Healing the Wounds of Our Environment and Our Lives


Legend tells us sometime in the early 20th century, The Times in London sent a message to a variety of well-known authors asking, “What’s wrong with the world today?” Noted author G. K. Chesterton reportedly replied as follows:

Dear Sir,
I am.
G.K. Chesterton

For the first several weeks of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I wanted desperately to blame someone. It was hard watching the massive flow emanating from the ocean floor. Someone had to be held accountable. BP CEO, Tony Hayward, seemed an appropriate target with his flippant remarks and underestimation of the devastation caused by the spill. Pile the sins of progress and energy consumption on him and beat him out into the desert. That will surely bring us atonement.

Yet, somewhere along the way I admitted to myself that I actually caused that spill, and I am very sorry for the result. New York Times columnist, David Brooks, in a column titled “Drilling for Uncertainty” (May 27, 2010) offered this assessment:

. . . the real issue has to do with risk assessment. It has to do with the bloody crossroads where complex technical systems meet human psychology.

Over the past decades, we’ve come to depend on an ever-expanding array of intricate high-tech systems.These hardware and software systems are the guts of financial markets, energy exploration, space exploration, air travel, defense programs and modern production plants.

These systems, which allow us to live as well as we do, are too complex for any single person to understand. Yet every day, individuals are asked to monitor the health of these networks, weigh the risks of a system failure and take appropriate measures to reduce those risks.


He concludes, “This isn’t just about oil. It’s a challenge for people living in an imponderably complex technical society.”

This is my fault because deep down I want it all. I want to come and go as I please, maximizing my comfort and convenience. I want products entertaining me constantly. I want to dispose of the things that no longer interest me without regard to the broader consequences.  I want . . .  I want . . . I want . . . You see the problem. Society is simply giving me what I want. The creation of all these systems, the management of so many high risk technologies, and the collateral damage to the environment and our lives is because of me. I need to change – both for me and the environment.  I must contribute to a more sustainable future.

Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report, from the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) was published in 1987. The report defines sustainability as “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The word “want” doesn’t even appear. This is going to be tough.

I have been inspired by our students and faculty, already teaching me a new way forward. It’s the concept of a billion things. It’s taken a billion little actions on the part of billions of people over a long period of time to get us into this situation. It will, therefore, take a billion little actions, on the part of billions of people over a long period of time to get us to a better place. Here is my list:

  1. I am going to drive less. I recently oiled my bike chain and pumped up the tires. I ride from our house to the office as much as I can. Let’s fill the bike racks on campus. If we run out of bike rack space, we’ll get some more.
  2. I will not be using a tray in Central Market. I need to eat less (for obvious reasons) and not waste food. Over 600 trayless colleges reduced food waste by an average of 20 percent, saving budgets, waste disposal and water to wash the trays (an average of 1.8 gallons/tray). Will you join me in going trayless?
  3. I am going to take shorter showers. At 50, I find some parts of my body seem to wake up faster than others. While a shower brings my waking body into alignment, I can do better by waking up through more exercise and using less water.
  4. I will seek to buy more local food. As people who like to garden, Tammy and I enjoyed learning more about the organic garden at Central. Grounds at the president’s house include a perfect space for an organic garden and maybe some rain gardens. We may need some assistance to make this a reality, but if anyone helps us develop an organic garden at the house that complements the produce from the existing organic garden, we will gladly share the bounty.
  5. I will stop using bottled water. I think if I told my grandparents years ago that I had this great business idea to bottle water and sell it to the public, they would have laughed at such a ridiculous scheme and questioned my sanity. Yet here we are. I’m done sucking bottled water.
  6. I will reduce my use of electricity. Unplugging chargers, turning off lights, and limiting gadgets seems so simple, yet so hard to remember. If you catch me wasting electricity, let me know.

The blame game is over. It’s now about choice.

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158 responses to “Healing the Wounds of Our Environment and Our Lives”

  1. Russ Goodman says:

    Excellent thoughts Mark. Can one surmise that your stopping using bottled water implies that you will lead Central College to do the same?

    I urge you, as the leader of this institution, to initiate that change here on campus, as we have a great opportunity to make significant changes on campus for the betterment of our environment. This would be an excellent first step.

    Russ G.

  2. Jim Zaffiro says:

    It happens that SUSTAIN has a “Ban-the-Bottle” proposal ready to go…anyone care to sign-on?


    • Anna Noel says:

      I’ll sign on to that! I pledge to no longer use bottled water – gee, that wasn’t so hard…

    • shannan mattiace says:

      Jim, I’ll sign on but my name might not mean much being off campus! I still have a pending call to you to catch up. Thinking of you, shannan

  3. Jessica Heerema Minnihan says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s incredibly refreshing to read this. I was also just sickened watching Mother Nature take another hit for us in the Gulf. It’s so easy to get caught up in the blame game.

    On campus and off, I think we all need to be aware of our consumption of resources. Your list of resolutions is inspiring and great place to start. I stopped consuming bottled water, and have happily been using the same aluminum Sigg bottle for two years. I wish I could be there to help with your organic garden!
    Thank you for taking the initiative to make Central’s campus a better, greener place!

    Class of 2004

  4. Carol Davis says:

    These are all wonderful ideas and goals that we should all strive for, regardless of the oil spill. Our family has been seriously attempting reducing, reusing and recycling for quite some time, and I firmly believe it is necessary for our future.

    Another thing you, in your position, might do to help avoid such disasters — make sure our future business leaders and our future politicians are taught that the bottom line really ISN’T the only thing!

    Thanks for the letter!

  5. Jamie Gyolai says:

    This post demonstrates true leadership – thank you! Personal selfishness, comfort, convenience … bring on many of the wordly challenges at hand. Don’t believe me? – just as yourself “why” you make the choices you make – and be honest.

    I appreciate you setting the example and count me in to do the same.

  6. Mark Truth says:

    This is so incredibly disappointing.

    “Yet, somewhere along the way I admitted to myself that I actually caused that spill, and I am very sorry for the result.”

    What a pile of C-R-A-P. I didn’t realize that Mark was unable to think coherently or reason logically.

    You write an entire article blaming yourself for the oil spill and submit trayless trips to the Q as an appropriate response?

    Your ability to write eloquently does NOT overcome your total lack of common sense!

    • Reply says:

      Dr. Putnam shows both coherent thinking and logical reasoning. Metaphorical thinking is another strong suit of his, one that I think you completely missed in this article.

      Thank you for the eloquent piece, Dr. Putnam. As a recent alum, I am left with a feeling of regret of not being on campus to see your direct impact and a feeling of duty to do the small part I can to help create a better place for my children to live.

      I don’t think you should be expected to go clean up the spill, and I find your trayless tip, as well as the others, wonderful first steps to creating a sustainable environment.

    • Jackie Boat says:

      Can you suggest a better plan? Do you know how to solve the environmental crisis? I am surprised at the negative responses to this blog. You are quick to criticize without offering anything of value yourself. I completely agree with President Putnam and am glad to hear he takes responsibility for himself as we all should. We live in a global world where every action we take has an effect on people everywhere. Especially our overconsumption.

    • retired faculty member from Central says:

      Mark Truth, your’s is a fairly typical negative response of a pessimist. If you really think that the initial blog shows absence of coherent thinking or logical reasoning you might do us a favor by letting us know specifically the items you feel exemplify these traits.

  7. Ted Dirkx says:

    If I am add to the dialogue on going trayless. You pointed out excellent, very explicit reasons for going trayless, and as a higher-learning community we should think more about these sort of dilemmas.

    In my mind, going trayless is about awaking or becoming conscious to the way one dines at Central Market. Currently students, faculty, and staff walk into Central Market and often mindlessly grab a tray, and simply because the tray allows it more food is taken than needed. We never think about the consequences of the convenience we call a tray and its ability to allow a bounty of food to be taken and barely ate. As a higher-learning community its time we stop and think about the personal and communal consequences of trays and become mindful of how we dine. It’s quite disgusting to me that we throw away hundreds of pounds of food each and every day simply because its convenient.

    Ted Dirkx
    Class of 2011

  8. Jeremy Himli says:

    It is a shame that Central now has a president that clearly has little ability to think for himself. I got sick to my stomach reading this warmed over liberal garbage. There are so many real problems in this world that you could be worried about rather than these small steps that will make little or no difference to our environment. Maybe you could just start with doing your real job, educating the students of Central College.

    • Tej Dhawan says:

      Mark has done just what you ask of him in the last sentence — educate.

      During my freshman year on campus in 1987-88, another professor (Dr. Alan Copsey) urged us to do our little part. Despite responses in the Ray like yours, a few of us put a dozen ugly brown barrels all over campus to collect paper waste. That paper waste collectively saved (measured – not guessed) truckloads of trash. It was a small part then, as it is now and it continues to impact the dorm rooms, the campus, the city and beyond.

      That habit of 1987 has enabled me to put out a single bag of trash weekly, when my neighbors have 1-2 trash bins each. Multiply an impact like ours by a city, and you’ll see fewer landfills in your part of the world. Fewer landfills here will require less trash to be shipped to the other parts of the world you call our attention to. Little steps can have huge impact.

      Similarly, a personal switch to lower wattage appliances has saved ME (measured again, not guessed) over 20% month over month in electricity costs. Though it saves me money, ultimately it also requires lesser carbon to be burned upstream to provide me with the lower electricity needs. Multiply that within your community and, again, the difference is measurable and real.

      ‘Liberal garbage’ has been talking about our impact on the planet. Since the hurricanes of previous years and rains/floods/droughts of this year aren’t enough to shake our dominion over this planet, the real problems of the world continue to multiply. It is through efforts like those discussed here, that eventual change can be achieved.

      Try the little differences — you’ll be surprised at how much real and measurable impact they do have.

    • Cameron Van Kooten says:

      If we do not take these small steps now, there will be no students LEFT to educate someday. If saving the environment is “warmed over liberal garbage” then consider me a supporter of it, because this is one of the largest and most pressing issues we face today. Yes there ARE other issues to focus on as well, but how can we disregard the fact that we are destroying our home? Until we find another planet capable of sustaining human life the we can conquer and destroy as well, then step up and realize the things we do here CAN make a difference.

    • Andrew Prather says:

      This isn’t liberal garbage Jeremy. It is in line with an ancient way of thinking that stretches back to the Apostles, or at least to the early Christians. To seek to change oneself so that others can be changed is something we are all called to do. Instead of blaming others like we often do, we should search within ourselves for something that can be changed.

      I heard or read a story within the last couple of weeks. It went something like this:
      “When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.
      Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”
      ~unknown monk 1100A.D

      We should all heed the follow advice:

      Abba Poemen once said, ‘If a man remembered that it is written: “By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned,” (Matt. 12:37) he would remain silent.’

  9. Steve Ratering says:

    President Putnam,

    I love that Chesterton letter! I find it incredibly refreshing that you are taking responsibility for the spill, assuming you understand that you are one person among many who wants it all.

    Steve Ratering
    Class of 1984

  10. Scott Sandberg says:

    It is an absolute joy to see this enthusiasm in an administration. And as this list exemplifies the sorts of thing all of us should strive to do, I feel in important to encourage the correction of past mindsets as well. I encourage you to be mindfull of what is not that once was. As you learn more about the history of Iowa, especially ecologically, the native prairie and trees will provide a map for future items on your list.

    Scott Sandberg
    Class of 2007

  11. Jason C. Dykehouse, Ph.D. (1992--almost B.A.) says:

    I am pleased that both the seemingly varied ideologies evidently found among some in the Central community and the names of those who post such comments are found together on this webpage. Virtual anonymity, which characterizes many-a-website’s posts, provides, in my opinion, many persons with a confidence, crass, and adversarial bluster that they might not readily display in real life conversations. Because the words and names on this topic will probably be stored on some server(s) somewhere, the postings might remain available for some time to come, and—perhaps at some pressing juncture—become public again so that some particular individual might be allowed a further defense or retraction of his or her stated view on the truth of the matter at hand. Words, here, are connected to their owners; I like that. I think the connection is helpful for society, especially if we allow for publicly posted words to be publicly retracted by their owners, hopefully in honesty and with little or no shame.

    Thankful for my Central education and possibly similarly responsible for at least the spill mentioned,

    Jason C. Dykehouse, Ph.D.
    Middle School Theatre Arts Teacher and
    Seminary Instructor of Biblical Hebrew
    (and almost Class of 1992)

  12. Jeremy Huss says:

    I’m glad to see this.

    Without meaning to take away from the commendable personal efforts you have outlined, I feel it is important to mention that the longstanding and ongoing environmental degradation of our planet cannot be solved by such personal measures alone. The mantra of “reduce, re-use, recycle,” can accomplish much, but it ignores the elephant in the room: industries whose entire profit stream relies on environmental degradation, such as the technique of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which is explored in the recent HBO documentary “Gasland.”

    In addition to “a billion little actions,” a small number of larger actions can also have tremendous, and perhaps, more meaningful consequences.

    Therefore I urge you to continue marching further down this path and to consider the options available to you as the leader of Central College to institute meaningful, systemic change in addition to the personal change you have outlined above.

    Ghandi is oft-quoted with the saying, “You must be the change you seek in the world,” and this remains as true as it ever was. I would expand on this only to say to our westernized audience, that living by this saying requires more than minor efforts in our personal lives; it requires us to stand up against injustice everywhere. That means more than getting a sustainable bottle for your water. It means doing things like learning where your clothes come from, and changing habits once you learn they are manufactured in an east Asian sweatshop that uses child labor and dumps its waste into a river upon which downstream villages rely, or examining your retirement fund, and canceling your contributions when you see how much money is going to arms manufacturers.

    Even the greatest journeys start with a simple step. Mr. Putnam, I wish you a long and fruitful journey.

    J. Huss
    Class of Aught-Three

    “As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” -Eugene Victor Debs

  13. Jon Pals says:


    Do you believe that there is a possibility that “global warming” is a hoax or, as Al Gore would say, is the debate over? Do you think there is a 25% possibility that it is just normal climatic changes/cycles?

    Do you ever read weekly columns by main stream conservatives such as Dennis Prager, Charles Krauthammer, or Thomas Sowell? If so, please name one that you liked and agreed with.

    Do you think Fox News is unprofessional and untrustworthy or do you think they are mostly fair but a little bit biased towards the traditional conservative side? Do you think the majority of the main stream media favors the left?

    Do you think our country is headed in the right direction with high tax and spend policies?

    Do you think our rights were given by God…ie. life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or can they be given or made up by mankind? Is health care a right? Is having a house and enough food a right? Is having a TV a right?

    Do you think the government causes more problems than it solves or do you think we need more government? What do you think about all the social programs that are already going bankrupt(social security, medicare, etc)? Do you think they were mismanaged by the government?

    Do you think the government can spend your money and my money better than we can through charity?

    If you believe in God, do you think God would prefer that we used charity to take care of others or prefer that we use more government to do this for us?

    I think these are all fair questions and would like to hear the opinion of our President. I will await your response.


    Jon Pals, 2001 Alumni

    • David Humphrey says:

      You are absolutely correct. I’d bet that you will never get answers to the majority of your questions. Central continues to trudge along the liberal path, much to my dismay.

      • Alanna Hug-McAnnally says:

        Let’s hear it for Central being liberal. It gave us an education with many sides to ponder. It gave us the interest to open our minds. Having traveled to 22 countries and living in Saudi Arabia for some years, I can tell you my liberal education has always encouraged me to understand the faiths, laws, and customs of all these countries. Instead of closing my eyes as a conservative probably would, my eyes were wide open with enthusiasm to make friends in all of these countries. I still continue to do so. Our liberal education brought me to a fabulous job making me the ONLY FEMALE OFFICER (Saudi or foreign) in the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation. Had my eyes not been opened thoughout my schooling years – all of them – I would not have taken the time to learn about all the wonderful customs, etc., we lived under. Without Central’s liberal education, I would never have had the opportunity to work with Prince Faisal bin Saud and meet Ministers of Defense from 20+ countries, Heads of State, etc. So thank you Central for you great liberal education. Class of 1965

    • Emily Miller Class of '13 says:

      Please don’t sign off with “Respectfully” when obviously you don’t mean it. If you want to raise these questions maybe you could find a more appropriate way of asking them. And I don’t know what job you have that allows you time to post pretentious comments like this, but Dr. Putnam is busy running a college, not reading your silly rants. Can we please be adults about this very adult issue of protecting our home.

  14. The President’s words are eloquent and his sentiments are commendable. I am happy and proud to have my son enrolled at Central. I would, however, like to offer a cautionary note about his view.

    Some 80 years ago there was a major movement to get people to reduce their consumption. It is thought to have started in New York, but it quickly spread around the country and indeed, to the rest of the world. And it worked! Remarkably well, in fact. Millions and millions of people drove their cars fewer miles, bought much less clothing, and even cut back on the food they ate.

    That (involuntary) movement is now referred to as “The Great Depression.”

  15. Andy Thompson says:

    Mark: I’ve been impressed to read about your family and how you landed at Central. I certainly applaud your attempts to be responsible about waste. But I’m not sure the actions of an oil company become the fault of a society that has realized tremendous benefits as the result of fossil fuels. As an academic institution you might encourage everyone to go back and study how poor society was before petroleum products became such an indispensable part of our lives. The plastics that make up the keyboard you’re using, much of the bicycle you pedal to work, your home, your car, they all come from petroleum products. The simple fact that we now heat many of our homes with natural gas instead of an open fire has improved lifespans worldwide.

    Technology is not to be feared; it has brought greater efficiency and quality of life to untold millions. I hope we look at life as “cornucopians” rather than Malthusians. Al Gore’s world is a very depressing one indeed, but one he paints with only a passing regard for truth, inconvenient or otherwise.

    Using this tragedy to impose a guilt trip on students or other members of society is an unfortunate part of an larger agenda designed to substitute the wisdom of the “best and brightest” for the common sense of the American people. Our Founding Fathers gave us some amazing documents that prescribe laws and a government and embrace free market principles that have transformed our society and the world for the better. Why is the freedom to choose our way of life such a threat to the central planners and progressives in our society? Sure makes me miss Milton Friedman!

    Let’s embrace liberty and the American spirit of entrepreneurship and technology rather than cowering before the world, lamenting that America’s best days are behind her.

    • Far from campus says:

      Agreed. Nice warm and fuzzy steps to make but hardly the world shaking plan you would expect from Central. Perhaps Central will lower the cost of a college degree? Then I wont use so much energy making money to pay for my childrens’ education.
      Why stop at BP? If the US had never adopted petroleum products, the middle East’s best and brightest would be driving tour buses instead of bombing them. Of course we would be writing this in German or whoever beat then here. We just need to be more responsible with these tools of glutany vs. cursing them or using them as scapegoats for man’s evil & stupid actions.

      • Alanna Hug-McAnnally says:

        Having lived in Saudi Arabia for some years in a very responsible position, and having friends within the Royal family, one of whom was head of Anti-terrorism and Security, I resent your comment on the middle east and buses. Oh, and we get most of our oil from countries other than those in the middle east. Thank you.

  16. Eddie Andrews says:

    Absolute (eloquent) nonsense! With your logic, you’re also personally responsible for any terrorism, traffic violation, and Paris Hilton’s latest escapade. HOGWASH! If you really believe your own blog, you might consider donating part of your salary to the BP recovery fund.

    If I were your instructor, you’d receive the following marks:

    Style: A
    Logic: F
    Overall: D

    Your resulting actions (biking, trayless eating) aren’t bad — this time. But as the saying goes, broken clocks are right sometimes. So when you arrive at OK actions, please be careful that your guiding principles aren’t largely based on feeling and liberal dribble.

    • Jon Pals says:

      Well put.

    • Emily Miller Class of '13 says:

      We want oil. We DEMAND oil. Therefore, that oil was being pumped for US. Our role in this is obvious. I don’t get what is so difficult to understand about that.

      • Andrew Prather says:

        I am wondering this as well. I think the real motives are conservatism vs. liberalism. Can we please get past this issue?

        I think the main thing that worries those who have been attacking our President is that taking responsibility for our contributions to the faults of humanity is a scary issue.

  17. Phil says:

    All this stuff is just more earth worship!
    Mean while our friends around the world don”t care one bit about the earth. Turn your sights on our father in heaven and be the proper representation on earth that he alone requires. He is the true healer of our land not us, (not the exact quote)- “if those who are called by my name upon the earth will repent of their sin then I will restore and heal their land”.

    • Alanna Hug-McAnnally says:

      When God personally gets rid of all our problems (from our own doing) regarding the earth, I’ll consider that. Praying is fine. But with all the prayers being said by many regarding the earth’s condition, nothing has happened yet.

    • Andrew Prather says:

      There is little difference between this comment and choosing to pray over going to the doctor. Both are needed.

      I’ve helped cause a major problem that is resulting in the deaths of others and God’s beautiful creation. Do I merely pray and continue along my path of sin, or do I do something to change my current path?

  18. Stacy Picard says:

    I wonder how much energy is wasted on the posting and reading of senseless blogs.

  19. Kurt Meyer says:

    Thanks, Dr. Putnam, for presenting such a positive response to the BP-Gulf disaster.

    While none of us was personally or individually responsible for what happened, the solution to preventing future occurrences can certainly be influenced by our individual responses. An open forum like this is helpful as we each assess what we can do to help our society avoid such disasters in the future.

    Thanks for creating such a forum.

    Kurt Meyer (CUI student, 1977-79)

  20. Thank you for your courage in starting this blog, Mark. I appreciate the personal steps that you are taking to be mindful of your impact on the environment. I also believe, as a few have noted, that larger societal changes are needed, including more production of clean renewable energy and vehicles that use such energy. I am both amused and dismayed at the negative responses. It is interesting that people feel that the constitution is not respected and that their individual liberties are at risk when the government takes action. I see International Corporations as influencing us on subtle and obvious levels yet many conservatives don’t seem to notice that. David Brooks is one conservative opinion writer that I like. I experience him as intelligent, open, and thoughtful. Other conservative writers seem so set in their conservative black and white thinking that science and historical facts don’t matter. They don’t look at how their ideals were implemented in the past and failed in major ways. They use inflammatory statements that just aren’t true to incite fear and obedience in their followers. One thing I learned at Central, which I treasure, is to think critically and to be open enough to consider different aspects of reality.

  21. Kristin Tremper says:


    I applaud your efforts. I think it is quite brave of you to offer yourself up for the greater good in this way. When I make pledges I start out grand and then fall slack and there are only a few close friends around to call me out on my own hypocrisy or to commend me for trying. Because of the very public nature of your position you will not be afforded the same anonymity. I pray that we will all incorporate grace into our interactions with you and with each other. I also pray that we will work to uphold and support your efforts as a community. I won’t laugh and point on the day you need a tray because your soup is spilling, and I will not order bottled water for the next meeting I invite you to! Best wishes on the journey.


  22. Gretta Irwin says:

    As one of the last home economist to graduate from Central College, I have worked on food issues for over 20 years from teaching how to cook food to working with Iowa farmers and being engaged with legislative policies. Inside of the guilt about “I want, I want” it should be “I celebrate, I celebrate”. We have the luxury to plant “organic” gardens. Big whoop. My family did this growing up and my son has a back yard 4-H garden at our house in town – no way will it feed our family of five more than a few meals. Plus who has the time to care for it, harvest it and preserve it? Instead I encourage you and everyone to celebrate that we can have this discussion because we have full stomachs. Thanks to the improvements US agriculture has made, we have not known true hunger in the US. We involved with feeding you every day focus meticulously on how to reduce, reuse and recycle every day. That is what farming is. Yes, we feed thousands of people doing this. Yes, we do it on farms with our families. Yes, you get safe economical food at your finger tips. Why feel guilty? Celebrate the gifts farmers provide. As Christians we are to celebrate the gifts our Father has provided us, not feel guilty about them. Now take the time farmers have saved you and go do something good.

    • Alanna Hug-McAnnally says:

      We have so many homeless people in this country, and yes, they are hungry. Some die. So we DO have a hunger problem here. Is it on a par with some other countries? No. But to say we don’t have a true hunger problem isn’t correct. Ask those who are very hungry if it’s true hunger or not. Our nation is very fortunate, but the hunger problem is not cured yet.

  23. Brandon Eighmy says:

    I appreciate your thoughts Dr. Putnam. I agree that every little bit of conservation helps us sustain our earth. It is also known that leadership is example, and everything else is coercion.

    Brandon Eighmy
    Class of 2001

  24. Rose Feldman says:

    Hurrah! You got it! Or, you GET it. Abundance, comfort, and sustainability are not at odds with one another. Only a small mind with a small vision would think so.

    There are SO MANY sources of energy in this world. There are SO MANY modes of producing products. We CAN get outside of our little mental boxes.

    And to those who believe your notion of personal responsibility is, well, “hogwash” I would like to remind them that no snowflake ever feels responsible for an avalanche.


    Social scientists believe it only takes 11% of society (some say even much less) to change in order for the entire collective conscience to be transformed. Again I say, hurrah!

    As the Ayurvedic saying goes, “The world is as we are.”

    I applaud you for changing the way you are. The whole world is transforming because of it.

  25. carol says:

    all good things start in the home and thank you for pushing this idea in our children’s Central home

  26. Central Student, 2011 says:

    Hi President Putnam,

    In our effort to go eco-friendly regarding campus dining services (i.e., going trayless, taking less food, etc.), how about eliminating the paper cups for coffee at the cafe? I believe that a good step in the right direction would be to tell students that if they would like to get a coffee drink at the cafe, they need to supply their own, reusable, 16 or 20 oz. mug. I don’t believe that many students would object. I hate to think how many cups from the cafe I have used in my three (now fourth) years at Central. Just this year I began to tell my self I couldn’t get a drink at the cafe unless I have my thermos on me.

    • Ex Barista says:

      The cups that are used at the cafe are bio-degregradable and what would be considered “eco-friendly.” check the facts on the side of cups. I commend the administration on taking a step towards a sustainable campus without sacrificing the convenience for the students.

      • Ted Dirkx says:

        Maybe we could make you both happy by still offering our eco-friendly disposable cups and begin to offer a re-usable cup with maybe a discount per use. The cafe has offered reusable cups in the past that are very ergonomic and are easily toteable in a backpack.

  27. Larry Angove says:

    While becoming and actually being more environmentally responsible is, duh, a laudable goal for us all, I was disappointed that Dr. Putnam chose social lecturing as the topic of his first blog. I would have much preferred to hear his plans for strengthening the teaching and learning environment at Central. That’s what he was hired to do.

  28. Richard Stienstra says:

    Koodos for the enthusiasim! I was a little disappointed that the issue of personal responsibility and accountability did not include the perspective of stewardship of the resources that God has entrusted to us.

    My personal thought is that when we leave God out of the picture, as this article did, we leave a major responsibility to be stewards of a gift we have been given out in the cold. The reason given, my personal well being, is really no different from those who do not exercise stewardship, their own well being and ability to live life to the max it has to offer.

    I agree that we are personally responsible but it makes the effort easier and more rewarding when it is done out of love for God and gratitude for what He has given each of us to enjoy.

    Richard Stienstra
    BRIDGE® Printing & Promotional Products, Inc.

  29. Brian Peterson says:

    Mark, I appreciate the fact that you are willing to take the lead and announce what it is you are willing to do. That way, we can hold your feet to the fire for what we see. We can also follow your path, and as someone already mentioned here, “be the change we seek to become.”

    You are also correct that this is about choice. Our society has for too long made the easy choice, but not necessarily the right choice. Now we see the returns from those decisions. Not only must we choose to “live simply, that others may simply live,” but we must also hold others accountable for choosing to flaunt and degrade what God has indeed given us. We haven’t chosen to make corporations sufficiently accountable for harmful actions because we never thought we’d see the day when those actions turned against us, and we really liked cheap food, cheap gas, etc. Now that time has come.

    Good luck to you in your presidency. I know many, many of us are looking forward to working with you.

  30. Dasha Ternavska says:

    Thanks, Dr.Putnam.

    As time goes on, I’m sure you will meet some out-lash from those who mistake your blog for a right v left debate. Our perceptions are often blurred by the color of political and religious goggles we wear. This goes especially for alums of a school affiliated with a church. Hopefully your path remains unaffected by such pressures.
    Best of luck.

    (alum ’08)

  31. Honestly I feel the need to reply to about everything I’ve read thus far. Where to start…
    Mark Montgomery: Yes it would be terrible for kids to ride their bikes and be fit instead of using electric to power their Xbox’s while eating their Little Debbie’s… Use less water and use less energy saving you from cleaner air and a cheaper electric bill… What terrible ideas.
    Eddie Andrews: Actually with his line of logic he is only responsible for what he has encouraged through his own behaviors… which does not include any of the things you mentioned.
    Phil: I am a devout Christian but God will only help those who help themselves. Taking care of the earth and God’s creation is what God created us for. IE: we should be environmentally responsible enough to take care of what he has given us…
    On to my ramblings:
    It is great to see ambitious leadership in Central College’s new President. I do agree with him that we are all indirectly responsible for the oil spill. The US economy is one of the largest driving forces behind oil production and all of us are avid consumers of products that require fossil fuels in their production. I think what the new president was trying to get across is that we need to be more conscious consumers. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think we all need to be “tree huggers” and live like hippies… The main point was to make small decisions each day that will positively impact the environment. Eventually, a ripple effect will be created as our peers, our children, and the environment benefit and learn from our actions.
    Speaking of larger impact… I do have to speak my mind and say that Central has dropped the ball. Central has put its money where their mouth is as far as the campus is concerned… LEED buildings, energy and water saving measures, reducing waste at central dining, recycling around campus, etc… However the biggest place Central has neglected is the environmental and natural science fields. Especially when there are so many new jobs in environmental careers these days…
    In closing I would just like President Putnam to consider one question… Central can corner the market in environmental practice around campus… But, how many students graduate from Central every year with an Environmental Science degree ready to change the world?

    • Alyssa Cobie says:

      Yes! Yes! Yes! I was so discouraged when I read all the negative responses to this post. I am happy this is a place for everyone to express their opinions freely, but there is no need to go bashing our new President. Your reactions to the responses were the same as mine. If God gave us this planet as our home, shouldn’t we take care of it? I also hate the fact that certian opinions have to be attributed to a particular political party. I hate the whole being on the left side or right side where one side is correct and the other is wrong/evil…why can’t we all be on the same side and work together??? Oh right, that’s just wishful thinking.
      Anyway, I have been pleasantly surprised by Dr. Putnam’s start here on campus. I enjoy the fact that I can see him actually thinking and working on plans to make our campus better. I even see him sitting with students at the Calm (Sunday night worship service in the chapel) which is awesome!
      Thanks, Dr. Putnam

    • Alanna Hug-McAnnally says:

      Regarding Tree Huggers and some important “trivia.” A few hundred years ago in India, the men of one village wanted to make some money by cutting down all the trees and selling the wood. Their wives and daughters told them it would create a desert existance. When the men went to cut the trees anyway, the women of the village literally hugged these precious trees while the men chopped both the trees and the women. The women were right – it became a desert, and now there were very few women alive in the village. There is now a temple/monument in memory of them. Now that’s a true tree hugger.

  32. Jim Coddington Class of 71 says:

    I don’t know how using resources more efficiently is a liberal vs conservative issue or how there is a path from President Putnam assuming some personal responsibility for the amount of energy that is consumed on his behalf to a usurpation of Constitutional and God given rights. But, for me, that wasn’t the most interesting part of the blog anyway.

    The part that is more interesting to me is the blurb from the New York Times columnist, David Brooks that mentions the risk vs reward model we use for decision making and how difficult it is to measure risks of complex things like drilling for oil where the ocean is five thousand feet deep or allowing the banking system to be capitalized with subprime mortgages or building skyscrapers that can’t survive being crashed into by 747’s or deferring maintenance on New Orleans levees.

    I understand that the world is a risky place and I have found myself disagreeing with the argument, “if this saves even one life, then it is worth it,” being applied to things that cost too much to prevent things that are too unlikely. It also seems to me like the risk reward analysis is usually done by the person who stands to gain the whole reward and only bears the controllable and identifiable share of the risk. So, once Central gets as green as it can be, someone in the statistics or economics or philosophy department needs to come up with a better decision making process. All it needs to be is so good that when disaster strikes, no one second guesses and everyone works together to fix the problem.

    • Jon Pals says:

      It’s either turn it into a left vs right debate or talk about how illogical the premise of this article is. When you see an article like this coming from the President, the first thing that comes to the minds of clear thinking people is….exactly how far to the left is our President? This is why I asked him some questions to clarify this. It’s important to know because I will never give money to a college that #1, has a left wing President or #2, thinks this article makes any sense. So, will he answer my questions? I doubt it.

      Using resources wisely is a good thing and a clean Earth is a good thing. I don’t fault anyone who does the things the article advocates.

      • Nate Parker says:

        I suggest that you hold on to your money rather than making any donations to Central College. It is apparent from you postings that didn’t benefit much educationally from your time spent at Central.

        Which by the ways is a (gasp!!) LIBERAL arts college.

        • Kevin Robinson says:

          Nate, I would advise you check your definition application of (as you type) LIBERAL in reference to private colleges. It has NOTHING to do with politics.

          • Ted Dirkx says:

            Kevin, I think Nate was just trying to make a joke. I would call it a very well placed pun (you can use your dictionary to look that word up too). Go ahead and laugh because this string of responses has become such.

            As serious as the subject of this blog was initially intended to be it has been laughably degraded by labeling the president and his article as liberal. As difficult as it may be for most Americans we need to learn when something is political and when it is not. Mark Putnam is not making a political statement in any way nor is he advocating for a certain political party. He is simply trying to provoke thought and constructive dialog at a academic institution. An institution that aims to broaden the student thoughts mind you. I don’t see where politics needs to be brought into this. Especially when considering that all of the political replies on this blog have been neither thought provoking nor constructive.

          • Kevin Robinson says:


            My bad. Nate, why would you ever advise anyone do not make donations to the college, won’t that hurt the bottom line?

  33. Jim Radcliffe Central College 1980 says:

    Dr. Putnam;

    I drove my SUV to my office today. I bought a cup of coffee and used a Styrofoam cup. I had my air conditioning come on at 6am to cool the 80+ degree temperature coming into my South Louisiana home.

    I ate yogurt from a plastic disposable cup. I read the morning paper after removing it from the plastic bag that protected it from the rain. Tonight I will buy groceries and carry them home in plastic bags. I will use my fully charged blackberry to call my daughters this evening. I will probably cook using electricity to heat my food, which I removed from my refrigerator to keep it fresh and cold.

    I am a consumer. Every item I used today was manufactured by someone, someone who has a job, someone who has a family. I am a capitalist. I believe in trickle down economics (Thank you Dr. Butler for helping me understand the concept). Putting things at the basic level is sometimes an eye opening way to look at proposed change.

    You eliminate trays at CUI. The person who makes those trays will eventually lose their job. The person, who sells those trays, will eventually lose their job, as will the trucker who delivers them. We can probably cut back on the hours of the person who handles that incoming inventory at CUI.

    Choosing to make feel good change for the sake of feeling good is a sad behavior when you fail to consider the downstream effects. Possibly we could revert all the back to walking everywhere, using no paper, plastic or electricity. With such snowflake logic let’s eliminate the use of all petroleum based products.

    The cocoon of an educational community can be very insulating. Please Mr. President, come out to see some of your former students who own and run businesses, who fight daily to employ people to support their families. Come see the real world outside the cocoon. It’s not about dinner trays and plastic bottles. It never was, and it never should be.

    • Jim Coddington Class of 71 says:

      When I quit smoking I felt bad for the tobacco grower and the cigarette factory worker and the cigarette delivery truck driver. But I quit smoking anyway.

      I agree, it isn’t about trays or cigarettes. It is about being able to recognize problems and make changes to fix them. I expect someone who runs a business and employs people knows plenty about that.

    • Carl Soerens says:

      Thank you Jim for a “real world”, common sense response. You sound like person who is making a real contribution.

    • Jackie Boat says:

      Isnt it also true that if we consume less, we dont have to work as much to pay for all the crap we dont need? What a wonderful world that would be! The market is also shift-able so that when we stop buying one thing better things can be produced. Sticking with the status quo is easy. Recognizing a problem and realizing you have to do something is not. No one is in a cocoon here, we are simply discussing possibilities. It starts with our choices. We can adapt and we must because things will never sit still for anybody.

    • Jon Pals says:

      Jim Radcliffe, you are the MAN! Very well put. I didn’t even think about that angle but you are totally right. Liberals don’t think what happens next or what the unintended consequences will be. The only thing that matters to them is if it feels good at the time.

      I already know what the counter argument is……we need to create new green friendly jobs for the future! To that I say….talk to me about green jobs when it is cost effective to heat my home from the sun or you can fly an airplane with solar panels. Once that happens, then we can talk about your green jobs.

      Thanks for taking the time to write your reply!

      • wow–you guys don’t think much of liberals, painting them with broad brushes, and perhaps not much of a liberal arts education. Are you neocolonialists?!!

      • Alanna Hug-McAnnally says:

        Please stop putting all liberals into one basket. We disagree with one another too. And we do contribute a lot to this country. Thank you.

      • Mary Benedict says:

        I thought I would respond to this comment. My husband, who is a Biology professor at Central, and myself have built a new home & have been living there for two years. It is a passive solar home plus we have incorporated several green factors, using wood that is harvested in a sustainable way, geo thermal heating, low voc paints, cork floors & bamboo countertops as well as the duel flush toilets. This is just a list of some of what we have done. We have opened up our house for tours & have had several school groups from Knoxville & Pella as well as some from Des Moines come down to tour. Central College classes have come out as well. We have done this to let people know that if you think about these things while building, you are helping the environment as well as your pocket book. Our heating & water bills were cut in half. Our builder, who happens to be a Central Alum, was the only contractor who was willing to work with us on this. We were told several times it couldn’t be done. We proved them wrong. We know that we are only two people, but we do all that we can to do our part.

    • Anna Noel says:

      You confuse the entitlement you feel to overconsume with integrity because it’s the “American Way”. Why are you so threatened by the idea of simply reducing our consumption? Calling this a leftist conspiracy to reduce jobs is laughable. It’s not a political plot that we have limited resources on this planet that should be used wisely. Join the human race instead of the political race.

    • Emily Thompson says:

      As someone who’s mother works in the paper industry, I can completely understand this sentiment. It is easy to forget about how this affects anything outside of the environment, until it affects you.

      • Ted Dirkx says:

        Emily, with all due respect the downfall of the paper industry can’t be blamed solely on environmentalism. With the advent of computers and the like it has become more efficient to move information through that mode rather than through paper. Your notion does hold some validity though. Without a doubt environmentalism has made its impact on the paper industry. However, just because one technology (paper) has more of a negative effect on the environment doesn’t mean we should go on producing that less efficient technology simply for the sake of jobs. Except, I am not totally convinced that computers are the environmentally friendly alternative to paper. Especially when considering where the electricity comes from that powers them. In addition to how most modern technology is disposed of as well.

        • Emily Thompson says:

          I agree that it isn’t just environmentalists fault. I also agree that computers may not be the best alternative, but it seems to be advertised that way, especially here on Central’s campus. We’re told to do everything via computer in order to save paper.

    • Chris Starr '07 says:

      Mr Radcliffe:

      Your argument is well put and well received. I consider myself fortunate to be employed and part of this economy.

      My concern lies in the end game of these arguments. I understand the danger of a global recession caused by a push to reduce consumption. Do you understand the danger of large scale climate change?

  34. klrjohson says:

    Dear Pres. Mark:
    I commend your efforts. Any chance that we can show how to change the world–intellectually as well as socially–is a core mission of our college.

    I am concerned–less water for showers? Just be clean:)

  35. Kelly 'Harris' Dooley 2008 says:

    Thank you President Putnam, glad to read Central College has continued to move forward.

  36. Sarah Moglia says:

    Dr. Putnam,

    I’m glad that you are taking a personal leadership role in showing the rest of the campus community the importance of living in a sustainable way. The best way to encourage change is to be a part of it, so I’m glad that you are “walking the walk.”

    I agree with those that suggested removal of paper cups in the Cafe and going trayless in Central Market. However, even if students go trayless, they still need a tray in order to put their plates on the conveyor belt to get cleaned. Could we revamp that system in order to make it more function for people who choose to go trayless?

    Thanks for starting this blog, too. I know it’s easy to anonymously make rude comments, but I hope you won’t let that stop you from connecting with the campus. 🙂

  37. Cory Alexander '99 says:

    If everyone were to take responsibility for and ownership of the things that everyone shares, it wouldn’t matter if global warming is really happening or if an omnipotent god is punishing sinners or whatever. It wouldn’t matter if your news of choice is FOX or MSNBC. The things people DO, whether “God’s work” or something else, are the things that change the world. Turning one’s back or blaming others will accomplish nothing.

    Will riding a bike to work 15 or 20 times a year change the world? Of course not, but Mark Putnam appears to be saying the status quo is unacceptable, and I’m inclined to agree. If everyone does what he or she can to help make the world better in small ways, the world WILL be a better place. A long journey is undertaken with one step, followed by another…

  38. Lidija Mustic says:

    Dear Mark;

    Thank you for posting your thoughts and sharing them with the Central Community. We all need to take steps first in our personal lives to make a difference. Although one person alone cannot resolve the problem, as you set an example, you will empower others to join you. It’s time we stop using not being able to make a big enough difference as an excuse to do nothing.

    Dr. Zaffiro- I am not surprised that you have solutions! You have always inspired me.

    I remember the Bible talking about our responsibility to be good stewards of our earth.

    Leviticus 25:23-24 – The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.

    Revelation 11:18 – The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great — and for destroying those who destroy the earth.

    Isaiah 11:9 – They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

  39. Sarah Gragg '09 says:

    I enjoyed the conciseness of this blog entry although the bit about the oil spill being “our” fault reminded me of my Catholic school days (yes, yes, everything is our fault but Jesus did forgive us so maybe we should forgive ourselves as well — assuming of course that you believe in Jesus which not everyone does, shock and horror and exclamations of BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN aside).

    I also enjoyed the various trolling this blog entry has been subjected to (welcome to the internet Sir but please don’t feed the trolls!)

    Let me just add that if you want to know where at least 50% (or maybe it’s 90%, I did almost fail Logic) of this planet’s problems come from, turn on the TV and watch some commercials. Within about 5 seconds you are going to be told that you “deserve” something, as though cheap cars and Cheez-its and and bras from Victoria’s Secret and jobs in which you are ridiculously overpaid to be…ridiculously overpaid were basic human rights.

    (SPOILER ALERT: They aren’t.)

    I would now like to take this moment completely change the subject and thank Professor Art Johnson for his meticulous and total destruction of my college essays, as he gave me the best general (and short story) writing advice I have received to date.

    I would also like to mention that I have used precisely none of it (in case that wasn’t obvious), instead pinning it to the wall of my brain like a Playboy centerfold in the clammy bedroom of some preteen Christian boy from Pella (you know the type ;D), bemused at the perfection but certain that I can achieve none of it.

    Cheez-its may not be a basic human right (yet, just give the Tea Party time — no, I take it back as they aren’t nearly that fun — the only kind of laughter they inspire in me is the despairing sort I find sniveling in the damp closet of my soul during nights in which I wonder why the hell we’re all still alive) but my adoration-cum-addiction for elephantine sentences and adverbs certainly is.

  40. Bruce Janousek, PhD - Class of 1975 says:

    Dr. Putnam – Thank you for your well-articulated thoughts. What you have chosen to do sets a great example for alums, students, and faculty. It’s interesting….when I was a student at Central and one decided to do something that was respectful of our fellow man and the earth we all share, it was not labeled as liberal or conservative – it was called responsibility. Thank you Central for teaching me this.

  41. Dwight Baker says:

    Normally I don’t reply to blogs, but this one was so disappointing – especially because of all the money I send to Central. It certainly is not what I expected. Dr. Putnam lays the blame on people who seek to make a better, safer, more comfortable world. What about those at BP or the government who were negligent in their jobs, or those who violated laws? No, the responsibility for the oil spill is now shifted to those that consume products and energy. The implication is that the only remedy to the problem is to prevent people from coming and going as they please; and removing the ability to provide comfort, convenience, and entertainment. That’s what third world dictatorships and communist governments do… God has charged us to be good stewards of all that He has given to us. Because we are created in His image, God gave humans a privileged place among all creatures and commanded us to exercise stewardship over the earth (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8:6-8). Stewardship implies caretaking, not abusing. Have we abused the responsibility? Yes, all to often. We are to intelligently manage the resources God has given us, using all diligent care to preserve and protect them. Nowhere is this mentioned in the blog. Dr. Putnam seems to reveal himself as just another guilt-laden secular humanist. Commendable leadership would inspire students to tackle these tough issues with the correct motivation – the TRUTH – that we have a responsibility because of what God has commanded of us, not because we feel guilty, or just want to feel good about ourselves.

    • Andy Thompson says:

      I appreciated the take on small business Jim R. presented. This blog seems to encapusulate the standard “feeling versus thinking” debate. I feel bad about my consumption, so I decide to cut back and then feel better about myself. That’s perfectly alright. It’s when you take your gospel and try to impose it upon someone else that it becomes pernicious and a threat to individual liberty. Progressives are all about moral ambiguity when it comes to most key issues but are moral absolutists when it comes to consumption, energy, the environment, etc. You consume, therefore you sin.

      The fact is each choice of energy has pros and cons. Each choice of breakfast cereal has pros and cons. The choice of disposable versus cloth diapers has pros and cons (energy, water, landfills, etc). Is a fluorescent light bulb morally superior to an incandescent one? (Please remember to measure the mercury in the equation).

      I don’t believe our consumer choices are moral or immoral, but lovers of freedom realize that rights must be married with responsibilities or there is no accountability.

      Civility is important in our discussions, and we should maintain that, even if this is a blog! I welcome the chance to have input here. One final thing: I certainly hope Jim Wallis of Sojourners isn’t one of our new president’s heroes; that Wallis was granted the honor of giving a commencement address at Central is one of my greatest disappointments to date.

    • Mark Truth says:

      AMEN. Best post here! THANK YOU.

    • Mark Truth says:

      I meant to confirm Dwight Baker’s post, but my comment was put under the last reply to his post.

      At any rate, please read Dwight Baker’s comments. They are right on. He is a wise man.

      Dwight, thank you.

  42. Kevin Robinson says:

    I had a bad dream last night that I received a letter in my inbox by mistake as an alumnus of Grinell College. In it the new president cited a quote from the New York Times and pontificated about irrelevant social responsibility.

    Attn: to whoever in higher education will listen – the cost of your tuition is outrageous. I graduated with $30,000 of debt (not worth it). My daughter is seven years old. Tuition now is around $33,000/yr I believe. I figure it will be around $40,000/yr if not more when she is ready to find a school. $160,000 for ‘higher learning’ is laughable and tragic.

    How about leading the national crusade for campus fiscal responsibility and efficiency instead of skipping the use of trays and not using water bottles? The bottom line is you can sell the idea of alumni networks, student to professor ratios, and all the other gimmicks but you are still just an over priced ‘experience’.

    I enjoyed my time at Central, met friends that I still have to today but I won’t be recommending my daughter to become a legacy. No need for her to pay college debt until she is almost 40.

    • Jim Coddington Class of 71 says:

      “I graduated with $30,000 of debt (not worth it).” I will ask what it would have taken for you to think that you got your money’s worth but what I really wanted to do was congratulate you for the Grinnell shot.

      • Kevin Robinson says:

        Jim, ha! Good one. You pose an excellent question. The answer for me lies within my foolish fiscal decision of not taking my full tuition scholarship from St. Ambrose. I passed that up to come play for Ron Schipper in pursuit of a National Championship. I learned more from him in one semester than any of my expert professors ever taught or cared to teach me. I feel that the academic offerings at institutions are really all competitive and equal within a minimal margin of error. It is the extra curricular programs such as the school’s newspaper, the club offerings, the leadership groups, etc. that make the difference. To be blunt part of my baggage stems from coming from a family that could not financially afford a school like Central. My fiscal decision on passing my scholarship up is mine and mine alone and I own it. What I have seen since graduating in 1997 in the industries I have been in I cannot comfortably say that a Liberal Arts education was worth any more as far as merit and career advancement than a degree that would have required less capital to complete. But hey, who knows St. Ambrose probably doesn’t have a blog board to their president nor an alumni football game.

    • '10 Graduate says:

      As a recent graduate, with a fantastic Central College experience, I am for the first time ashamed to be from Central College. Not ashamed because of the eloquent and truthful blog by Dr. Putnam, but the hateful and immature way other alumni are responding to his honesty.

      This is about the environment, not a left-right debate as you all have turned it into.

      To anyone who said “I will not donate to a college with a left president” (i.e. Mr. Pals… whom I know personally) you should be ashamed of yourself. As a Republican student, I’d think that you’d be donating to the COLLEGE not the PRESIDENT. Grow up and act like an adult not a selfish child.

      I am so disappointed in this reaction. Dr. Putnam, I would have been lucky to have your leadership this weekend and look forward to seeing you and your family again this weekend. Hopefully none of the hateful people spending time here will attend.

  43. Mark Truth says:

    Dr. Putnam has inspired me! If he can take responsibility for the oil spill and then suggest shorter showers as an appropriate response, then why not use that same thought process to solve much smaller, local problems?!

    Let’s ALL take shorter showers and ALL ride our bikes to campus. Why don’t we just cut off the hot water in the dorms to make sure sure we get the full effect?! I mean, is hot water really NECESSARY? That will surely create enough savings and good karma in the world to do something really great for Central….say pay off the debt on the new Psych building!

    Surely, if those types of actions would have prevented a major oil spill in the Gulf (and again, thank you for taking full responsibility for this Dr. Putnam – we now understand clearly how to prevent and solve major world problems!), it’s absolutely logical to see how 1-minute showers throughout Central will solve our much, much, much smaller local problems too.

    But why stop at Central? Let’s go for all of Pella! Marion County! Iowa! This eco-friendly step will so endear us to the community and world!

    So alumni, friends, and neighbors – forget those donations! Take it directly from Dr. Putnam, you need to LOWER your lifestyle to do something really great like prevent a major oil spill. QUIT focusing on being prosperous, QUIT consuming, and most of all QUIT taking long, hot showers!

    One last thing – Dr. Putnam’s apology for being responsible for the oil spill was very sincere. So heartfelt! So I’m sure that also counts for something too, perhaps even paying for those extra bike racks.

    • Kristin Tremper says:

      Dear writer “Mark Truth”,

      I do not appreciate your behavior. There are many responses to this blog that are rather eloquent and I appreciate them ALL, regardless of what view they support because the author owns their work. If you are going to be a menace, don’t be a chicken. Put your real name on your statememts or be quiet.

      • here, here! Be courageous!

      • "TS" Seller alum 1969 says:


        • Mark Truth says:

          Kristen – Don’t appreciate ALL responses, especially those that make no sense. Tolerance of intolerant ideas by “educated” people is the same thing as being intolerant in the first place…only worse. Let’s please be capable of separating and evaluating the inherent value of a PERSON with some of the stupid things we do and say.

          Lois – Be courageous? How about be honest. Be intelligent. Be logical. Make sense. Question authority. Is that not courageous?

          I am simply applying Dr. Putnam’s article regarding the cause / effect / responsibility / appropriate response of the BP oil spill to a much smaller and simpler problem at a local level. If you don’t understand the connection, reread Dr. Putnam’s initial article.

          • we’re talking about being courageous enough to reveal your true identity.

          • Mark Truth says:

            If I did that, I’d put my job at Central on the line.

          • Paul Weihe says:

            Dear Mark Truth,

            I appreciate your use of biting satire, and taking an argument to absurdity for comedic effect. However, you go beyond that and misrepresent the writing of President Putnam and several of the responders, in several ways. You strike me as an intelligent and eloquent person…I challenge you to take the high road during the discussion.

            As for your comment regarding jeopardizing your job: that genuinely saddens me. The ability to join the conversation seems to be what an institution of higher learning should be about. I hope we can all work together to create an environment in which you’ll feel more open in future.

        • Alanna Hug-McAnnally says:

          Definitely. Get your name on your quotes!

    • Emily Miller Class of '13 says:

      This is inappropriate. If you feel so strongly about these issues I recommend you find a mature way of expressing them to your peers or higher-ups. Leaving sarcastic comments on a blog under a fake name is not only childish and cruel but it’s just plain mean. Please find a more appropriate way to express your opinions.

      • Cameron Van Kooten says:

        I agree Emily. I’m embarrassed that this “Mark Truth” is employed at Central. I came here for an education, and I appreciate the school’s ability to support and nurture all different viewpoints, but it is indeed childish, mean, and inappropriate. Who knows. This “Mark Truth” could be a professor I currently have or will have in the future. But I feel it’s more important to stand up for my opinions openly and honestly (and in doing so have some integrity) than to worry about how it could negatively affect my grades.

  44. David Greene says:

    You cannot save the World. Yes there are practical things you can do to conserve. And yes they can save you money, reduce pollution (incrementally)and make you feel better. The earth has survived all sorts of changes for the last 6,000 years or so and will do so until “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)

  45. David Greene says:

    Just a quick calculation that I made:
    1000 car drivers and 1 Bicyclist.
    All travel the same road for 10 miles.
    Cars slow from 40 mph to 15 mph for 0.1 miles around the cyclist.
    Using the EPA graph for mph vs mpg (accepting it may not be perfect)fuel efficency drops from 30 mpg to 20 mpg.

    I calculated there would be a 0.5 % increase in fuel consumption per car. This would yield 5x increase in the fuel used by the 1000 vehicles slowing down. This does not include any losses by decelerating/accelerating etc. Increased cyclists would exacerbate the problem.

    However there is probably a breakeven point where there is less fuel used by hundreds of cyclist as opposed to few drivers.
    The point is that the answers are not always as simple as riding a bike.

    • Ted Dirkx says:

      Maybe we should start to rethink the way we design streets. We could start by adding a bike lane to allow motorist uninterupted travel. This would solve your math problem.

      • David Greene says:

        Bike lanes are a great idea. However you need to balance the upside – reduced fuel costs, increased health (and safety) for the bikers etc with the downsides. Downsides include:
        Will the fuel savings be offset by the increase infuel in construction as most roads will need to be widened or separate paths built.
        Maintenance costs, agin energy used.
        Will there be enough people using it to make it worthwhile? On campus and in downtown of Pella – probably yes; outside of that -unlikely.

        As for future design of streets it make great sense, if we balance the costs.

  46. David Greene says:

    So as not to be misleading, the 5X increase is the amount the one cyclist is saving.

  47. Renee Nygaard Class '97 says:

    Dr. Putnam, best of luck to you in your new role at Central. I am proud to see such a strong environmental stand by commenters, as I graduated in environmental studies (the only one of my class) and continue to work in the field as an environmental consultant in air quality programs, hazardous waste reduction and sustainability. It is frustating to read so many people who have put themselves in their ivory towers of righteousness to attack your topic which is so relevant given current events and the state of our environment and, yes, economy. One of the reasons our economy is in this deplorable state is because companies WANTED us to overconsume and overspend. Taking responsibility for our actions and making the right choices now in consumption and spending will allow for a sustainable economy and environment in the long run. This kind of message IS education that should be taught to our toddlers all the way through to our eldest generation. Best of luck!

  48. David Greene says:

    Dr. Putman, I love eating local foods but again this will not necessarily solve energy/pollution problems and there are some upsides to distant produced food.

  49. "TS" Seller alum 1969 says:

    Someinteresting dialog… my first impression was- from Lubbers to Putnam-
    the new leader is refreshing and thought provoking – that accomplished by the amount of response here…Let’s all do our part as Central products, even as minor as they seem.

  50. James F. Frame says:

    I have mixed feelings after reading this. Of course, all of the “points of change” are valid and things everyone can do, but as a college president aim higher. As president, how about campus policy: 1) If bottled water is sold on campus, how about banning the sale.; 2) Are shower head regulators installed in every shower in every dorm?; 3) As the agricultural heartland how about taking food production beyond his backyard using some of Central’s “spare” land to grow food for the campus cafeteria; and 4) Regarding Central’s physical plant what’s the “green” plan to replace conventional energy sources with solar, passive solar, heat pumps… And, an even more sensitive area, review the political and social ramifications tied to individual and corporate donations to Central College.

    James F. Frame
    Class of 1974

    • Ted Dirkx says:

      Your points are all great and all are currently being implemented or are in serious discussion here at Central. We do have a on campus organic college garden that does feed the cafeteria (approx. 1 acre). I do agree with Mr. Putnam that the presidents estate does need a garden space in addition to rain gardens.

  51. Kathie Flood says:

    Kudos to Dr. Putnam for leading off with a topic that is generating such a spirited discussion! I don’t generally contribute to blog comments, but I want to express my support for his suggestions, especially in light of the, um… less constructive criticisms.

    Acknowledging the daunting environmental issues we face is a critical first step. Regardless of what caused the problems, they do exist and they are not going away on their own. Simple population growth requires that we address them somehow or deal with nasty consequences.

    How does a thoughtful member of the Central community respond to a problem? By asking “How can I help?”, constructing a reasoned answer, and following through. Dr. Putnam’s answer started an intriguing conversation and should inspire us to seek and implement our own answers. I’m very curious to see where this leads.

    In his book “The End of Oil”, Paul Roberts wrote about the changing energy economy: “… the real question, for anyone truly concerned about our future, is not whether change is going to come, but whether the shift will be peaceful and orderly or chaotic and violent because we waited too long to begin planning for it.”

  52. Alyssa Cobie says:

    I am happy to see such an inspirational new President at my college! I can’t believe some of the disrespectful comments that have been posted. I do not believe Dr. Putnam’s post was intended to become a political debate about which side is correct, liberals or republicans. We are not going to get anything accomplished from splitting up and bashing each other. We should instead be on the same side, working together. Dr. Putnam simply wanted to express his desire to reflect on how he personally affects the environment and take action to sustain our Earth for the future. He put this up so students and others can give input and generate ideas as to how they can do the same. The environment IS changing, and whether the changes are due to natural climatic cycles or not, we are going to be affected by the outcome. Humans have only been on the Earth for so long, and you can’t tell me we haven’t had an effect on the natural systems. We have some responsibility to what has been going on and should take action. And small things CAN make a difference; it is not simply a way to make us feel better about ourselves. This planet has been given to us (so undeservingly) as our home, so we should do what we can to take care of it and sustain it for future generations.

    • Kevin Robinson says:

      I guess if you are not 100% in agreement with the President than you are disrespectful? By the way, I never attended InterVarsity while on campus does that make me anti-religious? In my opinion one of the great benefits of small campus life is the intimacy of having to deal with different opinions and values at the micro level. Personally, I love ALL of the comments because they are all genuine and all heartfelt as far as I can tell.

      • David Timmer says:

        Kevin, Alyssa does NOT say that “if you are not 100% in agreement with the President then you are being disrespectful,” nor can this claim be reaonably inferred from anything she does say. Deliberate exaggeration or distortion of someone’s position to score a rhetorical point does not constitute a legitimate argument, even if it is “genuine and heartfelt.”

        When she talked about disrespectful comments, I, for one, thought of phrases like “What a pile of C-R-A-P!”, “unable to think coherently or reason logically,” and “your total lack of common sense,” from the anonymous Mr. Truth’s first post. Other posters have expressed disagreement with Mr. Putnam’s views without resorting to this kind of gratuitous, strident personal insult. Why can’t we debate the issues calmly and rationally, without flame-throwing?

        • Kevin Robinson says:

          Dr. Timmer I agree with your summary. I take the comments from everyone for what they are. Some very eloquent, some, well, not very eloquent. I enjoy reading everyone’s viewpoints and refuse to demean anyone. I have enjoyed watching from off campus the improvements to Central. Especially in the ‘green’ areas of campus. Central has improved dramatically since I was there in the 90’s, which by all accounts was probably the weakest stretch of presidential leadership Central has seen in the last 50 years. I wish the new president the best of success and wish him and his family well. I enjoyed reading the article about how he and his wife were treated when they visited Central under the radar. That type of hospitality is why I have chosen to stay in Iowa and chose to raise my family in Iowa. I hope everyone takes you advice on flame throwing. As for myself, will I can only be responsible for my own actions and accountability. You clearly see my name and I will respond to anyone posting questions regarding clarification of my statements. It strikes me as I review all of the postings I wonder if possibly we are all contributing to flame throwing because we have all participated in this blog?

          • Kevin Robinson says:

            Guess I need more coffee this a.m. ! Many grammatical errors in my last post. Time for a blog bot for spelling and grammar? ;o)

        • Alyssa Cobie says:

          Thank you Dr. Timmer, that is not at all what I meant. I was saying that this is a place for everyone to come and express their opinions freely, which is good. But comments like “Mark Truth”‘s are not what this was intended for. It’s fine that people disagree, but the way that a few are expressing it is not the way to go about doing so. Also, I never said that by not going to InterVarsity made you anti-religious…where did you get that from my post???

          • Kevin Robinson says:

            Hi Alyssa,

            It was an inference. I was drawing a correlation that just because someone chooses to drink water from a bottle and recycle it versus not drinking water from a bottle at all they are no more ‘less green’ than the later. So true is that just because someone doesn’t attend InterVarsity it doesn’t make them any less ‘religious’ than those who do. I picked that particular inference based on my observations while on campus, it was in no offense to you. I think the underlying discourse here deals with expectations of a college president. Many, including myself, were looking for more an article pertaining to President Putnam’s vision for Central rather than a lecture on personal social responsibility. It also appears that many responders on this blog feel there needs to be free speech police. Fine if there is I guess, I for one enjoy the frankness of others whether I agree or disagree with their stance. Perhaps there should be a terms of conditions agreement when signing up to post on the blog.

          • Ted Dirkx says:

            This is in reference to Kevin Robinson’s post below. I truly appreciated your thought provoking rationale for water bottle usage and recycling. It makes you think for a second.

            However, I am no more convinced to start drinking bottled water again than I was before. The rationale you used in this case fails to example the tangible essence of the water bottle and recycling (carbon/energy) when compared to the intangible essence of religion (faith).

            It is clearly more “green” to abstain from bottled water and recycling it because one can measure the amount of energy or carbon that goes in to the process of manufacturing, delivering, consuming, and recycling that bottle. Therefore making it less “green” to drink bottled water and recycle it because of the energy/carbon used to feed that cycle. Do you agree? As for the intangible essence of religion, I am fairly certain it’s impossible to measure the level faith one has when compared to another. Therefore your rationale holds no merit at all. Or do you still think it does? If so, I would like to know how?

            Finally, every green alternative that comes about needs to follow the line of logic I outlined above or else its rationale is diminished greatly if not obsolete. That logic being the comparative carbon life cycle or environmental effect of the green alternative. “Green” alternative meaning strictly environmental causation, not to be confused with the “sustainable” alternative. Sustainability and Green are often used interchangeably, which is fine, but in my mind “green” neglects the social and economical impacts that sustainability encapsulates. Even though more times than not the affects of “green” do address those social and economical impacts indirectly.

          • Kevin Robinson says:

            Hi Ted,

            Thank you for your questions, I will do my best to answer them. I must confess before I begin that 99% of what you wrote is over my head.

            1. Green – On my curbside pick up my ratio every week is typically 1 garbage can to 3 cans of recycle bins. The bulk of my neighborhood is the opposite. I also have a Culligan Water Filtration system in my house. When we travel we fill our nalgene water bottles up and I also have a 3 gallon water cooler we fill and take in the van. Like President Putnam suggests I just try to do my part. If I positively impact others than great. If not, well I tried to lead by example.

            2. Faith. My faith is tangible. By tangible I mean I can measure it. By measure it I mean I could tally off every action and counter action that occurs to me and from me in a given day and account for those actions by my belief system of faith. I could careless whether people ‘attend’ a church service or not but it was made clear to me while I was on Campus that those who did were better Christians than those who didn’t. I can’t speak for anyone else, that was just my experience.

            Merit. Not the first time and definitely won’t be last time my viewpoints have no merit.

          • Ted Dirkx says:


            I get what you’re saying about the tangibility of faith. Without a doubt actions or inactions are tangible aspects of faith. Its just much less quantitative than measuring energy or carbon in materialistic sense. Thats all I was trying to get across.

            As for your experience here on campus I am sure your not alone. However, I can assure you from my current experience that I haven’t felt much of that sentiment.

            I am a senior environmental studies major, so I wouldn’t expect you to understand environmental issues like I do. I hope you have been enlightened by my perspective on the whole issue. Its my passion in life. I appreciate your respectful thoughts as a alum of Central (and former football player). Thanks,

  53. Shelby DeMeulenaere says:

    After reading this, I would just like to say Thank You! Coming from Louisiana where the oil spill did affect our lives, I myself was forced to realize that I too was in part to blame. All we think about in life is consuming. After every hurricane my family went through,I became more aware that global warming was happening. It was true, and I myself was helping global warming increase by driving everywhere, forgetting to turn off those darn lights, or just simply wasting food. At what point do we step back and realize we don’t need all those things? The fact that Dr. Putnam came to this conclusion is brave and I applaud for tactling real issues we do need to consider.

    • Alyssa Cobie says:

      Hey Shelby, I wanted to agree with you on how all we do as Americans is consume. We don’t take a step back to realize how privileged we are. Some people are claiming we are doing these actions to feel better about ourselves. How is cutting back on our consumption going to make us feel better when most of us probably want to drive everywhere rather than walk or ride a bike; it’s what we are used to and don’t want to give it up. But thankfully we are starting to realize that the benefits of cutting back on some aspects of our way of life outweigh the costs of not doing so. Thanks for sharing!

  54. Central Student says:

    I have read your blog and taken into consideration the points you make but I respectfully disagree. I think that you are right in saying that all those things would help the environment at some level and a much greater level if everybody took part but I think you may be barking up the wrong tree. I think everybody is caught up in the idea that the crisis that we have in the US is an environmental one and we are going at great lengths to fix it. I think in pursuit to fix this perceived crisis we are only making the real crisis worse, our financial crisis. The government is pushing for large sums of money to be spent on research and development of various products just so they 1% less greenhouse gasses. The government is also spending billions on programs to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and also giving people tax breaks for “going green”. This is a huge waste of time and money for a cause that I find to be completely bogus.

    No matter how you slice it, there has been information leaked to the public saying that global warming is not an issue right now. Albeit this may have been leaked through some illegal actions but I don’t think its right to deny a fact for that reason. Not only does it show that our efforts are being wasted it also reflects the integrity of the people that are trying to tell us these things. If they are knowingly making false statements and not actually trying to solve a problem then what are they doing it for? Money perhaps or an attempt to get more votes for a certain political party. Another point worth bringing up is why was it back in the 70’s were we worried about the next ice age and now we are worried that all our ice is going away? Doesn’t that give reason to believe that the environment naturally changes?

    • David Timmer says:

      It is simply not true that back in the 70’s “we” (presumably meaning climate scientists) were worried about the next ice age – even though supposedly reputable journalists (George Will, notably) have repeatedly purveyed this misinformation. In fact, the alleged scientific “consensus” on global cooling only existed in the mind of a feature writer for Newsweek magazine. A survey of articles in scientific journals advocating theories of global warming vs. global cooling in that period has shown that the cooling hypothesis was never more than a minority view, and was quickly abandoned in the face of persuasive evidence for the warming hypothesis. Two additional points: 1. Both sides in this debate agreed that human activity was causing climate change; the only disagreement was over the direction of the change. As more comprehensive and longer-term data became available, the “coolers” were proved wrong. 2. Climate science in the 1970’s was just emerging as a defined field. Like any new field, it went through a time of flux and competition between rival theories. However, as the field solidified, so did the dominance of the warming theory. For the past 30 years, it has been the consensus view in the field.

      I’m not a climate scientist myself; but I’m not ready to bet the future of humanity on the proposition that climate science is bunk. Are you? If so, what makes you so much smarter than the majority of these highly trained scientists?

      • Central Student says:

        No need for me to claim that I’m smarter than the highly trained scientists if they decide to not display what the true facts are. I don’t deny that the earth is warming up because it is a natural cycle. Do you believe there have been multiple ice ages before? If so what brought us out of those ice ages and why weren’t the democrats there to stop that warming? I see the swing of the earths temperature like a 200 ton pendulum swinging and the whole human race is like an ant trying to stop it from swinging. I also believe that God is in control of all and if this is the course we are going to take then so be it. But if the highly trained scientists are right again then the earth will surely be smashed by a asteroid in the next 50 years or whatever they have predicted now.

        • Ted Dirkx says:

          Thank you Prof. Timmer for the explanation about the global cooling hysteria. I never knew the reasoning how that all came about. We often forget how gullible humans can be.

          Central Student, without a doubt there has been a natural cycle of warming and cooling throughout the history of the earth. Ice core samples from the arctic tell us this. What climate scientist are worried about with this current warming phase is the additional amount of human added green house gases. In all prior warming phases humans weren’t capable of dispensing huge amounts of green house gases. Climate scientist are concerned about the unnatural amount of green house gases in the atmosphere and natures ability to mitigate it to safe levels.

          Also, I am not sure your logic of God in relation to problems here on earth is a practical one to take. Sure he is ultimately in control, but if all Christians used this logic throughout their lives it would led to an incredible amount of inaction to serious problems such as hunger, poverty, and numerous other injustices.

          Finally, don’t make science political, it completely degrades the legitimacy of it. Let science be science and politics be politics. However, it is important to question the sources of these entities from time to time.

        • David Timmer says:

          We could go back and forth on this endlessly, but I’ll make this my last post for a while. There are two huge differences between early climate change events (e.g.,ice ages) and the human-produced climate change (HPCC) that climate scientists are predicting. First, HPCC will be much more rapid, occuring over decades, not eons; hence, the earth’s species (including us) will have little time to adapt. Second, the human population is much larger and more “built up”; we can’t just pack up our tents and move inland to avoid rising ocean levels. If they are correct that a significant part of climate change is human-produced, and if in any case we can’t keep spending down our “carbon endowment” indefinitely, then the responsible course of action is, as President Putnam suggests, to begin considering what changes are necessary at the individual and social level to curb HPCC.

  55. Rod De Young, (Class of 1950) says:

    I commend you on your concern for our Enviroment. I suspect, however, that doing such “easy” things as not drinking botteled water might lead a person to be satisfied with “involvement” The great inequity of the ecomomics of the world should be made more evident than an easy action of participation.

    • David Greene says:

      Mr. De Young,
      How might you suggest we approach “The great inequity of the ecomomics of the world”?

  56. Emily Miller Class of '13 says:

    Dr. Putnam,

    I thank you and I commend you for all you efforts and your passion for making Central College the place that we all want it to be.
    Please do not be discouraged by those that have commented that obviously don’t understand your heart behind this issue and don’t understand the heart of Central College.
    I thank you for you inspiration and your example.
    We are so glad to have you here Dr. Putnam!

  57. Trinh Le says:

    Dr. Putnam, I commend your personal commitment to creating a more sustainable campus and earth. I encourage you to stay positive with your endeavors and not to let the ridicule of a few people affect you.

    As for my response to the harsh criticism of others…

    Shame on you for being so critical on the actions of someone else. I understand the need to object when someone is doing something that is harmful or unethical. Dr. Putnam, however, is simply trying to create a healthier lifestyle for himself. Surely, you do not have to agree if those goals will make him healthier or not, but you do not criticize a person for wanting to better himself. Would you be so critical on someone who wants to exercise on a regular basis because they want to stay health. Would a person who abstains from drugs and alcohol receive the same criticism? Do we not teach or children to speak kindly to others and act justly, how hypocritical it is to behave differently than what it preached.

    Also, I don’t understand how this sparked a debate on politics or religion. Again, this is one’s man way of contributing to his goals and the goals of his institution. How does this reflect on his religious or political beliefs? Someone must have had to try really hard to make this a political or religous issue.

  58. Harvey Noordsy says:

    Welcome to Central Dr. Putnam. I attended Central when the campus was smaller, sparser, simpler. (1949-53) I sometimes wonder how students today (all over the country) who have the privilege of a “Country Club” environment, are going to realize that much of the world is not like that, and that we live on an earth of limited resources, but with an expanding population that would like to eat, drive and consume as we have in the West. I believe that we humans have a God given responsibility to care for our world, for the sake of our grandchildren, and all of our world neighbors.
    So I appreciate the thrust of your message for your personal example, and an indication of your leadership. I am also heartened that so many of Central’s recent graduates and students are supportive, and even ready to go further.

  59. Emily Thompson says:

    Dr. Putnam,

    I appreciate your willingness to share what you will be doing, rather than just telling us what we should be doing. I believe that showing is one of the best ways to educate people. However, as the daughter of someone who works in an industry that will probably soon be gone because of the sustainable movement, it is hard for me to wrap my mind around all that Central seems to be forcing upon its students. My mom worked very hard to make sure that I could remain at Central for four years, and continues to work hard to make sure my sister will be able to go her entire four years of college, so it is difficult for me to get fully behind the ideas of sustainability that Central has. Despite that, I am glad that you are willing to teach by example and I’m glad you have shared your thoughts.

    Emily Thompson
    Class of 2011

  60. Central Parent says:

    Make no mistake,THIS issue is enmeshed in politics and science. While I am in total agreement with being good stewards of our GOD-given resources (even though He wasn’t mentioned), I am NOT supportive at any level of “going green” becoming a new religion – at Central or anywhere else. Global warming, climate change, global climate disruption (the name continues to change as the facts and realities simply do NOT support the hoax that is so desperately being perpetuated) is highly political with those buying into it also supporting an exhorbitant tran$fer of wealth from OUR country – which just happens to be BROKE. While other countries (i.e. India, China – where the majority of our goods are now unfortunately manufactured) have no obligation beyond monitoring and reporting emissions. For every reputable, world renown scientist speaking out, another equally acclaimed scientist is having their funding pulled, threats made and careers jeopardized. Why? Because they have facts,research and documentation that illustrate a totally different reality. So much for tolerance and open-mindedness. I want my child to question, think critically, research, discern, then decide and defend what they know to be true – NOT BE INDOCTRINATED. That’s not an option I’m willing to tolerate – let alone pay for. So, while I’ll give President Putnam a warm welcome and applaud his enthusiasm, I will also trust an atmosphere of stewardship(on all levels) vs. bandwagon politics. The science “is NOT out” on this matter by any means – the very process of science does not allow for the science to ever be “out”. Most of us are hearing only what the mainstream media reports – there is another and most enlightening side. Any institution of genuine “higher” learning should not engage in the spewing of propaganda; however, encourage and respect an individual’s right to decide. I’d hate to see a simple water bottle become a modern day scarlet letter. Thanks for the opportunity to connect and share.

    • It’s interesting that China is starting to amp up manufacturing of solar and wind sources of energy. I’d hate to see us left behind and again buying products from China rather than products made here. Central parent, I’m not sure where you are getting your information from, but I don’t think that you are correct.

    • Lurker says:

      “So, while I’ll give President Putnam a warm welcome and applaud his enthusiasm…”

      Heh heh…I’d hate to see you when you’re being hostile!! 😀

      Anyway, you seem to fault President Putnam for not invoking God. However, his essay was essentially reflecting on the BP oil spill (and environmental messes generally), and our response. How would you suggest President Putnam bring God into it? Because personally, I think we should clean up our OWN messes…or better still, not make them in the first place.

  61. Dr. Putnam, let me take this opportunity to welcome you to the Central College family. I look forward to meeting you in the very near future. Thank you for writing this blog and sharing your thoughts with us. As one who has traveled in and out of this great nation, I can tell you that we need not apologize for who we are and how we respond to this beautiful earth. Most of us are conscious-filled and full of good intentions. Yet other nations ignore these simple techniques you espouse. But we can do our part–continue on–and, in the grand scheme of life–look back and say, “I didn’t do it alone.”

  62. Heather Binkley says:

    Honestly, I’m not understanding how people don’t see the logic to the president’s statements. Metaphorically, we are all accountable to the environment and sustainability of this earth. Remember, we only have one, and we have to use it right while we still have it. If we all worked collectively, we could make small steps like Dr. Putnam into making a large amount of progress. Every little thing counts. We might not have been the ones supplying the oil and controlling the pipes or working for BP in general, (and yes, they were a large part of the problem too) but we are the ones on the other economic side: we all use oil, we all demand it, we all “need” it.

    I commend Dr. Putnam on his journey to make a difference in his own life where he can. Many of us should do the same. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  63. Paul Weihe says:

    I applaud President Putnam for opening a spirited dialogue, and for so many who responded with eloquent discussion.

    Helping students grow and learn and develop into thoughtful, effective citizens seems central to Central, and this blog offers wonderful reflection on a vision in that regard.

    Whatever your political leanings, please appreciate our President’s heartfelt reflections, and consider our collective future. Our actions really do make a difference…I’ve seen it many, many times.

    • Park Woodle - Class of '76 says:

      Yes, Welcome Dr. Putnam. I like that you are connecting with ALL of CUI community.
      Good provoking ideas you present!

      Confession: I have really not blogged much. FYI: ‘Computer’ at Central in 1970’s era meant the basement of Douwstra was filled with a HUGE main frame. I did NOT enjoy key-punching cards for programs. We’ve moved a LONG way!

  64. Felicity Westercamp says:

    Dr. Putnam,
    Thank you for addressing this topic.
    Over the summer, I too found myself frustrated at BP officials because of the oil spill, but at some point I realized that the oil spill, and the general state of our environment, is not the fault of a single person.

    When my parents were my age global warming was a joke, a myth invented by hippies and crazy people. As I grow and learn I see that these “crazy people” may have been at least a little bit right.

    In truth, the environment is going downhill because for the longest time no one was willing to take little steps to preserve it. Unwilling to sacrifice comfort or convenience, humanity has been poisoning its home for generations.

    I never use a tray in the cafeteria simply because I don’t need one. My car broke down over the summer, and I am perfectly content to walk downtown. I am comfortable with opening the windows instead of turning on my air conditioning.

    Why do we feel the need to poison our home just to be a little more comfortable?

    • Alanna McAnnally, Class of 1969 says:

      While I used to open our windows and use screens for breezes, during summers in Alabama, and due to multi-systemic Sarcoidosis, I am now intolerant of too hot and too cold. I use the AC. As for walking, rheumatoid arthritis has stopped that. I’d love to be able to walk distances again, cave again, ice skate again, do gymnastics again. But now am content with being as comfortable as possible. Should I feel guilty. NO lol I’m in too much pain. But I do remember my healthy days with fresh air with fondness. 😀

  65. Ross Vermeer says:

    Dr Putnam, I’d like to wish you the very best as you begin your work as Central’s new president.

    I graduated from CUI in 1988, having enjoyed my time there. I benefited particularly from my study in Wales, since I’ve ended up as a long-term expatriate (I’ve lived in Hong Kong for almost 20 years).

    I appreciate the difficulty a new leader faces in this situation, i.e. launching an open forum such as this blog. What topic will sound inspirational, yet not seem banal or done-to-death? ‘The Environment’ is a good rhetorical choice: it allows the taking of a stand, yet deep down it’s a safe choice; whoever argues against ‘save the environment, and please, let it begin with me’ looks like a petty naysayer. And David Brooks and G K Chesterton are excellent sources for quotations: conservatives after a fashion, but not in ways that would alarm your core audience.

    At the risk of calling down condemnation upon myself, I must never the less express my own disappointment in this inaugural post, and also in the tsk-tsking tone of the commenters who seem to dread the possibility that any real engagement with your ideas takes place.

    Yes, it’s commendable that we choose to consume less on a day-to-day basis, and that we accept responsibility for our own actions. But we — you and I and every other relatively comfortable resident of a developed country — are not going to escape our use of oil. We are not about to relinquish our access to motorized transport, air travel, and heated and cooled homes and buildings. Alternative energy sources are grossly inefficient (cf Spain’s bankrupting itself in its quixotic pursuit of wind power), and would disappear without taxpayers’ subsidies. Many also have costly side-effects: how many acres of wild land around the world have been cleared so that biofuel quotas are met?

    The environmental problems that result from oil use require solutions that go far beyond current panaceas. We would do better to stare the truth in its unattractive face, and promote the safest and most efficient methods of oil extraction and consumption available to us. You must know, for example, that one reason the Gulf spill was so difficult to cap was that oil companies have been forced — by well-meaning environmental concerns — to drill far out to sea in deep water. This is a bitter irony when oil is readily available closer to shore, and in Alaska, and in the vast stocks of oil shale in both the USA and Canada.

    On an even broader scale, there’s the question of economic development. I have seen some brutal environmental devastation in China with my own eyes. There’s nothing like it in the USA, which is a far cleaner country than it was even 25 or 30 years ago. Why is that? Because the USA is rich, and China is not, at least not yet. But I believe China may become rich, and it will be a cleaner, brighter place to live when it is. We can only afford to indulge ourselves with environmental niceties when we have the leisure and disposable income to allow it. Then we can sacrifice in small ways to feel good. Real environmental clean-ups are the product of the economic growth that makes us rich enough to care.

    But it’s tempting to see environmental problems as a morality play in which we rich people play the starring role: we can ruin the world; we can save the world; see how powerful — and how good! — we are.

    Pardon my presumption in giving you advice, but the world is indeed changing, and I hope (and pray) that you will lead Central beyond the comfortable conventions of the run-of-the-mill liberal arts college. The world needs people who see past their plastic bottles bans and bike paths (well-intentioned and laudable as these may be), and I still believe Central is well-positioned to produce them.

    Good luck, and God bless.

    Ross Vermeer

    • David Timmer says:


      Thanks for a thoughtful and engaging post – a model of civility.

      However, as one of the so-called “tsk-tskers” on this thread, I have to say that I don’t see any one of us who “dreads the possibility that any real engagement with [Mark’s] ideas takes place.” Real engagement is precisely what we’re after – not gratuitous insults, baseless accusations, and obvious distortions of what Mark said. Judging from your avoidance of those vices of the blogosphere, I’d guess that you’re after real engagement as well.

      Just one question about the substance of your post. What is the source for your assertion that Spain bankrupted itself by its pursuit of wind power? It seems unlikely (to me) that a single government project could bankrupt an economy as large as Spain’s; but maybe your source has a persuasive argument.

      Dave Timmer

      • Ross Vermeer says:

        Hi David, and thanks for the kind words in your reply. I didn’t have you in mind as a ‘tsk-tsker’, for what it’s worth! Your comments have been consistently civil and substantive.

        The study I had in mind with regard to the Spanish experience with wind power is this one. It made quite a splash last year in that its timing and conclusions cast serious doubts on some of President Obama’s contemporaneous remarks about ‘green jobs’; these statements were based on a very optimistic reading (to be kind) of Spain’s aggressive promotion of wind power.

        So forgive me for engaging in a bit of hyperbole: Spain is perhaps not ‘bankrupt’, I suppose, but its economy was moribund (~20 unemployment and an even worse debt problem than the USA) and well on its way to ruin because of, to a significant extent, its commitment to subsidizing green energy. As a result, the Spanish government has had to scale back significantly its spending on wind power.


    • Paul Weihe says:


      Thanks much for your thoughtful reply…I really did enjoy it. I especially appreciate your discussion of economic forces, and that they must be considered when we contemplate environmental issues.

      However, I would counter two of your assertions.

      1. Regarding fossil fuels: yes, we seem enamored (addicted??)…but, this is not inevitable. In fact, we WILL stop using fossil fuels…because they WILL run out (sooner or later). Why don’t we transition to renewables now, and save a lot of environmental degradation before reaching the inevitable dry hole?

      2. Regarding subsidy: we do, in fact, heavily subsidize fossil fuel use, in a variety of ways. That doesn’t justify subsidizing renewables, but the precedent is already set. Any honest economic argument should include all the subsidies, and consider “externalized costs.”

      • Ross Vermeer says:

        Hi Paul;

        Thanks for yours. In response, I offer a couple of points.

        1. Fossil fuels will indeed run out eventually, but that day is still far off. In the meantime, the great majority of the world’s population would love to live like we do. The cheapest, most efficient way to improve the greatest number of lives is to make use of the cheapest, most efficient sources of energy we have — and that means fossil fuels. As I have tried to argue, this eventually means cleaner environmental conditions — poor countries are dirty countries because they cannot afford to regulate and enforce the externalities of their energy production and use. The great exception to this, of course, is carbon. If you believe that carbon is a pollutant, then you must at least face the likelihood that many poor people must stay poor for the sake of the world’s climate.

        2. Subsidies indeed riddle the US and many other economies. But traditional fossil fuel industries would prosper with or without subsidies. At the moment, you can’t really say the same for most renewables: without government money and/or mandates, they would be priced out of the market. I hope I have not given the impression that I’m against renewables (or indeed against conservation in the broader sense) — far from it; I would love to see them prosper! But subsidies are a dicey game. You can argue that they are necessary to foster development in desirable industries, but you can also argue (more convincingly, I believe) that subsidies reify the status quo; you simply get more of exactly what you’re paying for, and this hamstrings innovation in the long run.


        • Paul Weihe says:


          You present a compelling argument and state your case well. It’s fun to carry this on 🙂

          However we may reach an impasse in this debate soon, as we consider implications beyond known data, and get into scientific uncertainty. I’ll take a stab anyway…

          I have read that low-price oil will be gone within a few years, and ever-more expensive oil will be scarce and run out within a few decades. Meanwhile coal is abundant, true enough. But it has very high environmental costs, too.

          You assert that fossil fuels are “cheap” and would “prosper with or without subsidy” and I beg to differ. They APPEAR cheap because of subsidies and externalized costs…which, even if not included in the price at the pump or the electric bill, are still very much real and still must be paid. Unless we as a society truly price fossil fuels according to their real costs (geopolitics, acid rain, asthma, mercury poisoning and all the rest), then the burden of proof is on the polluters that these are somehow good.

          If folks who argue in favor of fossil-fueled economic development are serious, they could propose that the rich world stop using fossil fuels, and allow the poor countries to use them to raise their standard of living. I won’t hold my breath waiting for that proposal…

          • Ross Vermeer says:

            Thanks, Paul; it has been both enjoyable and (I hope) thought-provoking.

            I agree that some of the costs of fossil fuels are externalized in ways that are not always acknowledged. But then renewables have such costs as well: who really wants to know about the pollution created when manufacturers produce solar panels, for example? How many migratory birds chewed up by windmills equals the cost of a child whose asthma is exacerbated by suspended particulates released from burning coal? Should we ‘take responsibility’ for all of these costs any time we turn on a light switch?

            I also agree in a way with your final paragraph. The rich world could try to eliminate its use of fossil fuels (or could begin to try, at least). But then it wouldn’t be the rich world anymore. I wonder sometimes if, for many environmentalists, this is the heart of the issue. There is a strand of self-imposed asceticism, even self-abnegation, that runs through much contemporary environmentalism. It’s attractive to many of us because it sounds much like the Christian call to deny the self, but I fear it’s not the same at all in the end. Because there will always be some people who won’t conserve voluntarily, the constant temptation for the environmental movement is to seek and promote control over other people’s lives.

            Dr Putnam seems to be trying to walk this tightrope in his plan for Central. By emphasizing individual responsibility for environmental costs and encouraging voluntary action, he is leaving the choice to each member of the Central community.

            But what will happen to those faculty or students who don’t want to participate? When individual choices that previously have been considered neutral or trivial are suddenly imbued with collective moral significance, unpleasant forms of social pressure often emerge. Ironically, it’s often at institutions devoted to the free exercise of the life of the mind where such pressures become acute. I certainly hope Central can avoid this pitfall.

  66. Frank Ricard says:

    I think the Board of Trustees failed CUI here…

  67. Ross Vermeer says:

    This article from the Chronicle of Higher Education may be of interest to anyone who’s been following this conversation.

  68. Andy Thompson says:

    Ross is very much on point…leave it to a Vermeer to get things right! I think this notion of turning our choices (environmental or otherwise) into a morality play is pretty dicey. First we must accept the premises offered by President Putnam and others. I guess I’ve viewed all of this conservation effort as a well-meaning and innocuous; as perspectives change along with evidence so will the response. But the ramblings and rantings of Al Gore are truly dangerous when we seek to set national policy with them as a basis. Al Gore’s lifestyle has a larger carbon footprint that most of the Central campus, but we look to him as our paragon of virtue, with Nobel Prizes and Academy Awards?

    This is where the moralists lose me. It’s fine for anyone to advocate a particular eco-friendly lifestyle, but not to try and impose it upon those who don’t share those opinions. And for the record, the global warming advocates remain in retreat because they cooked the books and should be ashamed of themselves. They hounded (in a nefarious and underhanded manner) anyone who disputed their work. Isn’t that what science is supposed to be about, rational inquiry? Gore has a ton of personal problems presently, while Michael Mann, another global warming oracle, is under investigation for fraud by the FBI. Enough said about those two role models.

    • Andy, I don’t know where you are getting your information from. I know that it is difficult to get at the “truth” when matters are complex and people don’t have the time and knowledge to investigate them in an unbiased way. Here is an excellent investigation of “Climate gate” by factcheck.org It is well worth the read to get an overall understanding of what is happening.


  69. A Random Stranger says:

    Why are there arguments about this post. ? He is simply stating what he is planning on doing. People who write nasty comments criticizing another persons ideas need to get over themselves. The things Mr. Putnam wrote are very accurate so I do not no what the fuss of this blog is.

  70. Valerie Van Kooten says:

    So, to those who believe that the small actions individuals take will not help anyway, what’s the solution? Just throw up our hands and say, “I want what I want when I want it”?

    And to those who want to make this a religious debate, was not God’s first commandment to man to take care of the Earth He had created for them?

    I as a consumer and human being cannot wait around for someone else to take action for me. I alone am in charge of what I spend, what I consume, and what I waste. Each of us needs a wake-up call on that. Stewardship is not–and should not be–dead.

    Thank you, Dr. Putnam, for your leadership. And might I suggest that those moderating this blog require true first names and double-check them; writing anonymously is childish, cowardly, and unprofessional.

    “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”–Margaret Mead