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Sustainability

We all hear about the need for people to change their ways and live more sustainably. But what does sustainable really mean? Ultimately it means that the way we do something should allow us to continue doing that same thing indefinitely. This means that the use of a finite resource on any large scale cannot ever be called sustainable. And that the use of a renewable resource such as water, firewood, or soil, can only be called sustainable if we use it at a slower pace than it takes for that resource to regenerate itself.

To define it in this way is to admit that almost nothing in our modern lives is sustainable, no matter what the advertisements tell us. And when nothing in our experienced lives is sustainable, it is easy to assume that the steady degradation of nature is an inevitable consequence of human culture and existence. But this is to ignore that for most of our millions of years as humans, we did not destroy ecosystems, but lived within them. Until recently the world's tropical forests all supported relatively high densities of people, who had lived there for sometimes thousands of years, without destroying them. Fishermen did not always take until there were no fish. Some cultures did farm with the knowledge that to degrade the soil would be to imperil their children. Some of these cultures still hang on despite the relentless onslaught on their ways and on the lands that are their home.

It may not be possible for today's huge population to live sustainably on this Earth. But this is no excuse not to take every step we can, individually and collectively, to reduce the harm we do. Every reduction in consumption, each change to a less harmful technology, each act to conserve a species or restore a habitat is a movement in the right direction. We must take these steps knowing that they only buy us a little time, a bit more time to find ways to take the next steps, and the next, towards learning again how to live consciously within the web of live.

We are not claiming to have answers, or that we ourselves live in a sustainable way. We are, though, committed to constantly enquiring into how we can move away from destruction and toward regeneration, and to taking what steps we can as they become clear. We are also clear that changes at the individual level, while commendable, do little to help a biosphere in deep distress. We must also actively engage with the wider issues that are bringing about the impoverishment of life itself. This may be through education, it may be actively working for greater social and environmental justice, it may be through protecting threatened land and the life it contains, but given the urgency of our times, solar panels are not enough.