Thursday, January 31, 2013
A Few Hopeful Words for Sustainability
The word "Sustainability" is often mentioned - with a great deal of credence, I might add - in this major. For that matter, it's not uncommon to hear it everywhere else in this town, not to mention everywhere in liberal publications, on the internet, and in the hearts and minds of self-proclaimed caring people such as myself and probably, dare I say, most (at least some) other students at Western. And that's just fine - great, even. However, my fear, in part brought about by my own haphazard use of the word, is that it will, if it hasn't already, become just another vague term, lacking grounding in reality and serving as some arbitrary "conceptualization" of simple-minded "off the grid" mentalities. I should probably explain that this rant of mine was spurred today by the combination of my gradual awareness of the increasingly-reckless use of the word, reading the mission statement on ORE's website, and, perhaps most of all, taking some advice given to me by our dear compatriot Dakota Becker and reading part of a letter from Donella Meadows, a so-called "systems analyst" who had some sincere, caring words on sustainability. While she stated that sustainability is done, not talked about, she also gave an institutionally-accepted definition of the word. Said definition is much like the one that has been discussed in a few of my ENVS classes: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the capacity of our children, grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren to be able to live beautifully. Indeed, Donella raises an essential point: namely, that sustainability should not be confused with sustaining the current and obviously-destructive modern state of the world despite the incredible toll being taken on all of Earth. Rather, there must be a fundamental change in the way people live, so that we can "...work together for a peaceful world," as it is written, instead of focusing on "sustaining" some half-baked state of scraping by in front of the television set while convincing ourselves that recycling, driving Toyota Priuses, and LEED-certified buildings are coming to the rescue. Don't get me wrong, and sorry if I'm sounding like a broken record (I do love records, though) - these things (with the exception of Toyota Priuses, for reasons that I will discuss later) are a step in a good direction, and a few caring people doing a bunch of amazing things is just fantastic. Now, we just need to focus more on good, careful, and meaningful work that doesn't serve to dig a more streamlined and convenient rut for ourselves. Most importantly, we must carefully, sincerely, and lovingly sustain this important work. So, instead of institutionalizing this great, many-syllabled word as some utopian concept or slinging it around arbitrarily, let's remember to speak Sustainability with enough gusto so that we may remember to work hard and well together for a peaceful world.