the most rewarding learning experience, as you really get to know people and the day-to-day operations of your sector. Stick with it and don't be wedded to a particular goal or objective; let the work shape you.