Monday, September 17, 2018 - 12:00pm

T.H. Culhane

A Mercy College professor has made headlines for his commitment to environmental sustainability — even though it requires collecting garbage to turn on the lights in his Florida home.

Thomas H. Culhane, Ph.D., formerly a full-time professor of environmental sustainability and justice, now serves on Mercy’s faculty as a lecturer, researcher and online instructor, conducting field service learning experiences for Mercy students in Florida, Pennsylvania and New York. This summer Culhane was in New York to lead educational programs and workshops at The Science Barge, a sustainable urban farm and floating greenhouse on the Hudson River at Yonkers.

We caught up with him after he was featured in an article in National Geographic about his ingenious sustainable life experiment, living completely “off the grid.”

Culhane, who is the founder of the Rosebud Continuum, an eco-science center, and Solar CITIES, an environmental education non-profit, is described in the article as “a longtime National Geographic explorer.” The story portrays him and his wife Enas at their home in Land O’Lakes, Florida, where the two are living in an RV powered solely by the sun and a biodigester, a kitchen waste biogas generator they built themselves.

A biodigester uses bacteria to decompose food and other waste into bio-methane gas, a renewable energy source that can be used to power conventional gas appliances for cooking, illumination and heating. Between 2012 and 2016, Culhane and a group of Mercy students, members of the student club ENVISAJ (Environmental Sustainability and Justice), researched and helped build several household-capacity biodigesters, including the nation’s first “basement biodigester,” which is still transforming all kitchen waste into cooking fuel after four years. They have presented their work to the United Nations, and Culhane has traveled with them overseas to build in Palestine, Israel, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

“It’s important for members of the Mercy community, especially students, to be aware of Dr. Culhane’s commitment to teaching sustainability,” said Karol Dean, PhD, Dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences.  “He continues to make an important contribution to environmental issues, and his work with Mercy students over the years has helped them discover new approaches to changing the world.”

Culhane, who hopes to visit Mercy soon to present more findings from his “life experiment,” observed that Mercy students become excited when they learn about the growing number of jobs opening up in the field of sustainability and environmental security. “They want to be part of the solution,” he said. “I try to convey to them that each of them matters, and that we can do this. Not as individuals, but collectively it can be done. That’s what nature has been doing ever since the first life forms appeared. Earth has always come back into equilibrium — especially when we help it.”