Creation Care: How did you become so interested in the concept of sustainability, even to the point of envisioning a college that is built from the ground up on these principles?
Ed Johnson: A group of faculty and chapel speakers first opened my eyes to environmental issues while I was an undergraduate at Morningside College in the late sixties and early seventies. I was blessed to have been transformed on the concepts of creation care before this remarkable movement began to emerge.
As a Christian college president at the dawn of the new millennium I felt called to re-examine the very role of a college in creation care. That led to the opportunity to build a new college in Phoenix based on sustainability principles and practices. Our view was that a new institution could serve as an encouragement to those campuses who were going through incremental changes, as well as serve as a cutting edge innovator in building, energy use, and curriculum development.
CC: Was this a gradual revelation of the importance of sustainability or did you have an epiphany of some sort?
EJ: My journey so far consists of a gradual series of transformational moments since my college days. My first urban ministry immersion in Washington, D.C. opened my eyes to social justice issues. A quiet sunset walk in Muir Woods brought me to my knees for the first time in the midst of that remarkable creation. Reading seminal works by Cal De Witt and others began my gradual intellectual nourishment. Recent exposure to some of the great minds on sustainability and creation care began to connect the dots for me: evangelical faith, higher education, and the scientific community.
CC: What advice would you give students and professors who are trying to champion sustainability ethics and policies in their campuses?
EJ: Four words: “faithful and inexhaustible perseverance!” Successful champions within the academy blend the “right thing to do” with reasoned analysis and thoughtful implementation proposals. I also advise them to challenge the student body as the initial constituency and to patiently work through established networks and governance structures for long-term change. Beware of those who are in denial about the condition of the planet and the excessive use of energy on college and university campuses. Be energized by the successes at many institutions and learn from them.
CC: Why were you excited to accept the position of president of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies?
EJ: To be called to serve the premier organization of its kind is a special opportunity. Au Sable is the oldest and largest provider of environmental science courses in the world. Through its founder, Dr. Cal DeWitt, and others, it has offered scientific evidence and analysis for every significant creation care public policy issue for over 25 years. Au Sable has renewed its commitment to transformational Christ-centered educational experiences in the next chapter of its story. To begin to move the dialogue from “what is happening” to “what shall we do” is very exciting for the Institute and for me personally. I am also looking forward to learning from a diverse group of stakeholders how Au Sable can replicate its historical roles in the emergence of such complementary areas as sustainability, public health, church-focused education, and leadership development. It is truly the golden age of creation care thought and action. I am humbled to join those who have toiled long in the vineyards.