I alluded to it a few weeks ago in a previous post, the idea that we know what needs to be done about the various, ongoing environmental catastrophes (with the word “we,” being society at large), but the question that still needs an answer is what we (as a society), are going to do about it. Awareness is at an all-time high about climate change, ocean acidification, species extinction, marine plastics and the like… we all know that big changes are called for and that they need to happen yesterday, or as soon to yesterday as possible.
The website links I included in yesterday’s post were just a sample of the information that is out there, and very little of it is positive. But facts are facts, whether we want to look at them or not, and these particular lines of fact are getting more undeniable every day. So what’s the holdup? Why aren’t we doing more when all the planet’s environmental indicators are on a steepening downward curve? What’s it going to take?
Well, hard to say. It doesn’t seem like doing the same old things, signing a petition, going to a march, even cleaning a beach, it doesn’t seem like any of these are having the desired effects. Not because those things don’t have value; it just seems like our time would be better spent if we were more curious and precise about what sustainability really means. Until we actually have a target, it remains unlikely that we will hit anything important.
Is sustainability something that is primarily concerned with the ongoing health of the planet? Does it speak to the commitment to stewardship of the environment that each of us is prepared to make, seeing ourselves as members of that environment rather than existing apart from it? Is sustainability defined in terms of what is best for the intricate web of natural systems upon which all life depends, or…
Or is sustainability a word that makes us feel better about our consumption? When we describe technology as “sustainable,” is what we really mean that it will help us maintain our ease for longer, to keep us in the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed? Surely we can pollute less, perhaps offset our carbon use with newly-planted seedlings (that may or may not actually grow into trees), buy an electric car (the new Tesla is awesome!), and purchase solar panels for the roof. But growth is good, right? As long as our status as consumers remains intact and we can still have access to the many things that make our lives comfortable and convenient, we are all-in on sustainability.
There are still many good reasons to cut our energy use, to plant trees and to clean beaches. They just might not be the reasons we’ve been saying. And I think it’s going to be important to know.