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GRCC's Spring Sustainability Series Begins

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The first days of spring have ushered in Grand Rapids Community College’s Sustainability Series entitled: “Visioning the Change.” Wednesday, March 24 was the first installment in the month long event that features lectures, film, panel discussions and community participation designed to raise awareness for the sweeping changes that are necessary to live and interact on a planet of finite resources. The programs, all free and open to the public, culminate with a Friday, April 23, “Celebration of Earth & Sky” at Meijer Theatre in the Grand Rapids Public Museum where spoken-word, live music and visual arts will combine to promote sustainability and create community. For a complete listing of events, locations, and times go to: and click on events.

Maryann Lesert, GRCC Associate Professor and author of “Base Ten,” her first novel, designed the series to present the converging factors that challenge us to change the way we live. “Changing our light bulbs is not enough,” says Lesert. “We need to create a vision for the future that sustains and drives the change.”
Lesert and fellow GRCC colleague, Sara Yob, instructor for Introduction to Sustainability at the college presented the first program, a film and audience discussion at the Applied Technology Center on campus. The film, “What A Way To Go, Life At The End Of Empire,” is documentarian T. S. Bennett’s 2007 wake-up call to civilization. Bennett, in the movie, examines four cornerstones that he asserts have precipitated our demise as a culture. The peak oil crisis, rapid climate change, mass extinction of species, and population overshoot are presented as a landscape viewed from a runaway train, a nightmare to which we have awakened and now look upon. Bennett skillfully has woven media clips from the golden age of TV; a sort of Norman Rockwell meets the tube, look at society with his poetic, yet scathing commentary. Interspersed throughout, timely quotes from recognized scholars, scientists, and personalities punctuate the desperate nature of our situation.
On the future of the planet:
Derrick Jensen, author of “Endgame,” “The Culture of Make Believe,” and “A Language Older than Words” in his most chilling comment warned, “Forests precede us and deserts dog our heels.” Dmitry Orlov asked, “Are we destroying the planet just to be comfortable for a little while?” And Woody Allen recognizes, “One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
On science and technology:
Thomas Berry, historian and author of “The Dream of the Earth” and “The Great Work,” admits, “Science has given us a way of understanding the earth in such a way as to use the planet. That’s the challenge. The use of the planet. And that’s the fatal aspect of science, is that science gives us the power but, it doesn’t explain how to use the power.”
Lesert told the audience watching “What A Way To Go, Life At The End Of Empire” that it could possibly lead to what she calls “a light bulb moment,” this light bulb not being one to change, but one of enlightenment.
Yob paused the film prior to Bennett’s final call to action and the audience organized to lend creative brainpower to local topics such as transportation, housing and food production.
In the film's conclusion, Jensen gives a metaphor -- the story of the medieval dogfighter who stakes his “picket pin” on the battlefield where he must make a final stand and fight to live or die. Lesert and Yob are hoping others will join them in staking their “picket pin” right here in Grand Rapids.
The program shifts from a global to local view and will continue Thursday, April 1 with a panel discussion and viewing of the film “Food, Inc.” at GRCC’s ATC Auditorium at 6:15 p.m.

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