Posted by kari.petroschmidt
ON SUSTAINABILITY (UGH)
I know. You don’t want to hear the word ‘sustainability’ ever again. But bear with me. Let’s start with an ostensibly basic question, what does the word actually mean? And, by implication, how are we to conceive of the environment? It has, of course, been a topic of much conversation in recent years. Think the scare tactics of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, The Age of Stupid and even Earth. Though these films may relate the positive aspects or opportunities inherent in our current environmental crisis, more often than not these are an add-on. They come at the end of the production, as if the producers didn’t know the simple psychological fact that it’s what you begin with that really sticks with the viewer. And this kind of pessimistic beginning only serves to exacerbate the individual’s sense of disempowerment. But even aside from this tactical blunder, the films fail in varying degrees to relate the possibility and opportunity inherent in our modern-day environmental ‘catastrophes’. The problem is we’re still conceptualizing sustainability as involving hardship and sacrifice when it could in fact lead to a greater increase in our quality of life.
The most basic definition of sustainability is that we use our resources in such a way that they’ll be able to continue to provide for future generations. But the term has, however, become overused and co-opted to the extent that it is now essentially meaningless. When a company like BP (read: Gulf of Mexico oil spill) is able to call themselves ‘sustainable’ you know the show is over.
In this way, writers such as Gary Horvitz are calling for a new, more “authentic” word to describe our current relationship with the environment and that word is ‘thriving’. Horvitz writes, “There is something missing from the conventional use of the term sustainable that does not quite articulate the full flavour of what we imagine is the coming world. The world we truly want is something more like sustainability on steroids; not merely providing basic necessities or doing so without degrading the life support system, but a world in which all people are living at an enhanced level of quality that can only emerge when we live in a generous environment of open possibility.”
“How do live as fully connected beings?”
‘Thriving’, as opposed to ‘sustainability’, is about a more holistic approach to our environment, as spiritual as it is social and political; “a biological, energetic and social vitality, a structure/process that is perpetually and self-consciously adaptable enough to address emerging needs, i.e.it is alive! It is dynamic. In fact, the more deeply we dive into the philosophical core of the word, the more we realize that a critical principle determining our human aliveness, individually and collectively, is whether we can overcome the myth of separation that lies at the heart of our current economic structure. How do live as fully connected beings? And what kind of an economy grows out of living the true nature of our connection to each other and the earth?”
So this is about future generations. But it’s also about how we can we construct our societies so as to minimise our impact on the environment and maximise the extent to which we connect with both nature and one another, in the present. David Attenborough considers that our apathy in regards to the environment is due to the disconnection with nature that most of us, even in a place like New Zealand, seem to have. And with our wide open spaces, small population and large coastline, we’re the lucky ones, compared to industrial cities like Shenzhen, China.
But even in New Zealand most of us spend most of our time in some kind of man-made construction; at work, University, at the gym – we’re almost always either in a man-made construction or travelling in one, on our way to another. Yet nature is actually so important, not just in terms of the resources it provides but in terms of how a connection with it has such a vitalizing effect on the human spirit, increasing our quality of living, and even our productivity.
“What an extraordinary achievement for a civilization: to have developed the one diet that reliably makes its people sick!”
Jared Pickard is a case in point. A young farmer who decided to return to the land at age 26 after spending three years on the New York stock exchange, he “needed out.” He writes, “I was interested in much more than a career change. My mind, my body, my immune system, my belief system, my soul, my skin, and my fingertips – every piece of me began aching to evacuate the city immediately.” Pickard writes about a bevy of “young farmers, sprouting up across the nation,” people who long to feel the soil beneath their fingers and to be in the open air. But it’s more than just a connection with nature. It’s about our collective health and well-being as a society. The system at present of artificial food, artificially grown, is hurting us. Obesity didn’t even really used to exist, except in a few minor, aberrant cases. Now obesity rates in the US are looking to be around the FIFTY PERCENT mark by 2025.
LET’S BE SELFISH
This conceptualization of nature means treating it as something you’re involved in. Our traditional approach, probably due to religion’s emphasis on ‘humanity’ above all, is to conceive of nature as a resource to use and exploit. We’re on top of the hierarchy here. Not so. People talk about ‘saving the planet’, but the planet is going to be here and nature, in at least some form, will continue to exist, long after we’re gone.
So this is really about being selfish. What’s best for us, the human race, and our individual and collective survival and quality of life, both in the future and right now. What’s best for our health, sense of connectivity, quality of living, future generations and yes, even our economies. Connecting with and accounting for nature needn’t be a sacrifice. In fact there is opportunity inherent in everything and ‘thriving’ recognises that fact.
We’re going to be telling the stories of some ‘thrivers’ – people for whom accounting for the environment is not a sacrifice but a psychological, visceral and even economic necessity. And there are so many other examples, from individuals within Audacious to Cuba, hedonistic sustainability and the City 2.0. We’ll be talking about the role of business, planned obsolescence, the social memes we need to bust as soon as possible and SO MUCH MORE. It’s happening, right now.