Section V: Ecological Civilization

Track 2: Sustainable Practice and the Cultural Dimensions of Ecological Health
(Sandra Lubarsky)

Each presenter in this track has been involved in some way in disrupting the standard narrative about human-nature relations. That narrative involves two main principles: that we have the right to manipulate the natural world because it is for our benefit and that we have the wherewithal to do so. Underneath this is the assumption that the natural world’s only value is the value it has for us.

Although each presenter operates with an understanding of human-nature relations that is critical of both anthropocentrism and utilitarianism, the majority of people who are engaged in “resource” management have not discarded these assumptions. Our task is to change the terms of this conversation so that the natural world is valued in ways that challenge the sufficiency of economic and utilitarian measures. 

Among the questions we will consider are these:

  • How do we break the grip of the anthropocentric, utilitarian, managerial mind-set?
  • How do we introduce non-monetary values into discussions in the sciences, social sciences, and professional practices dealing with sustainability so that we move beyond purely utilitarian measures like “ecological services?”
  • What are the life-affirming values that need to become integrated into on-the-ground sustainability efforts?
  • What might practices of sustainability look like when non-economic values are entertained? How do we insert this worldview into practice and what will it mean?
  • How do we translate this alternative ways of valuing the natural world into ways we teach our students, the ways practitioners learn to do their work, and into ways the public can understand?


Presenter Bios:

Lee F. Ball Jr. currently serves as interim Director of the Office of Sustainability at Appalachian State University. He has spent the past fourteen years teaching in the Department of Technology and Environmental Design and is a founding member of ASU’s Living Green residential learning community. Lee’s primary research is focused on sustainability literacy, the valuation ecological design, biophilic design, and change agency related to community engagement. Lee is also the President of the Elkland Art Center, a non-profit community based experiential art and sustainability education organization that specializes in puppetry, large scale community parades, video documentaries, and community development. His other interests include art, birding, gardening, running, music, and stone masonry. Lee has a PhD in Sustainability Education from Prescott College, AZ. 


Nathaniel Barrett is a research fellow and member of the “Mind-Brain Group” of the Institute for Culture and Society at the University of Navarra (Pamplona, Spain), where he investigates a variety of questions related to value and mind, focusing especially on the perception and enjoyment of value in musical performance and religious practice. He specializes in philosophical and historical studies of the relationship between religion and science, with particular attention to the concepts of nature entailed by religious and scientific understandings of the human person. He is also currently engaged with environmental scientists and philosophers exploring the religious implications of ecological restoration. Nat has also published papers on cognitive and evolutionary theories of religion, Chinese philosophy and religion, process philosophy, and ecological restoration. He has a Ph.D. from Boston University and an MTS from Harvard Divinity School.


Roman Bitsuie was the first Navajo to graduate from Princeton University. A long-time leader in Navajo Nation, Mr. Bitsuie spent many years of his career negotiating a settlement of a 100-year-long boundary dispute between the Navajo and the Hopi. Since then, he has been working on economic development projects to create a revenue stream for the Navajo community that will bring the Navajo back home and invest in improvements, as well as working on judicial reform to emphasize a return to the ancient Navajo tradition of resolving disputes. Mr. Bitsuie practices the ancient Navajo ceremonies to heal patients, and lives the life of a traditional practitioner.


Jana Carp is an urban planning educator, consultant, and author. The theme running through her work is the attempt to harmonize nature and culture in the urban environment. Her recent publications and presentations connect the global Slow Movement—arising in response to the negative secondary effects of industrial-scale speed—and social-ecological resilience. Her community projects include initiating a multi-stakeholder effort that restored the downtown portion of an urban creek, created new working relationships, and revised town storm water policy. At Saint Mary’s College of California, Jana is a lecturer and campus master planning consultant. She has a PhD (Public Policy Analysis) and an MA (Urban Planning and Policy) from the University of Illinois at Chicago, an MA (Religion and Art) from the Pacific School of Religion, and is a Fellow of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute.


Pete A.Y. Gunter was the founding chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of North Texas. With Max Oelschlaeger, he transformed the department to create a program in environmental philosophy, which now affords a Ph.D. He was instrumental in the creation of the Big Thicket National Biological Preserve in southeast Texas, the first such preserve in the history of the National Park Service. Among his books are Texas Land Ethics; The Big Thicket: A Challenge for Conservation; The Big Thicket: An Ecological Reevaluation, and Bergson and the Evolution of Physics. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from both the University of Texas and Cambridge University and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University.


William R. Jordan III is described by writer Michael Pollan as the “leading visionary” of ecological restoration. He introduced the term “restoration ecology” and was the first to clearly articulate the value of restoration as a technique for basic research. He launched and edited the first periodical to deal specifically with restoration, co-founded the Society for Ecological Restoration International, and currently directs the New Academy for Nature and Culture. Commenting on his book The Sunflower Forest: Ecological Restoration and the New Communion with Nature (California, 2003) environmental writer Ernest Callenbach wrote, “This work aims to change the fundamental assumptions of the environmental movement. I cannot think of any intellectual project of greater importance.” Bill’s most recent book is Making Nature Whole: A History of Ecological, Restoration (2011). He holds a Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Edmund Kwok is the founding Executive Vice-President of the first joint venture university between Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland, the Beijing Normal University — HK Baptist University United International College in the city of Zhuhai. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of Humanities by Augsburg College in recognition of his work in promoting liberal arts education in China. His most recent project involves designing an educational community based on a postmodern, social-ecological, and process philosophical strategy of “co-creation, co-development and co-sharing.” Dr. Kwok specializes in the study of eastern and western cultures and holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. 


Sandra Lubarsky chairs the Goodnight Family Sustainable Development Department at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. For most of her time in the academy, she has been involved in efforts to bring the conversation on sustainability into higher education. She currently writes on process thought and aesthetics, recently publishing essays on beauty in Keeping the Wild (2014; excerpted in Utne Reader, March 2015)) and in The Energy Reader (2012). She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University.


Stephanie Pincetl is professor-in-residence at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and founding director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities (CCSC). The CCSC’s research focuses on resource flows across L.A. County and brings together powerful data sets as a tangible resource for planning and decision making. Dr. Pincetl’s research focuses on urban sustainability and the interaction between cities and ecosystems. She has written extensively about land use in California, environmental justice, habitat conservation efforts, water and energy policy. Her book, Transforming California, the Political History of Land Use in the State, is the definitive work on land use politics and policies of California. Recently appointed to the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission, Dr. Pincetl holds a Ph.D from UCLA’s former Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. 


Tom Sisk is the Olajos-Goslow Chair of Environmental Science and Policy at Northern Arizona University, focusing his work on issues affecting biodiversity, natural resources, and global change. His lab group carries out research in arid forest, grassland and desert ecosystems, addressing a broad range of topics, from fundamental issues in ecology, to species conservation, landscape analysis and land use. The group also pursues novel collaborative approaches for informing policy and management with sound science. Tom teaches courses in ecology, conservation biology, and environmental policy, and he directs the Landscape Conservation Initiative, a research center at Northern Arizona University that includes the Lab of Landscape Ecology and Conservation Biology, which he founded in 1996. In the mid-1990’s, Tom directed an international program in tropical conservation biology for the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1992.  Before joining the NAU faculty in 1996, Tom served as Special Assistant to the Director of the National Biological Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.  He is a Senior Ecologist of the Ecological Society of America and an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, and he serves on numerous editorial and advisory boards concerned with science, conservation, and sustainability.


Mark Stemen is a professor of Geography and Planning at California State University-Chico where he has also served as Coordinator of Environmental Studies and led the effort to integrate sustainability and civic engagement into the curriculum. He is recognized on the campus for his inspiring work with students and celebrated for his efforts in sustainability in the Chico community and beyond. Marc has served on the Board of Butte Environmental Council and as chair of the City of Chico’s Sustainability Task Force. He holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Iowa.