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Tim Richards '10: Blending Environmental Activism and Academics

Tim Richards ’10 certainly made his mark at Haverford, both as a member of the campus environmental groups EarthQuakers and EHaus, and as author of the Sustainable Haverford plenary resolution that prompted the college to invest in 100% wind energy to power the campus.  After graduation, Richards went on to study sustainable communities around the world during a year of travel supported by a Watson Fellowship.

And now, with the publication of his senior philosophy thesis in the International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, it’s clear Richards’ ideas have taken root far beyond Gest 101. “I was lucky to be able to fuse my environmental activism with academics,” he said, “because before this research they were pretty separate for me.”

Richards’ advisor, Gest Professor of Global Philosophy Ashok Gangadean, called the thesis “remarkable.” “I felt that his thesis showed creativity and was at the cutting edge of his topic,” said Gangadean, “so I was delighted to learn that it was appreciated by others and will be published.”

The paper, an abridged version of which appears in the journal, is titled “Beyond Environmental Morality: Towards a Viable Environmental Ethic(s).” The paper explains that, in Richards’ view, the environmental movement has sought to scold people—“to tell them to be less bad.”

“I don’t think that’s a very good framing of the issue,” said Richards. “I think the message can and needs to be more inspiring. Yes, that’s how things have been in the past, but I want people to understand that we can change that.”

Richards has practiced his philosophy first-hand, founding the organization Citizens for a Green Mt. Airy in his Maryland hometown with the help of a Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC) grant during his sophomore year. The group focuses on education, teaching residents about everyday energy and food solutions. Richards, who took a semester off from his studies at Haverford his junior year, spent those months back in Mount Airy developing the organization.

The following year, after his senior research was complete, Richards received an email from Professor of Philosophy Kathleen Wright. “She shared a link about the conference for the Journal,” said Richards, “so I thought, ‘why not?’ and submitted my paper.” “Maybe they thought I was a professor or something,” said Richard with a laugh.

When his paper was accepted, the philosophy department and CPGC both pitched in to help Richards attend the conference, held in Ecuador. “It was a great experience,” he said. “I got to network with a lot of like-minded people.”

Publication notwithstanding, Richards said he doesn’t plan to attend graduate school in the near future. “If I end up having a career in the traditional sense, it will likely be in conservation,” he said.

Richards recently resettled in Davis, California, where he lives in a cooperative community house and works for Tuleyome, a conservation nonprofit. But Richards—whom Gangadean described as “a model of an outstanding philosophy major”—won’t be leaving his academic background behind.

“The biggest thing for me right now is getting philosophy into the world, for the world, and using it to solve the biggest issue we face, which is the sustainability challenge,” he said.

“Sometimes the discipline can be so abstract,” said Richards. “But we’re living in a society that really needs something like philosophy.”

—Mara Miller ’10

Founders Green on a warm spring day.

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