Orr's presentation, entitled "Black Swans and Local Resilience," is a wide-ranging and provocative talk on economics, climate change, culture, politics and the future of humanity.
The Black Swan Theory, or Theory of Black Swan Events, was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and covered in his book The Black Swan. He says that nearly all major events in history — like the invention of the Internet or the terrorist attacks of 9/11 — were undirected and unpredictable. Taleb's criteria for a black swan event are that the event is a surprise to the observer, the event has a major impact and the event is rationalized by hindsight, after it occurs, as if it had been expected.
Hayden Mattingly, professor of biology at TTU, said he first became aware of Orr's work through the journal Conservation Biology, where Orr regularly contributes a column.
"He has a gift for distilling current environmental issues into well-articulated essays that readily outline the problems and offer tangible solutions," Mattingly said.
Orr's visit to campus is particularly timely because Tech is developing an undergraduate degree program in environmental and sustainability studies, he said.
"We will be looking to leaders like Dr. Orr as we move forward," Mattingly said.
Orr is the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College and a James Marsh Professor at the University of Vermont. He is the recipient of five honorary degrees and other awards including The Millennium Leadership Award from Global Green, the Bioneers Award and the National Wildlife Federation Leadership Award. An experienced lecturer, Orr has spoken at hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the United States and Europe.
His career as a scholar, teacher, writer, speaker and entrepreneur spans fields as diverse as environment and politics, environmental education, campus greening, green building, ecological design and climate change. Orr is the author of seven books and co-editor of three others.
In 1996 he organized an effort to design the first substantially green building on a U.S. college campus. The Adam Joseph Lewis Center at Oberlin College was later named by the U.S. Department of Energy as "One of Thirty Milestone Buildings in the 20th Century," and by The New York Times as the most interesting of a new generation of college and university buildings. The Lewis Center purifies all of its wastewater and is the first college building in the country powered entirely by sunlight.
Orr also proposed the goal of carbon neutrality for colleges and universities and subsequently organized and funded an effort to define a carbon neutral plan for his campus at Oberlin. Seven years later hundreds of colleges and universities, including Oberlin, have made that pledge.
He is active in efforts to stop mountaintop removal in Appalachia and to develop a new economy based on ecological restoration and wind energy.
Orr received his bachelor of arts degree from Westminster College, a master's degree from Michigan State University and a doctorate in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania.
The Stonecipher Lecture, which is free and open to the public, was created to fund the appearance of leading scholars and thinkers to address the interrelationships between science and contemporary society. Harry Stonecipher, a 1960 TTU physics graduate, is the former president and chief operating officer of The Boeing Co. and worked for major industrial firms including General Motors, General Electric, Sundstrand and McDonnell Douglas.