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Chopp Commits to Sustainability

By Jeffrey Lott

President Rebecca Chopp recently became a signatory of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), joining leaders of nearly 700 institutions across the country in accelerating the research and educational efforts towards carbon neutrality in order to re-stabilize the earth’s climate. ACUPCC institutions have agreed to:

•    Complete an emissions inventory.

•    Within two years, set a target date and interim milestones for becoming climate neutral.

•    Take immediate steps to reduce green house gas emissions by choosing from a list of short-term actions.

•    Integrate sustainability into the curriculum and make it part of the educational experience.

•    Make the action plan, inventory, and progress reports publicly available.

Chopp also made sustainability a key theme of her inauguration address. “We must educate to set anew and set aright our relationship to the earth, to our climate, to the web of all existence,” she said.

3 Responses to “Chopp Commits to Sustainability”

  1. Dear President Chopp,
    It brought a smile to my face to see that you have become a signatory of the ACUPCC, as it has been something that in my eyes was very appropriate for Swarthmore to be a part of. I was also heartened to read your commencement address, and its emphasis on the state of our environment and the importance of educational institutions in helping to address the crisis we collectively face.

    I've writing to briefly share what is for me an issue of underlying importance with regard to the condition of the planet and the role that Swarthmore can potentially play in the societal changes that are so urgently needed. To paraphrase Albert Eisenstein, we can not create the deep changes in how we live with the same thinking that created these problems. What is needed is a fundamental re-evaluation of who we are as individual and who we are as a people.

    Since leaving Swarthmore, I have been studying and applying clinically traditional philosophies of health and well-being through herbal medicine, acupuncture and internal practices such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong. These traditional perspectives offer a road map for not only personal health but societal well-being. At this pivotal point in human history, we can use the wisdom of east Asian and other very well-established indigenous perspectives as models for sustainable living, individually and collectively. Not only are some these traditional worldviews relatively easy to access at this point, but I do not believe we have the time to start from scratch and re-create a comprehensive understanding of how to live a balanced life. Nor do we need to do so, as indigenous people and their medical systems have been asking and answering for millenium the same questions that now confront us: What is our place in the world? How do we live in a way that promotes our own well-being and the well-being of our children and their children? How do we help undo the destruction we see around us, and help natural and human communities heal?

    If I can be of help with the discussion and actions that you have helped to initiate at Swarthmore, I would be very happy to be of assistance however I am able.

    Warmly yours,
    Brendan Kelly, '92

  2. Dear Brendan,

    Thank you for your kind words and provocative questions. I do think sustainability is going to be one of the most critical challenges confronting us, as a College, and more broadly, as a society in both the near and long-term. I anticipate this theme coming up time and again as we undertake our strategic direction-setting exercise this year.

    I also think personal health and wellness will be increasingly challenged. You are wise to suggest we look not only to Western medicine and technique, but also to ancient philosophies and practices such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong for our best understanding of
    how to lead a balanced life. We are welcoming a new class of students to campus this very day. At the parents welcome reception today this subject came up more than any other – how do we inspire and encourage our students to lead a balanced life?

    As we begin to address these and other questions I will be looking for alumni input and engagement and welcome your offer of help.

    With warm regards from campus,


  3. Dear President Chopp,
    Thank you for your reply in what I imagine is a very busy schedule. I have attached below a copy of a short article to be published in the national acupuncture newsletter about some of the connections that I see between our personal well-being, and that of the planet. It is written for an audience of Asian medicine practitioners and students, but I trust you will understand the basic massage, namely that our wellbeing (or lack thereof) is directly reflected in the condition of the planet, and vice versa.

    From my clinical experience as an acupuncturist and herbalist, and from my continued involvement in environmental and social issues, it is clear that our individual health and the health of the people around us is intimately connected to the health of the natural world. As I have come to understand it, they are microcosm and macrocosm scales of the issues we now face.

    In thinking about Swarthmore, the issue of the long-term wellbeing of students, faculty and staff is very much connected to the health of the water, soil, air and climate that sustains our lives. I have been connected to Swarthmore from a distance for the past several years, so I don't know what is happening there in terms of specific work on environmental or social issues. If I can be of help, please let me know.


    Chinese Medicine and Cultural Transformation: Yin and Yang
    Brendan Kelly, M Ac, L Ac, Herbalist

    A woman, Mary , in her early fifties comes into our office for her first appointment, looking for help with night sweats. She describes being very physically active, exercising vigorously most days, volunteering with several community non-profits, as well as maintaining a busy family and social life. Externally, she is trim and, at least as we are encouraged to see it in our culture, in good shape physically. Her pulses and tongue indicates what is, at least in my practice, a common picture—Kidney Yin deficient heat.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 issues its exhaustive fourth assessment report, summarizing vast amounts of western scientific research on the condition of the planet’s climate. Along with Al Gore, it was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for assembling and analyzing the work of more than 2500 scientific expert reviewers, more than 800 contributing authors, and more than 450 lead authors from over 130 countries. To summarize its finding, there is a nearly universal scientific consensus (greater than 99%) that the planet is warming significantly due to the actions of humans, which is very likely to continue to increase the affects globally of violent storms, dramatic melting of glaciers with connected rise in sea levels, change in climate patterns resulting in increasing floods and droughts, and general disruption of climate stability. And rather than being two separate conditions, Mary’s situation and the climate affects described in the IPCC report are not two stories, but actually the same story playing itself out on two, interrelated levels.

    Chinese medicine, and the philosophies upon which it is based, has a long history of recognizing the inherent connections between the small picture and the big picture, between the microcosm and the macrocosm. The Nei Jing states that the “human being is a small universe as the human body has everything that the universe has”, listing the similarities between the two . Also, our basic methods of diagnosis– pulse and tongue– have with them an assumption that we can evaluate one part of a person and understand their larger condition in body, mind and spirit.

    In my clinical practice, and I imagine for most of us practicing in western, industrialized societies, Kidney Yin deficient heat is a common diagnosis. In fact, it seems to be assumed, incorrectly, in our society that the night sweats, irritability, and general lack of internal peace associated with this condition are an inevitable part of aging, particularly for women. Rather than being inevitable, however, it is a direct reflection of how we are living. While there are numerous factors that help create the condition, a basic, underlying cause is being too busy for too long.

    In looking back at Mary, from a common view in our society, she was healthy—she exercised regular, was physically strong and trim, and busy trying to help others in her community. But what was lacking, and what Chinese medicine and its philosophies can offer, is a well-established understanding of what health involves from the inside out. We have very well developed ways to diagnosis and discuss what lasting health involves internally. A basic understanding, which I think very relevant to our times, is that more is not better. More exercise, more work, more play, seeing more patients, prescribing more herbal formulas does not necessarily lead to a more balanced, harmonious, and healthy life. In fact, the amount of overdoing, the amount of excess Yang, has reach such an extraordinary level, that we are seeing it manifest in the global climate around us.

    The beginning science of global climate change is quite simple. As in a greenhouse, when we create “greenhouse gases” from the burning of oil and coal, such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, they eventually accumulate in the upper atmosphere. When sunlight enters the atmosphere, it is oscillating at a relatively rapid rate, and when it hits the earth and is reflected outward, it’s vibration slows, preventing part of it from escaping into space. This increase in captured reflected sunlight increases temperature in the same process that happens in a greenhouse.

    In addition to this increase in heat, there has been corresponding global decrease in the planet’s ability to capture greenhouse gases. Plants, trees, soil and the oceans are able to absorb vast amounts of carbon and methane. However, large-scale global deforestation and urbanization has dramatically reduced the amount of forests, bogs and prairies, thereby decreasing their ability to absorb what we are emitting. Also, it appears that the amount of carbon the ocean can absorb is also decreasing significantly as they may have reached a saturation point.

    Seen together, this dramatic increase in heat-trapping gases and equally dramatic decrease in the planet’s ability to cool itself through capturing carbon and methane has a striking resemblance to our understanding of yin deficient heat. And what is creating this dynamic? We are. We collectively in the industrialized world continue to release greenhouse gases at an ever increasing rate—increasing global temperatures– as we continue to drastically cut down forests and pave over soil—decreasing the planet’s ability to cool. In America for example, we are about 3% of the global population and contribute over 20% of greenhouse gases globally as we have cut down over 95% of the original forests in the U.S.

    And why are we doing this? In thinking in terms of Chinese medicine, it seems that we collectively suffer from, among other issues, yin deficient heat. That does not mean that each of us individually will have a pulse or tongue that indicates this diagnosis in particular, or that we should assume all acupuncture treatments or herbal medicine prescriptions should focus on this particular dynamic. But we as a society seem to be pathologically overactive from an inability to slow down. We are creating and consuming too much, driving and flying too much, being entertained electronically too much. And as an understanding of Yin and Yang shows us, whenever there is an excess of something, there will be a deficiency of something else. This excess of Yang culturally has helped to create our collective lack of Yin.

    An important part of this understanding is that we cannot ultimately treat this excess of Yang through doing more. Yes, we need to rapidly and dramatically increase the use of wind and solar power, use low and no emission vehicles, eat and live more locally, but the lasting antidote to excess Yang is more Yin. Trying to address global warming by doing more of the same makes as much sense as prescribing large amounts of Fu Zi aconite, Rou Gui Cinnamon bark or other hot herbs to address Kidney yin deficient nights sweats.

    We as practitioners and students of Chinese medicine have a real role to play in helping address global warming, and the overall environmental crisis we face. Our understanding of Yin and Yang, so central to the historical understanding of the medicine, can offer a much needed understanding of balance and harmony on a personal level that we can then expand to the level of our culture. And of course, there is no better place for us to start than living a balanced life ourselves in this era of pathological overdoing.


    Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, Summary for Policy Makers, In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation, from IPPC web site

    Liansheng, Wu and Qi, Wu, Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine (Nei Jing), China Science and Technology Press, published 1997

    Pearce, Fred With Speed and Violence, Beacon Press, 2007.