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Saint Mary’s professor connects care for the environment, sustainable living

| Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Professor Chris Cobb admits he probably spends more time in Science Hall than most of his colleagues in the humanities department. The Saint Mary’s professor has served as both the English department chair and a professor of environmental studies.

“What I use from teaching English when I am teaching Environmental Studies is primarily the teaching of observation of detail … looking deeply at a text or looking deeply at, say, a patch of forest,” Cobb said.

Detail, Cobb explained, is so very important in both of these contexts, despite how different the subjects might seem.

Now in his 12th year at Saint Mary’s, Cobb said he is playing a different role this year as he is on sabbatical.

“I have environmental projects and Shakespeare projects for my sabbatical … so far, I have been working mainly on the environmental projects,” Cobb said.

On campus, Cobb is working with the “Sustainability at Saint Mary’s” course, which is part of the Holy Cross Charism tri-campus class. He is also working with a group seeking to establish a sustainable farm at the College.

Off campus, Cobb is part of a group that is developing a network of environmental organizations for northern Indiana.

Ideally, these organizations would enable people who are concerned about the environment to work proactively for better environmental policies in the region, Cobb said.

Around campus, Cobb is known for his environmentally-friendly practices, including riding his bike to campus. In fact, Cobb said, he doesn’t drive at all, biking where he can, then choosing to take public transportation and cabs when necessary.

Cobb said he has been working on implementing sustainable practices into his daily life for about 15 years. These changes have come about gradually, Cobb said, just as his interest in environmental issues developed over time.

“I try to eat local, eat organic and keep my meat consumption low,” Cobb said.

In addition to these dietary choices, Cobb said he has made his home greener, using various methods to reduce electricity use. His home includes a high-efficiency furnace instead of a traditional Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system for heating and cooling. It also includes solar panels that produce nearly as much electricity as his home uses and a water heating pump that utilizes heat transfer rather than electricity. Cobb said he also does his yard work with hand tools instead of ones powered by gasoline or electricity.

Students should care about their impact on the environment for a number of reasons, Cobb said.

“It’s about the future of the world,” he said. “The conditions that enable our civilization and the ecosystems of the planet on which our civilization depends and that allow it to flourish are changing. That change is a violently disruptive process … these are catastrophic events.”

This summer’s three devastating hurricanes are among the more noticeable environmental catastrophes, bringing to light questions about what human actions can do to the natural world, Cobb said.

If something isn’t done about environmental practices, Cobb said, these natural disasters could become the new normal. He said this concern drives his efforts to live in a way that conserves energy and resources. Cobb said he would also encourage others to implement these practices into their lives.

“It’s basic care for the world around us and for us having a livable future to do something about these things,” Cobb said.

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