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Nick is Creighton’s new director of sustainability. In fact, he’s so new he started his role shortly before campus shut down in mid-March. He and his wife are still living in Indianapolis at the moment. He plans to move to Omaha this spring.
Nick previously worked as the sustainability coordinator at Indiana State University. As Creighton’s director of sustainability, he will work to develop a campus-wide sustainability strategic plan as part of the Global Engagement Office team.
Recently, Nick started writing a weekly column about how to care for our common home from home. Check out his columns here.
What’s it like starting a new job remotely?
It’s different. I haven’t started that many jobs before, so I had no expectations.
What are you most excited to get rolling in the Office of Sustainability at Creighton?
I’m most excited about working on our new sustainability plan. We recently had our first task force meeting, actually. There is a lot of space for change at Creighton, especially at a time like this, where we’re going to see systematic changes. This plan is going to call for just that.
And it really excites me because everything that the Jesuit mission is about lines up perfectly with sustainability. They are one and the same. That’s exciting because if we are living up to the Jesuit mission, then we’re already being sustainable.
Do you think this, all of this, is a sneak preview of some of the changes we’re going to have to continue to make in response to climate change and for the sake of sustainability? Or is that comparison inappropriate?
I’m seeing a lot of articles that are talking about how the air is cleaner and the emissions are lower and the fish are returning to Venice. Which is good.
But saying this is what we will need to live like in the future is not a really good way to look at it. Because all of these positive changes were brought about by a ton of suffering.
That puts a bleak picture out there, that to be sustainable we have to go through all this suffering. That’s not true. We can operate our systems to be a lot more environmentally and socially friendly without completely shutting down the economy.
But you are right in that this offers some sort of picture of a systematic change that is necessary. There will have to be massive, nationwide, worldwide-level changes.
The silver lining of this is that there’s probably going to have to be systematic changes to deal with this problem. And it could be an opportunity to build in some if not all of the stability measures that people have been calling for forever.
So, yes, the air is cleaner. But we can make the air cleaner without making people suffer. But this does show sort of a preview that, no, driving to work every day is not required for everyone.
When climate change is discussed a lot of the time, when people think about it, if they’re thinking about it at all, they cope with it psychologically by saying it’s a distant problem, whatever “distant” means to them. But it’s clear that in the U.S. we take for granted just how much it is already posing a daily emergency for tens of millions of people, in the resource scarcity, refugee crises and the conflict that arise out of famine and drought.
Does the abruptness of this situation, and some of solidarity that has come out of it … does it help us expand our circle of empathy a little wider, beyond our front door?
I definitely think that. This is my opinion, so I’m not necessarily representing Creighton’s views. But I do think it’s really connecting upper-middle class people all the way to the poorest of the poor, through solidarity.
We can mend our divide. Everyone who is suffering from this right now can take this as a lesson that we need to work together to get through this and that we’re going to need to work together even more to get ahead of climate change.
One thing — and this is something you’ll see some articles come out about now — this is nothing compared to what will happen if we don’t stop our climate from changing. We have a path forward through the virus; we will eventually have a vaccine.
But if we go over tipping points in terms of climate, there is no path forward. It’s just, this is it. This is a test run for, Can we band together to solve a larger issue? And it’s looking like we can.
Of everything that’s happened … what about any particular aspect of this has upended an assumption you’ve had or just made you question a belief?
I will say that one thing that scares me about this is, it’s just like a microcosm of how we as humans typically react, which is, unless something is happening to someone we know or love, it’s not really happening. You’re seeing that now. Somewhat.
I see similarities to how we react to climate change. It’s hard to make changes without seeing something happening in your own backyard. Hopefully, we can learn from this and say, “Look, this is what happens when we don’t prepare early.” We got through this. Good. But we cannot make this mistake with climate change.
Is the psyche of rugged individualism holding us back from being able to effect systemic change? We don’t regularly acknowledge that I affect you, and you affect me, and we all affect each other.
100%. That rugged individualism, when people don’t work together, that doesn’t always work when you’re trying to run a country and act swiftly.
How else has your life changed lately?
At my old job, I had to drive an hour each way. My commute would have been a lot shorter if I were in Omaha at this point. But now I don’t have a commute at all, and I haven’t driven a car in forever, and that is so refreshing. I hated driving. That has been the biggest change in my life.
I was really lucky in the previous position I had where I had flexibility to work on my schedule, but now this offers even more flexibility. I don’t believe that you need to work from 8 to 5 to be productive. Sometimes I wake up and feel really energized and want to work, and that’s when you can be most productive. And then other times it hits you at 8 p.m., and you work until midnight.
Having the freedom to do that and mix in pieces of life, that’s great. If I need to take a walk, I’ll do it. If I need to go volunteer somewhere, I’ll do that. And I feel more productive and happy at the same time. You wouldn’t think that’s possible, but it really is if you can work off your own schedule.
What do you want to be able to do better by the time we’re finally done with all this?
I’m trying to get better at management. That’s not something I have much experience with, and I will have to do more of it in this role. So I’ve been looking into, for example, group behavior and group learning and making sure we have the right group sizes to make sure we’re as productive as we can be.
Stuff like that is something that’s really new to me and interesting. I would have had to do this anyway.
Cooking is my favorite hobby, but I didn’t get to do much of it in my old job because I got home so late. Now, I’ve been able to cook a lot more.
I’ve also been reading into all the old sustainability files at Creighton. The skill I’ve picked up is some institutional knowledge for Creighton. Which I know is a boring answer (Laughs)
What else are you reading, watching, etc.?
I’m reading a book called “The Overstory” by Richard Powers. It’s amazing. It was a going-away gift from my old place. I’m only three chapters in at this point, but it’s great.
That’s a book that takes place over a long period of time from the perspectives of trees, right?
I can’t see a plot right now. The first three chapters are just storylines of families and how they revolve around trees. I don’t see how they’re all connected yet. And I don’t know if they will be. But it’s really interesting, and it’s hard to put down.
Another funny thing is, I played a lot of video games in high school, like I’m sure many of us did. And I find myself playing more video games with college friends at night. Because I can wake up at 8 now instead of 5. That’s been fun. But it’s gotten old after like a week.
You’ve been writing some great columns for Creighton about sustainability. I saw you were recommending some “sustainable movies,” among other things. What movie should people watch?
“Snowpiercer.” I taught a suitability class at Indiana State University, and I always showed that movie in class. Have you seen it?
Oh yeah. I love it.
One, it’s just an intriguing movie to watch. But there’s also some really good themes of social justice and environmentalism packed into it. And it’s on Netflix.
Read all of Nick’s Sustainable Creighton columns here.
Interview conducted April 2020.