Environmental Citizenship 2016


Rick Livingston, associate director, Humanities Institute

December 2015: as negotiators from nearly 200 nations gathered in Paris to hammer out an agreement to slow the pace of global warming, I convened a somewhat smaller group of Environmental Humanitiesstaff, faculty and students to take the temperature of Ohio State’s environmental commitments--to wit, the ecological aspects of the 50-year plan for the university’s physical campus. The immediate occasion: the BioPresence exhibition organized by members of the AWASH (Animal Worlds in the Arts, Sciences and Humanities) working group, documenting the place of other-than-human animals across the campus. We examined a number of questions: how do we make connections between the moments when species meet; the affects and habits of daily life; the policies and priorities that regulate our shared habitat; and our common aspiration to living sensibly and equitably over the generational long-term? What are the ecological dimensions of Ohio State’s Campus Framework Plan?

By way of background, in 2010, Ohio State adopted the One Ohio State Framework, devised by Sasaki Associates, to govern how the university should relate to the physical campus over the next half-century. Among its principles is a commitment to “greening” the campus in the light of developing understanding of our environmental impacts. In early 2014, AWASH received a Framework Grant to examine how we understand the place of other species on campus, in the light of concerns about biodiversity worldwide. Over the next 18 months, the BioPresence initiative organized a range of activities, from posting snapshots to #AnimalOSU to installing cameras and recording equipment at the Wetlands Research Park and arranging birding and bat-watching walks. These activities became the basis for artworks created by students in Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD) and a series of maps produced by ACCAD graphics research specialist, Matt Lewis, all collected in an exhibition curated by Amy Youngs, associate professor and Ken Rinaldo, professor, Department of Art.

As the archive grew, it became clear that other-than-human animals served as indicator-species for the campus ecosystem, evidence of the ways our surroundings foster or thwart what E.O. Wilson and others call “biophilia,” the awareness of inhabiting a living world. And as our awareness grows, how do we allow this knowledge to inflect plans whose contours were laid down years ago?

All in all, 2015 may hae been a watershed year for environmental citizenship at Ohio State, with a year-long discussion of Sustainability hosted by the Conversations on Morality, Politics, and Society (COMPAS) program of the university’s Center for Ethics and Human Values. The program featured visits by Gro Harlem Brundtland (author of the UN’s path breaking report, Our Common Future, and Peter Cardinal Peter Turkson, a driving force behind the Papal Encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home. With the university’s Office of Energy and Environment releasing an updated set of sustainability goals in October and fresh thinking emerging from Ohio State’s Discovery Themes, the institute’s long-standing initiative on Environmental Citizenship in the arts and humanities may be poised to roll with the momentum.