Renewable Engergy: Time to redesign the human adventure

June 1, 2011

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Existing patterns of production and consumption are undermining the planet’s ability to support an ever-expanding human population, challenging humanity to redesign our activities toward sustainable goals.

Fred Kirschenmann, a keynote speaker at the 10th annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, has been actively involved in efforts to make our food systems more sustainable. He is a distinguished fellow for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. The center was created by the Iowa legislature to develop sustainable agricultural practices that both are profitable and conserve natural resources.

He is president of Kirschenmann Family Farms, a 3,500-acre certified organic farm in Windsor, N.D. About 1,000 acres are native prairie used for grazing livestock, which restorationists may consider emulating on their holdings. The remaining acreage is a diversified operation. Up to nine crops are raised each year in three different rotations. They have more than 100 brood cows and raise calves until they are yearlings.

The farm has been featured in National Geographic, the Smithsonian, Audubon, Business Week, the Los Angeles Times and Gourmet magazine. Several research studies have been done on the farm.

When serving as director of the Leopold Center from 2000 until 2005, Kirschenmann saw his position as an opportunity to think about the direction in which agriculture should go in the future. He sought to implement the principles of sustainability in a way that works for farms and farm families. He continues to work at the center, and in 2008 accepted a part-time position with Stone Barns in New York to explore ways that rural and urban communities can work together to develop sustainable agriculture and food systems.

Kirschenmann earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, and has both university teaching and administrative experiences. He credits his philosophical studies with training him to ask the questions behind the questions, which has served him well in farming and leadership roles he has held in national organic agricultural organizations.

He also acknowledges the role of Aldo Leopold’s thinking in shaping his perspective on needing to solve our problems ecologically. Society continues to fail to utilize knowledge of biology and how systems work as we apply one solution to a very specific problem, which then creates problems elsewhere in the system. He sees local community economics as healthiest when they are as self-reliant as possible, particularly where food and agriculture are concerned. A similar focus on local energy sources would also contribute to rebuilding local communities.

Cultivating an Ecological Conscience, published in 2010 by the University of Kentucky, is based on his essays on farming, philosophy and sustainability.

His presentation at the fair, “Redesigning the Human Adventure: Challenges and Opportunities,” is broad in scope. He sees the human enterprise on the planet as having reached a critical juncture. We have lived as though natural resources were inexhaustible and natural sinks limitless. The consumptive lifestyles of the last century have us reaching a point where many of the resources that made those lifestyles possible in the short term make it absurd in the long term. We now confront some major challenges that present us with unprecedented opportunities to rethink and redesign our future.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the June 1-7, 2011 issue

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