How Colleges Are Becoming Greenhouses for Sustainability Indoctrination
By Rachelle Peterson and Peter Wood | March 25, 2015
Sustainability did not originate on the college quad, or even in faculty offices. Instead, it took form in the UN Brundtland Report and seeped into America’s consciousness slowly. The story of its ascent involves a couple, a summit, and a new idea.
In 1990, when John Kerry met Teresa Heinz at an Earth Day rally in Washington, D.C., sustainability was not part of the values commonly shared by the American public. Activists had celebrated the first Earth Day in April 1970 and prompted President Nixon to create the Environmental Protection Agency in December. These benchmarks were part of a larger environmental awakening that included the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (1969), the Clean Air Act (1970), Clean Water Act (1972), Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972), Endangered Species Act (1973), and the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974). President Nixon, more concerned with swing voters than with the merits of environmental protection, signed the bills. But under Reagan and Bush senior, environmental concerns played second or third or fourth fiddles to economic growth, international affairs, and tax policy. Sustainability was not even a well-known term.
Kerry, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, spoke at the 1990 rally, as did Mrs. Heinz’s husband, Republican Senator John Heinz from Pennsylvania. Senator Heinz introduced his colleague to his wife briefly, as the two waited to address the crowd. Senator Kerry and Mrs. Heinz met a second time in 1992, this time in Rio de Janeiro at a UN Earth Summit called to address escalating fears of climate change, the fourth in a series of UN climate talks around the world. Kerry was still a Massachusetts senator, divorced in 1988. Heinz, widowed in 1991 after her husband was killed in a helicopter crash, attended as a delegate from the U.S. State Department.
At the Earth Summit, delegates adopted a Climate Change Convention that led to the emissions-cutting Kyoto Protocol in 1997. They also developed Agenda 21, an action plan for nations, local governments, and private organizations to strengthen “sustainable development” by combating poverty, empowering women and minorities, providing food and resources for children, protecting biodiversity, conserving virgin land, and setting out educational goals to teach citizens about the importance of sustainable programs of action.