Anne Kapuscinski, a professor of fisheries, wildlife, and conservation, is one of the principal researchers in the University's Sustainability Initiative.
The U's sustainability initiative seeks to protect and conserve Minnesota's environment and way of life
By Deane Morrison
June 29, 2007
The image is etched indelibly into the minds of Minnesotans: then-Gov. Wendell Anderson on the cover of Time, holding a freshly caught northern pike. "The Good Life in Minnesota," trumpeted the magazine. But for how long? If its lake home gets polluted, the northern could disappear; so, too, could the majestic moose, as development gobbles up its forest habitat. To prevent these and similar scenarios, the University is helping Minnesotans envision and create a future where their state's abundant natural resources are protected and life can continue to be good. The effort is a major thrust of the U's Sustainability Initiative, which also includes research on topics like energy use, housing, transportation, and food and fiber production. The initiative aims to educate students, teachers, and journalists, and, eventually, the whole public, with the ultimate goal of pointing the state toward a brighter future. "We're at a turning point in history," says Kris Johnson, program coordinator for the initiative. "We want to know what the right thing to do is."
Fast-forward to 2050To design the future, one must first imagine it. Launched in summer 2004, the initiative has already convened six workshops, in collaboration with the University's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, to help Minnesotans envision how life might be in the year 2050--and not just how they'd like it to be. "One scenario might be that all the northern forests are totally fragmented by second homes," says Peter Reich, Regents Professor of forest resources and a leader of the initiative. "Another would be that such second home development is constrained and clustered. If we recognize as a state that there are consequences to unfettered second home and retirement home development in our most natural forest lands--such as lots of money for fire protection, roads, sewers, and phones--we could in theory decide how to manage it, for example, by incentives [not to develop land] and zoning.
"Minnesota is finally developed enough that every Minnesotan can see the effects of human domination of the environment, such as more people on trails," says Kapuscinski."The question is, 'What are the possible futures, and how do we change our habits as individuals and communities so we don't end up with [undesirable consequences]?'" With that in mind, the state's Legislative and Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) has tapped the expertise of people in the initiative and the U's new Institute on the Environment (IonE) for help in conserving and preserving natural resources. A research team of 47 U faculty plus people from the private sector will supply research information to help LCCMR and the state as a whole take better care of the environment.
Milestones at Morris
The University of Minnesota, Morris has led the University in projects to improve environmental stewardship. Besides receiving a major portion of its energy from a wind turbine at the U's nearby West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC), UMM in early June received permission from the Board of Regents to construct a biomass plant. Morris Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson was among the more than 250 college and university presidents who pledged in mid-June to reduce and eventually eliminate their campuses' contributions to greenhouse warming. Look for future news on UMM's environmental leadership in these pages.
Planting the seedsOf course, not much will happen unless people's attitudes change and the next generation learns to think in terms of the environmental and social consequences their actions will have. But the problem isn't just individuals.
A greener UMTC
Some sustainable practices on the Twin Cities campus:
>University Dining Services (UDS) has committed to serving locally grown and produced food. The Bistro in the Humphrey Institute features such food all the time. Also, UDS supplies used deep-fat fryer oil from its residential restaurants to a vendor; it is then recycled into biodiesel fuel. In 2006 Centennial Hall supplied 12,000 gallons.
>The Molecular and Cellular Biology Building is on track to reduce its energy bill by $250,000, or more than 15 percent.
>Oat hulls now supply three percent of the steam heating for the Twin Cities campus.
>Storm water on the St. Paul campus is diverted to a large field, where it is filtered through soil before entering a wetland and, eventually, the Mississippi River.
>Sidewalks are treated with a compound that prevents snow from sticking. This allows snow to be scraped off, not melted by chemical treatments.