This way to sustainability

By Kyle Yamamoto
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The Orion

Simple green and white signs with arrows on the Chico State campus read, “This Way to Sustainability.”

More than 1,700 people followed those arrows and found themselves at the nation’s largest student-run sustainability conference.

“Actually, we might be simply the largest sustainability conference, after this year,” said Deanna Dottai, conference student coordinator. “Last year, we had about 1,200 people and the professionally ran sustainability conference had a couple hundred more.”

Dottai estimated about 70 percent of conference attendees were students and many of them traveled to Chico specifically for the events.

The conference, free for students from any university, connected non-Chico State attendees who pre-registered online with local hosts, who housed students for the weekend. Students from out of town were also given a bag of food from the local farmers market.

Students from throughout California attended, as well as a few from other states.

“We even had some students registering online as late as Tuesday,” Dottai said. “But we had plenty of volunteers who were willing to take in more people to their houses.”

The conference was the fifth annual sustainability conference held at Chico State and planning began last March, she said.

Because of the long planning time, a variety of speakers whose expertise ranged from energy issues and “zero waste” to the business aspect of sustainability were able to attend the conference. Speakers also came from the East Coast, Germany and Spain.

“We tried to get as an eclectic group as possible,” Dottai said. “We have some pro-nuclear energy speakers here. Maybe you wouldn’t expect something like that.”

The group of speakers was not easy to assemble. A team of about 30 students gave input on who they would like to see at the conference. The final list was decided from there.

Networking at other conferences, calling speakers’ agents and using social sites such as Facebook were some of the strategies Dottai and her team used.

During the weekend, there were more than 100 Chico State student volunteers helping at the conference.

Dottai was able to assemble such a large group for the weekend because this is the one big, yearly event on campus at which environmental groups such as A.S. Sustainability, Net Impact and Sustainable Conservation get together and work as a team.

Environmentalist keynote speaker Derrick Jensen was one of 10 people who spoke at the conference.

Dottai and some colleagues saw Jensen at a conference in Oregon and told him about This Way To Sustainability, she said. Six months later, they invited him to attend and he accepted.

Nico Stehr, a professor of cultural studies at Zeppelin University in Germany, spoke on climate changes and John Peterson Myers, founder and CEO of “Environmental Health Sciences” magazine spoke about how the rapid changes in the medical profession have provided an opportunity to try to prevent some diseases.

Paul Watson, captain of the ship “Steve Irwin,” as seen on Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars,” also spoke at the conference.

Watson was featured in three different sessions. At two of the sessions, he spoke with Ben Zuckerman, a UCLA physics and astronomy professor, and Dick Schneider of Californians for Population Stabilization. The three discussed the looming overpopulation problem.

In the speech he gave by himself, Watson told stories about why he risks his life to save whales, asking why he shouldn’t be able to fight for the whales when others are fighting wars over oil.

He also touched on his views about California’s economy, saying it is based on slavery since it relies so heavily on the work of illegal immigrants from Mexico who earn minimum wage and no benefits.

Watson also gave reasons he thinks worms are more important to the planet than people. Worms were here without people and were doing fine, he said. They would be fine without humans, but humans cannot exist without worms.

Most importantly, attendees learned about why Watson is so passionate about saving the whales and why they should be, too.

“All social changes come from the passion of individuals,” he said. “Each and every one of you has the power to change the world. It’s you and I that make a difference.”


Kyle Yamamoto can be reached at
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