A Relentless Pursuit
Bruce Milne implements a Sustainability Studies Program at UNM to address the challenges of preserving Earth’s ability to support life.
by Steve Carr
“My feeling is that if you’re going to be an active citizen of this planet, as opposed to a passive consumer, you need to enlist your life in doing that kind of work.”
Relentless. That’s one word that can be used to describe Biology Professor and Sustainability Studies Program Director Bruce Milne. It also sums up the type of Herculean effort it took Milne to implement the new Sustainability Studies Program at the University of New Mexico.
The Sustainability Studies Program, as Milne and many colleagues have envisioned, is a program designed to provide leadership and solutions to tackle the sustainability challenge, which addresses the Earth’s ability to support life in the face of disruptions in global, regional, and local processes central to security, health, and economic well-being.
After toiling for years with the idea, Milne had to take action if the program was ever going to get off the ground. He sat in on an introductory leadership training course where he and the other participants were asked three questions in order to help them evaluate what it was they wanted to accomplish.
“They walked us through this whole process of evaluation,” says Milne. “The key questions were: ‘What’s working for you now? What’s not working, and what do you need to be?’ What was working for me was that I had this great concept for a program, which enjoyed overwhelming moral support. What wasn’t working was the lack of money and decision-making power to provide the funding.”
Then Milne asked himself, “What do I need to be?” He really dug in and came up with one word.
“I had to be relentless,” he says. “I came back here the next day and set up a file on my computer and called it ‘relentless.’ In that file there are key titles like legislative activity—going to the Roundhouse and pitching my program and doing everything that’s required to make that happen.
“It was really to a point where you could not say ‘no’ to me. If someone said ‘no,’ it just slid off like Teflon and I kept on going,” Milne says with a laugh. “That’s what it took.”In the end, by the time the curriculum proposal was approved, Milne thought, “Man, this was almost impossible.”
The program has been designed as a major collaboration across campus, including the sciences, engineering, management, architecture and planning, the humanities, and arts, which will facilitate new career paths and job opportunities in sustainable development.
The possibilities range from “energies,” including solar, wind, biomass, and vegetable fuels, to design solutions, involving architecture, neighborhoods, rural-urban interactions, and building and construction. It includes “technologies” that range from transportation, water re-use, local food production, waste disposal, and water retention, to “decision-making” in urban planning and public policy, public transportation, and resource use, including art, culture, and economics.
Additionally, one of the biggest components of the program involves “collaboration” in the areas of academic, business, community, state, non-profit, and global interests.
The guiding principle behind the program is to “respect the wisdom of each to practice sustainability suited to their domain,” which encompasses and embraces collaboration.
Milne says you either believe the world is facing a major crisis or not. He defines crisis as a mass extinction of species unheard of since 65 million years ago, when dinosaurs became extinct— the last time the planet had this magnitude of extinction.
He points out: “By the year 2050, we’re going to have so many humans it will take four planets to support everybody in the lifestyle Americans are used to.” He cites other red-light indicators, including the world’s fisheries, which are in dire straits with major predatory fish like marlin and swordfish down ten percent. There are severe water shortages around the world, a pending energy crisis, and effects of global warming, including the melting of glaciers. The proof is seemingly endless.
“Either you say, ‘OK, that’s real stuff and we’re going to have to deal with it’ or somehow you just go back into your cave and you just forget about it,” Milne says emphatically. “My feeling is that if you’re going to be an active citizen of this planet, as opposed to a passive consumer, you need to enlist your life in doing that kind of work.”
While it may take yet another Herculean effort to redirect the harmful effects of global warming and its effects on the planet, Milne will surely continue to be relentless in his pursuit to make a difference.