The Robert T. Stafford Speaker Series on sustainability got off to an excellent start last Monday evening when Jim Merkel, sustainability coordinator at Dartmouth University, took the stage in the Old Chapel. About 50 students and a few faculty and administrators packed into the chapel to hear Merkel tell of his personal journey from a military arms dealer, to a radical activist, to a peaceful middle-aged man who has learned how to neutralize his ecological footprint and live the good life.
In his twenties, Merkel helped the United States government sell military arms to foreign countries, but after witnessing the environmental devastation caused by the Exxon Valdez oil wreck in 1989 and believing that he was in part responsible for this atrocity because of his work, he quit the government and chose to live a more meaningful life.
For 16 years, Merkel has lived comfortably on only $5,000 a year, and he has traveled the world to promote peace and teach sustainable living.
He told the audience how each one of us needs to learn to live a sustainable life, and that we should have fun doing it.
His talk seemed to strike a chord with audience members.
“Though it may seem that one or two people couldn’t make a difference in the world, the truth is you have to start small to make it big,” student Jennifer Mitchell said.
Student Megan Rodgers agreed saying “providing one’s own sustenance is very fulfilling and life affirming.”
You couldn’t help but feel the hope and passion that Merkel exuded when he spoke, and many students walked away tremendously motivated to move forward.
“Now is the right time to act,” said student Amanda Nigrello. “Lacking funds doesn’t mean we can’t be sustainable.”
Katie Lawyer echoed Nigrello’s comments saying “my generation has the right to be heard.”
Several students stuck around after to chat with Merkel about how to advance sustainability at Castleton and in their own lives.
Look for the upcoming speakers in the sustainability series, and get ready for Castleton’s Sustainability Day Celebration on April 25.
If you are interested in helping make the campus more sustainable, contact Natalie Brassill to join the Sustainability Club or contact Professor Paul Derby to learn more about student sustainability projects.