Closer to Sustainability


Nancy GiftDuring the COVID-19 Pandemic, many in the Berea College community submitted their unique perspectives on the situation to President Roelofs to share with campus. The following is the next in a series appearing here at Berea Beloved. 

By Nancy Gift Compton Chair of Sustainability; Associate Professor of Environmental Studies; Chair of Division II

I want to preface what I write about sustainability and this virus by saying that I am scared, and I am not trying to be blindly optimistic or insensitive to suffering. I am newlywed to someone with compromised lungs, and my mom, at 85, has heart problems; I worry for both of them. Every life lost to this virus matters, and the fact that medical care in this country is best for the privileged means that we are facing tragedies that need not happen this way.

On the other hand, I spend more energy than I would like worrying about our carbon emissions and our natural resources. And here we are as a globe, suddenly and dramatically improving air quality and water quality and slowing consumption of goods and fuel and resources. We are, many of us, cutting our busy lives to core essentials, hopefully to some of the basics that truly make us happy: simple meals with loved ones, walks and time with animals, reaching out via letters and phones and email and text to those we care about. We are buying less stuff and flying less and keeping important people close.

Some people in power are noticing that working people matter. And many people are protecting the vulnerable. The political ground is shifting. The stock market is literally shrinking.

I find myself watching this moment, with compassion and fear and hope and wonder and anxiety, hoping that we can make the best of this awful situation, soon return to community life and travel, but not return to the habits of production and destruction and pollution. Maybe this can be a turning point in the path of climate change, and maybe we can move closer to sustainability in the wake of COVID-19.