It’s time for another guest post! I believe we should hear from a range of different voices in the sustainability conversation: we have different perspectives, expertise and experiences and should learn from each other, working together to build a shared vision of the future. Fracturing into camps (locavores, vegans, off-the-gridders and the rest of us just trying to step a little more lightly and make sense of it all…) does us no favours at all. I want to build a community where all our voices are heard, and I could use a step down from my soap-box here and there. So if you’re interested in having your say, please drop me a line and come join the conversation.
Today’s post is from my friend Van, a keen naturalist with a background in environmental sciences. These days Van is a freelance journalist, poet and weaver based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Van writes beautifully about nature and the pursuit of sustainable living, drawing inspiration from his local environment and his personal sense of connection to place. He regards a river as metaphor for life and shares his words through his blog: Speed River Journal. I recommend heading over for a read.
I hope Van’s vision of the shape of things to come gives you food for thought and that the conversation keeps on growing.
We live in such a dynamic time I want to live long enough to see what happens to our civilization, but things probably will not play out that quickly.
We can address the shape of things to come from three different perspectives:
- We can deny global environments are being degraded and civilization is at risk of collapse.
- We can acknowledge the problem and try to fix what is broken,
- or try predicting what is likely to happen and prepare for it.
Most environmentalists fall into the second category. Environmental thinkers have likened people’s attitudes about climate change to the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance. They assume when enough people reach acceptance, we can all buckle down and fix this dilemma. Unfortunately, in terms of grief, acceptance seldom involves saving what was lost. It means letting go, which scares most people. They do not want to talk about giving up the fight.
My mother died of breast cancer in February 2008 at the age of 74. She was able to enjoy most of the last six years after her diagnosis because she accepted her mortality. She undertook some treatment and was in remission for a brief period, but in the end she was less concerned with fighting the disease than with treating each day as a gift. Acceptance means being realistic about limited opportunities and making the most of them.
Faith in a cure for climate change is another form of denial, especially when it supports continued consumption of non-renewable resources. The system is limited and if we cannot control our urge to take more than we put back, it will enforce its own limits. Our biosphere has already changed irrevocably. We must face the mortality of our convenient, petroleum-based way of life. Technology cannot facilitate endless consumption, it can only give us useful tools for sustainable living.
We must believe the testimony of history. Civilizations collapsed, over and over again, whenever:
- too much power was held by the elite,
- food production could not support expanding population,
- environmental degradation threatened food security, and
- wars erupted over scarce resources.
History also offers a prognosis: civilization will fail but people will survive. We probably will not see and apocalyptic disaster, but a gradual dwindling of population and prosperity. We should focus our ingenuity on this likelihood of survival.
I can hardly begin to understand or address what our strategy should be. Here are some principles I believe we must follow:
- Communities are the best social units for solving people’s problems, so we must strengthen them.
- Establish and protect local food security and include everyone in its production.
- Restrict the power of corporations.
- Rely on sustainable energy sources.
- Make nature—both nurturing and brutal—more accessible to people.
- Build rich, biodiverse ecosystems everywhere.
- Look for ways to ease the transition to a simpler way of life.
- Seek satisfaction more in experiences than things.
- Let us all find work that contributes to the community and makes us happy.
- Enjoy every day.
Let us begin the conversation.
Emma is a food blogger, former registered nurse and perennial uni student, living in Brisbane, Australia who loves taking photos of just about anything. She blogs about food and shares things that inspire her at www.asplashofvanilla.com and has kindly agreed to share her vision of the shape of things to come.
Huge thanks to Emma for joining the conversation. Guest contributors are most welcome!
Toni has very kindly asked me to do a guest post on what sustainability means to me and the kind of future I’d like to build so I hope I can do her justice. I’m afraid I don’t have any definitive ideas though; this is mainly just the way I try to make my way through the world.
Growing up, I had an unconventional childhood in northern NSW living on a hobby farm. I’m influenced by my upbringing in that I’m passionate about healthy, ethical food and living however am conflicted by my city living, modern lifestyle and often struggle with that. I love tea and books, will never buy an eBook reader and also, apparently I’m a resister (those who don’t use Facebook) which I think is quite funny.
The definition of sustainability seems simple enough when you read it: maintaining our present human, social and environmental needs while making sure we plan for future generations. As most of us know, it’s actually hugely complex and depends on where you live in the world, in your local community and your financial and social capabilities.
We’re living in some crazy times currently and in the western world we’re inundated with massive amounts of information and research studies all conflicting with each other – is sugar a toxin; should we eat meat; is coffee healthy or not; do we over screen for medical conditions and is this harmful or beneficial – are just a handful of issues which plague me. And I don’t know about anyone else but grocery shopping has become a minefield of ethical, health and social considerations – do I buy the Coles-brand organic tinned tomatoes or the Australian company, non organic, low BPA tinned tomatoes? Aaaargh. *Head implode*
To me personally, sustainability means living a simpler, more thoughtful life and here are some things I do:
- Buy produce from local greengrocers and organic online sources;
- Use more traditional methods of cooking and less appliances;
- Sometimes buy treats like coffee or chocolate from fair trade sources;
- Use old appliances until they break down before buying a new one;
- Grow herbs and flowers – it’s cheap, satisfying, healthy and helps us all breathe a bit easier;
- Be kind to each other;
- Understand that not everybody can afford to buy fancy organic food – I can’t stand the middle-class self righteousness regarding healthy, ethical living (OMG you have to eat goji berries, no wait this week its purple carrots). If you have a bunch of kids to raise or a lower paying job then you do the best you can – better your kids eat cage eggs and tinned baked beans as part of a healthy diet than eat junk food. Plus, lower paid workers are often the hardest working – aged care nurses, cleaners, child care workers, carers, gardeners; yet they are contributing hugely to the world we live in;
- Walk where you can;
- Buy and restore old or second-hand furniture;
- Use natural substances like cheap vinegar for cleaning;
- Use your local parks and gardens – we use our local park and it’s mostly empty! If we don’t use them, the council will tear them down and put up a multi storey car park or something;
- Don’t feel bad for liking nice things – having a hot shower and spraying on some perfume can lift my spirits more than anything, as can a nice cold glass of wine or a piece of cheesecake or going out to dinner. Everyone needs these things sometimes; it’s called quality of life!
I’d like to see a future where people still care about where they, and the world they live in, came from. It saddens me that we won’t have libraries one day, that iPhones and iPads are taking over the world and people aren’t communicating like they used to. It bothers me that people want what everyone else has: it’s a bit cultish to blindly do what everyone else is doing, we should be more evolved than that surely?
In saying that, I am seeing a move back to more traditional ways. For example, there’s a significant film camera revival happening at the moment which I love. Digital photography is wonderful but film is special. I also love that there are still so many people who love books: respect! I hope this continues into other avenues of life.
Thanks for reading and I’m looking forward to hearing other ideas about what you’d like the shape of things to be!