Sustainability? What’s that?

When we look at peak oil, climate change, water availability, food production, etc. it should be pretty clear by now – to anyone who really wants to see what is going on – that a rather drastic change in all our lifestyles is needed and is coming. Yet we continue to take, at best, half-measures…

Why?

As I read, study, and think about “sustainability” it occurs to me that nowhere have I found a simple, intuitive, and/or logical definition of what sustainable is. Rather, it seems to me that those definitions I have encountered are overly complicated, hard to understand, and not exactly intuitive. Why do people do that – complicate things – this one in particular?

Maybe it’s because we really don’t want to be truly sustainable – as that could mean facing some radical changes. Maybe all we’re really trying to do is find some way of defining sustainable that will allow us to preserve our current lifestyles – so we can pat ourselves on the back and say “we’re doing it” without really changing much (let’s be honest, OK?).

—–
For example: while we talk of peak oil, we plan a city’s future around increased traffic and improving flow – instead of planning a city that requires less traffic.
Or worse yet, we seek out new areas to drill for oil or we process tar sands for it.
How about this: If oil is so available, why the heck are we expending so much effort to extract it from “tar sands”? It takes about 1 barrel of oil to extract 30 barrels of oil from a Middle Eastern oil field — for tar sands it takes about 1 barrel of oil to extract 1.5 or maybe 2 barrels of oil — that’s 30:1 vs. 2:1… a huge difference. Somehow this seems to me either an act of desperation, or a (literally) brutal scalping of Earth Mother for profit – or both. Not good.
Perhaps a better line of thinking would be: how will this or that city feed itself and surrounding towns when the produce trucks stop rolling in from California or the ships stop motoring in from overseas? I mean, do you really think they’ll continue forever?
—–

Back to the definition…

One of the fundamental precepts of sustainability goes something like this: Sustainability is meeting the needs of the present while preserving resources for future generations.

Sounds good so far. But, in my travels, I see a dissonant, repeating pattern – the “necessary” expansion or subdivision of the concept to include things like “improving the quality of life”, “development”, “green-business”, production, agriculture, etc. – all of which are mostly promoted by, built upon, and imply earning profit ($$$).

Please… this is not meant as a rant against well-intentioned efforts, but more in hope of helping redirect (or refocus) our thoughts and energies to where (IMHO) they are needed and will make a real difference.

I have yet to see anyone define what sustainability is – in a manner that is actually useful to us, the ordinary people.

Thus far, the best (and most useful) definitions I’ve encountered are the simple ones – from the dictionary:

– Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment (thefreedictionary.com)
– of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged (Merriam-webster.com)

Basic, understandable, and intuitive. I like it. Now how do we apply it?

In my opinion, (the key to all this is) in order to properly apply the concept of sustainable to any one area – food, clothing, housing, energy, etc. – we must first answer four basic questions:

1) what – what is it that we are trying to sustain?
2) how – how will we produce this – what resources are needed?
3) where – where will the resources for this come form – how large an area is available (or required)?
4) when – for how long do we wish to sustain this?

Here’s an example (a somewhat arbitrary one, but should suffice to make my point):

1) what – 1,214,000 automobiles (as registered in NH – 2009 – census.gov) and the ability to drive around when/where we please
2) how – steel, oil/gas, rubber, plastic, tar & concrete (for roads) plus more – (consider also all the machines/resources needed to make these cars, and then the machines to make the machines, etc.)
3) where – keeping in mind the term ‘local’ but being extra generous, let’s say the entire state of New Hampshire (or even all of New England)
4) when – Oh, how about 30 years

Using this “formula”, it should be relatively easy to realize that automobiles are just not sustainable… Not.

Add to this that we’ve not even considered the ‘how will this affect the seventh generation’ concept – i.e. after we use up all those resources, what will be left of this “local environment” for the 7th generation to use or live on? Simply put, cars are not sustainable.
So why are we not making any real effort to move away from cars? Why do we continue to plan & live as if they will be around forever?

Now apply the above to food… clothing… housing. I won’t even mention things like plastic toys, TVs, swimming pools, dishwashers, golf courses, or metallic helium-filled balloons. Oops, I just did didn’t I? Oh well. Might as well think about these too.

Finally, after considering each one, put them all together and apply the formula/questions again – to the whole.

Lest I be accused of being overly negative without providing ideas for solutions (since people ask “what am I to do?”)…

In my opinion, the solution to this problem (of sustainability) is in some ways simple and in some ways complex.

It is simple in that it requires a simpler view of life – a simpler, non-consumer, lifestyle.

It is complex in that it cannot be forced by any one individual upon any other one individual – we must each learn and adjust ourselves.

Is that a cop out? I don’t think so, but here are some more specific but generic suggestions (for self-education):

Stop… We’re so geared up to go, go, go all the time that we no longer even realize that we’re running the treadmill – which is taking us nowhere (except to disaster). Heck we no longer even realize we’re humans, not machines. Take a break. Take at least 10 minutes in each day and sit still. No books, no radio, no TV, no smart phones/computers, no eating, smoking, or drinking. No distractions. Just sit still. (OK, walking is cool for a start, but not the same nor nearly as effective.)
Look… Look at what is real & surrounds you all the time – look at yourself, inside yourself. Remove all those distractions that keep you from facing reality. Turn off your TV for a period of time and see how much your perceptions change.
Listen… Listen to what is around you – to your heart, your soul, and your own mind. Slow down and catch up to your real self.

If you can do these 3 things for even just one month, I think you will consciously begin to see what it is I’m trying to get at here. It’ll be a good start. Then you can take off and fly on your own… be free.

Just a thought,
M

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About SprinklinThoughts

Give good to the world & make sense of it... the world, not the good... well... OK, the good too. :-)
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42 Responses to Sustainability? What’s that?

  1. Sustainability is to the 1% what corporate profit is to the masses:

    DEATH.

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  2. My dearest friend…

    I have the reason these questions aren’t being asked, the reason we’ve so deeply complicated the notion of sustainability, the reason that the more obvious implications have surrendered to less obvious forces driving the sustainability boat… PROFITABILITY. Specifically, the four most relevant questions you proposed are not being asked — or answered — because you overlooked one simple word that ends each one of the questions.

    1) what – what is it that we are trying to sustain (profitably)?

    2) how – how will we produce this – what resources are needed (profitably)?

    3) where – where will the resources for this come form – how large an area is available (or required) (profitably)?

    4) when – for how long do we wish to sustain this (profitably)?

    …Sadly, when you remove the word “PROFITABLY” from the riddled equation, you lose mass interest of the very notion of sustainability, at least by those in forces who would best be suited to present practical answers; answers that (similarly) would hold any sort of weight in the world of current socio-economics, both micro- and macro- speaking.

    Sad truth. But truth nonetheless. I gather you already know this anyhow.

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    • Exactly… and that is why the expression is true – “money is the root of all evil”… maybe not the but certainly a major

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      • @a beautiful mess – thus the words so eloquently put and the thesis:

        “No actions shall be put into place here in the United States unless money can be put into the pockets of the politicians and the elite.”

        Well, when the electricity goes out (which it will) and when the oil runs out (which it will), what shall the politicians do? Do they know how to farm? NO

        I have said on Roughseasinthemed’s site before this phrase, and I stand by my words:

        “American politicians do NOT have blood running through their veins, but oil.” “Oil is running through the veins of every American politician.”
        —-LizEccentric7 (quote author)

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  3. Came here via Liz’s. I think your post is pretty moderate to be honest (compared with some of mine on similar topics). And while it may be good to sit around and chill out, really what most of us need to do is stop being so greedy, consumerist and selfish. Nor should we believe politicians or big business. Certainly not banks.

    Sustainability = buy local, think local, cut down on buying useless items, walk, cycle or use public transport, recycle. Loads of stuff out there to do – but people don’t want to do it.

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    • I agree, though I do have one question/thought – is the buy local movement really based on sutainability or is it just another money-centered, little brother to consumerism? Look at what is being sold & why…
      But I ask myself, “Why?” Why are people so lackadaisical? Why so much consumerism? Why do they believe the politicans, big business, media? Why don’t they wake up? So far I’ve come up with answers like: they’re stupid, they’re “sheople”, they don’t want to (too comfortable or too scared), or they don’t know any better for various reasons.
      I’ve opted to give them the benefit of the doubt – they just haven’t had the info needed – which is why I try to address some of these issues here. But, because over the years people kept telling me I was too negative, and many of the ‘details’ are already out there, I try to offer a more general view (make them think) with a (more positive) pointers to a correct (better?) path for each (let them grow). Education, incentive, alternative… plant the seeds…
      Bottom line is: what’s the incentive to improve? And is that incentive provided with a bludgeon (and therefore resisted) or planted as a seed & nurtured?
      Thank you for stopping by, reading, and commenting. I appreciate your thoughts – they make me think, reconsider, re-evaluate… all good things.

      Like

  4. Nazi cleansing that might be a little on the extreme side. However, I do feel the government has completely wanted to “get rid” of the mentally ill by the following:
    1) abortions prior to birth (many actual documented cases)
    2) low health funds for the mentally ill
    3) no living expenses or food for the mentally ill (esp. male adults)
    Thus making the case for the male adults not to be able to reproduce. Most homeless male adults living on the streets are mentally handicapped, and cannot access government welfare of any type. This makes it harder for them to procreate or have sex.

    For example: A neighbor found out their child was going to be born handicapped, severely. The doctors all but forced them into an abortion, I kept telling them no, but they took the advice of the doctors.

    This actually supports your theory, and so does the fact that homeless, mentally handicapped males do not get “laid” and do not regularly “reproduce.” Even if they could get laid, they are so malnourished, that I doubt the sperm would be able to get the job done, due to undernourishment.

    So, in essence I agree with your theory, although your way with words is a bit, how shall we say, “harsh.”

    This topic should be a blog post on your site!

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    • Now you’re getting close. Remember that game ‘hot’ ‘cold’? You’re getting warm.
      Yes, my words can be harsh (sorry) but it’s just my tiredness and passion showing (that’s why my average post write time is about 5 hours – to keep the harshness down & keep thing positive in some way).
      Still, sometimes it works… not well maybe, but better than nothing.

      Anyway… here’s another (related) thought for you (I won’t quote references as I’m hoping it will encourage individual research)…
      Did you know that in the past 20-30 years, in several studies around the world, its been found that the average “viable” sperm count in males has decreased by about half?
      Yep. Something (I’m still trying to understand) about endocrine disruptors – which are (PCBs, Dioxin, DDT, chlordane, pesticides, DES) in a whole lot (thousands) of the new synthetic chemicals that are being produced. And up until recently this wasn’t even on the radar for testing. Same story as DDT – the stuff is all over the place… affects IQ, aggression, male/female hormone levels… all kinds of things. Remember the discussion a few years ago about the chemical in plastic bottles that was leaching into to the drinks? Same idea. Only it’s in plastic lined cans, detergent, etc. The Inuit (Eskimos… way up north) have high levels in their systems – because of the way these things travel. Remember thalidomide (DES – estrogen)? Like that.
      I keep suggesting this – please look at the suggested reading list & suggested viewing list – these will start to give you a better idea (assuming you’re interested, of course).

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      • I had heard of such things but have not done much research, did know that certain prescriptions and drugs even Mountain Dew was said to lower sperm count, but I don’t have remember where read the info….Interesting theory.

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        • Not theory. More…
          Aspertame — the FDA (corrupt or bought off by business interests as they are) refused to allow it on the market, citing cancer. The company that introduced it went right on building the factory and evetually had somethng like $6 million worth of inventory. Still FDA refused. Cheney (yeah the ex vice-president from Bush admin) shows up one day at the factory and tells the workers that he’ll call in every chit he has to make sure Aspartame is allowed. Guess what? Aspartame is legal – over FDA objections. Known cancer-causing, tied to Altzheimers, arthritis, diabetes and I can’t remember what else.
          The whole game is killing us. And we don’t seem to notice.
          (misc) Did you know…
          — when the colonists (actually ‘white man’) came to this country, the ships sometimes could not get into port for days at a time – because there were so many fish in the way. They were literally bumping into the ships and pushing them out to sea. Now… 90% gone – killed or poisoned.
          — birds… so many that one flock (migrating) would darken the skies for days. Gone – killed or poisoned.
          — berries… when the colonists rode their horses in NE, they’d complain because the bellies of the horses would turn red from rubbing against all the berries. Gone – paved over or poisoned.
          … just a (another) thought

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      • Aspartame is SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN to turn into the EXACT SAME CHEMICAL COMPOSITION as formaldehyde in the process of digestion. It cannot digest in the human body, as a matter of fact; instead, it forms in CLUMPS ON THE BRAIN, representing a tumor-like structure, gathering in masses on the surface of the brain, underneath the skull, directly on the surface of brain matter, and leads to sudden (unexplained) death. A recurring symptom in many young women who died without warning and inconclusive causes who all regularly drank diet soda was MIGRAINES, forgetfulness, fatigue, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, and unexplained weight loss. Men and women alike are being literally zombified and mummified and it’s all in the name of big money.

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        • Thank you for the extra info… I could use the help… maybe someday a post can come of this, but there are just so many issues like this – which is why I tend to keep things general (the info is out there and all around us, if we only make the effort to look).

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  5. Pingback: About the ability to sustain life « Mirrors of Encounters

    • @Sprinklin Thoughts – The above conversation and theory would be a very interesting blog post —- wink wink! Better hurry before some other blogger comes over and steals it! (I would never do such things, but others would) I have had it happen to me numerous times!

      Great discussion topic about “mentally ill cleansing.”

      You could even add links back to these comments at the end. Just a suggestion, because would love to continue this discussion, but think we are way off the “sustainability” topic. Have no idea how we veared way off the track of the subject.

      🙂

      Like

      • Is that a writing assignment? 🙂
        Great idea, which I will incorporate somehow. Thanks to you and this discussion it seems that it would be good to address some things more specifically. I’ve held off doing that because I was hoping to stimulate individual research and exploration, but I guess that won’t be. Seems everyone wants (or needs) to have things handed to them. Thing is… there is information all over the place that covers these topics… but what I find missing is useful info on how to deal with it and change things – thus the more general, ‘philosophical’ drection of this blog. But hey, be flexible right?
        Thank you, Liz… very helpful & stimulating.

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    • Aspartame subject – the reasons above are exactly why I NEVER drink soda or use sweet and low or “fake” sugars of any kind. Read about this topic long ago. by Dr. Atkins of the “Atkins Diet.” If you recall, everyone called him a “quack.” He was not a quack, he was actually a very smart man, indeed and WAY ahead of his time on the health issues.

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  6. julienmatei says:

    Just love this post of yours. Many people who work with sustainability stuff receive loads of money for their projects and the result is often null. It is unbelievable to witness… Sustain-ability…Isn´t this about the ability to sustain life?… What can politicians sustain when they often know nothing about life? What are they/we capable of sustaining other than greedy shortsightedness, neurosis, self-delusion and empty rhetoric?…

    How can they/we ever find stringent solutions when they never listen, failing to take the pulse of immediate reality?

    I think the quintessence of your post is this:

    ” Listen… Listen to what is around you – to your heart, your soul, and your own mind. Slow down and catch up to your real self.”

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    • Yeah, it’s sort of like driving a car… as long as you’re racing around you cannot possibly see what is really going on around you… but if you walk, you see so much more… and if you sit still, the whole world opens up.

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      • julienmatei says:

        Yes…
        You see there is the problem: “if you sit still, the whole world opens up”
        Many are just afraid of quitting their race, cause God knows what they are going to encounter when things “open up”.

        Indeed, the pleasant comes along with the unpleasant. And that can seemingly be a harsh challenge to assume…:
        The things we run away from and refuse to assume become everyday reality.

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        • It’s the old ‘fear of the unknown’ syndrome. People will stay with what may be killing them because they fear what ‘may be’ – just like in any abusive relationship.
          I like the “things we run away from and refuse to assume become everyday reality.” It is so true, but unfortunate because if we consider that everyday reality must be (of one kind or another) then all we need do is firmly envision & work toward the everyday reality we wish (or need) to see. I suppose it is a question of what are we running away from vs. what are we running toward?

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  7. Good Article and thanks for stopping by. Scrolled through the comments on the way down here as well. Not sure if the “talking around” thing was directed at me or not (hope not) but I will go ahead and say that I am active in my community for sure. Also for the sake of discussion; There are some “indigenous” populations who are free of homelessness but there are many non-western populations who have massive homelessness problems. India, China, Brazil are some good examples. Countries with socialist histories like Cuba and Russia also have poverty problems similar to countries with neo-liberal forms of government. I guess we could also claim that ALL countries are Western countries as all are touched by colonial or imperial legaicies in some form or another but thats what happens in an homogenized global culture. Norway on the other hand is a capitalist country and would have to fall into the “western” category but they also have an insanely low rate of homelessness due to massive taxation. A seemingly wise taxation model given sexual health, education, and drug use statistics from the area. You write well and I look forward to flipping through some more of your posts in the next day or two.

    Liz, if you read this. Thanks for the plug.

    Cheers

    Like

    • “…non-western populations…” Yeah, I kinda thought of that after I posted the comment… but like you said “…we could also claim that ALL countries are Western countries as all are touched by colonial or imperial legaicies in some form or another…” If I were to be as specific & accurate as I can (still learning), I would say civilization in general, as opposed to local indigenous cultures.
      “talking around” was not directed at you.
      Thank you for stopping by and reading. I appreciate your comments and look forward to more – always room for intelligent testing, proving, discussing.

      Like

    • @animal_static – you are welcome for the pingback to your article. 🙂 Great and well written article.

      Like

  8. Anitra says:

    Despite millions of good human beings among us, we are generally an incredibly selfish species, with the exception of a few cultures. We seem to get a bit stuck in childhood self-centeredness (the universe revolves around me, right?!), and that’s why we’re so unable to commit to sustainability. Love the three steps you list at the end. 🙂

    Like

  9. ohcgd says:

    wow…I am completely impressed and grateful for this article/writing. It all comes down to our ability to sit with ourselves “undistracted” and see through our illusions and false belief systems.

    And I’ve found that most folks I’ve talked to about this problem of disembodiment and living in a discusive/neurotic way, admit they see the truth of it ( after many, many conversations mind you ) but are not willing to put forth the effort.

    Here’s to folks stepping into the present moment of themselves. Thank you for sharing this

    Like

    • Oh no, thank you… for reading and commenting.
      “…after many, many conversations…” yeah, I get it. I’ve seen it take years (literally) for one particular thought to sink in – and then am amazed when the person comes back to say “you were right” or, better yet, to ask or discuss. Beats me, just life I guess…
      Hey wait… maybe it’s like this: each of us (or our conversations) is like one rain drop… it takes many drops (& many rainstorms) to nourish the plant.
      …just a thought

      Like

  10. “So why are we not making any real effort to move away from cars? Why do we continue to plan & live as if they will be around forever?”

    Who’s this ‘we’? I’ve never owned a car, never driven one, never wanted one. Some of us don’t need to make an effort to move away from cars because we knew never to go near one.

    Like

  11. Midge says:

    Just a thought? How about inserting “passionate and brilliant”? I cannot think of what else to reply other than “many thanks.”
    I am so glad to have stumbled upon a compassionate thinker. I will “like” this simply because I want to reread it, again and again.

    Like

  12. This article was wonderful, it is about homelessness and
    Self-sustainability:
    http://staticanimal.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/homelessness-and-the-troubles-of-moving-from-nimby-to-yimby/

    Author is static animal, a WordPress blogger….Interesting read. Loved the article. Gave me the idea for my comment above.

    Like

    • A great article and a great idea (in Woodwynn Farm located near Victoria BC).
      Although I’m a little disconcerted by how people talk ‘about’ or ‘around’ the homeless – without ever going out and meeting/talking to a homeless person – I am heartened by the efforts of those who truly care.
      Homelessness is something that in my mind should not be. Have you ever heard of an indigenous people having a “homeless” problem? Ths seems to be a Western civilization thing… which leads me to begin to question western civilization.

      Like

      • I have interviewed and talked with many homeless people in D.C. while visiting when my husband goes on business a few times per year. Most of the time I find that they have mental/drug/alcohol problems. The majority are mental problems. The mental health agencies in America have really become a joke.
        What happened to the U.S.. assisting the mentally ill population? All of over the last few decades the US decided to start throwing the mentally ill in jail or out on the street (mostly adult men).

        Makes zero sense!

        Has the US adopted the “Mentally Ill People no Longer Exist” Approach?

        Like

        • “Has the US adopted the “Mentally Ill People no Longer Exist” Approach?
          In essence, yes… there’s no money in it and (hidden agenda here – their’s, not mine) if we’re forced to see & deal with them, ‘they’ are hoping that we’ll go “eewh!” and when they start to offer “solutions” (think Nazi ‘cleansing’) we’ll be more than willing to look the other way. Please, give this some serious thought before you dismiss it. I think you’ll find it makes some sense (inner, gut at least). If so, face it… explore it… you’ll be surprised what’s really going on out there.

          Like

  13. Wow! I don’t know where to start to comment…
    First, you are correct automobiles are not sustainable.
    That’s why I am considering getting an apartment in the city, where I can walk to a job (that I do not have yet).
    You know what though? I loved the metro in DC. Not sure if that runs on electricity, I think it does, but the metro in DC is a wonderful example of great transportation and very cheap. Expensive to build though. VERY expensive.
    I read an article the other day, that intrigued me, I will link it in a comment. The article’s thesis was this:
    How about every community has a large farm, and that’s how we get food…makes sense right?
    Each community would be self-sustaining by farming. Imagine a giant square (the community of housing) and in the middle are giant farms….This makes perfect logical sense.
    What would be the work? The farming…each person would pitch in and help in the agriculture.
    Simplicity – Healthy – Logically – No need for travel to work – Really no need for money at all.
    The food would be harvested in the summer to last all winter.
    Makes perfect, logical sense…I think.

    Sustainable – communities centered around farm lands. Be right back with the link, to the blogger’s article.

    Like

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