an acceptable definition of sustainabilityThu, December 11, 2008 - 8:42 PM
Nature, unencumbered by human civilization, is perfect in maintaining fluid balance and almost by definition is inherently sustainable. With the forces of human nature now culminating in a confluence of crises as they confront the forces of nature’s nature, there are monumental changes in store for us, the homo sapiens, if we are to survive and thrive on this planet that can be our only home. The destruction of the forest mirrors the destructive force inside ourselves and the work remains on the to-do list: to heal, restore and sustain ourselves and the natural and human-made systems that support us.
My vision of sustainability is a world where all human beings have the authentic opportunity to live a fulfilling life, in which real needs are consistently met. The chief of these needs are safety, health, comfort, development and creativity, community with other people and the natural world, and freedom from scarcity and fear of it.
Achieving such a state of the world entails a thorough rebalancing of power and allocation of “resources” from the current status of their distribution, not only among countries and the socio-economic classes within them, but also, between human and non-human life.
The two core pillars of the transformation to such an all-around sustainable world are: expansion of consciousness and major reorganization of the economic system. These two aspects of our reality should and in fact, do, I believe, mutually influence each other.
Raising consciousness about how the world has arrived at its current set of gloomy circumstances is crucial for inspiring people to change themselves and the status quo they experience. If one begins to closely examine the various calamities in history and present day, it soon becomes clear that at their origin lies fear, in its various levels and facets. Being able to experience fear is necessary for survival, so it is natural and universal. To handle it properly, however, is a lesson yet to be fully learned and digested by humanity as a whole.
Healing the wounds created by actions borne out of fear is the important work of restoring our mental and emotional well-being, of reintegrating our individual selves and our communities, and of realizing emotional connection and solidarity with all people the globe over. Mastery over fear generates inner peace, and makes ample room for the clarity of mind needed to distinguish how much of what we truly need for a healthy, comfortable and productive life from the much larger amounts of what ever more we have been subconsciously convinced we need, by those who have been subjected to the same, in a seemingly infinite cycle of fear, destruction, scarcity and fear, dest…
Healing begins with total self-acceptance and takes different paths for different people and groups. One key aspect of healing is forging and solidifying an ecological identity, where one viscerally experiences a blending of self and all existence, and naturally commits to the permanent shift of this perspective. Learning to responsibly and effectively communicate with oneself and everyone in the life, and thereby truly resolve conflict is another important piece. Finally, valuing and striving for local community living is likewise an indispensable ingredient for healing and transformation of the life of people and the planet. All of these trends reinforce each other and combine to deeply convert people’s values, which readily leads to change in behavior.
As individuals and groups succeed at redirecting their basic motivations away from fear and towards love, compassion, justice and equality, and as communication among us becomes authentic and effective, major rearrangement of the rules of society is a logical development consistent with a highly aware populace. This rearrangement is pivotal in enabling almost mainstream environmental practices, such as recycling, green building and organic farming, to completely replace wasteful practices across all sectors of production and consumption in the world, and thus to make a truly significant impact with regard to sustainability.
This "reform" would need to effectively focus on restructuring banking and redesigning the corporate sector. The nation and world ought to implement radical policy changes to align incentives in the financial and business sectors to be attuned with sustainable, closed-loop production and consumption. Major world governments need to admit that central banking as it is done today is incompatible with sustainability, and take the difficult but essential steps to restore banking to be in service of the real economy, which is constrained by finite natural materials, and by societal goals of justice and equality.
As of now, in the United States, a for-profit private corporation, the Federal Reserve, controls the money supply to every sector of society, most egregiously, to the federal government. This corporation creates money from the loans it generates and “grows” the economy by charging interest. The capital to pay off this interest does not exist in a real way, but is generated by creating more loans. The result is that the entire system is mostly driven by debt, and thus the economy must grow, which requires more consumption of all kinds of resources, natural materials, human capital and time, in order to avoid a drastic collapse of the economic system. So even with sufficient social awareness and individual initiative to change how we live, we will not get far on the road to an ecologically and socially sustainable future without a major overhaul of the world banking system.
The perpetual growth crusade needs to be addressed at the level of the corporation as well. It seems that this aspect of sustainability is gaining wider acceptance faster than the discussions about banking have been. To ensure that business and corporate operations are compatible with sustainability, it is necessary to greatly diminish the power of the corporation in society through taking away its legal status of personhood, and to rewrite corporate charters mandating “triple bottom-line” modus operandi. Currently, corporations are legally bound only to grow profits, and so the incentive for irresponsibility to the environment and communities is natural, because government and society are not enforcing proper accounting and methods for accountability for the “externalities” of pollution and social disruption. Extracting the growth imperative from the strategic goals of companies would enable these otherwise productive organizations to become instruments of society, by meeting its needs for basic goods and services, and by investing in all the social goods that are constantly under-funded due to the structural inequality and governments’ debt to corporations.
Lastly, on the physical day to day level, sustainability would look like the following. There would be severe reduction in consumption, substantial escalation in renewable energy and energy efficient practices completely supplanting the use of fossil-fuels, and application of whole-system design principles to lives, lifestyles and exchange systems, in all the various regions of the world, not only in permaculture practicing gardens.
To crudely summarize a complex, non-linear, and dynamic process, sustainability requires personal healing and transformation, connectedness to all of life, and community and local living. These are all part of the self-feeding loop that also includes restructuring the banking system, radically overhauling capitalism as we know it, and uprooting and rebuilding our infrastructures in a systematic way. Accomplishing these goals would position us well to avoid the catastrophe of runaway global climate change and breakdown of ecological and social systems that nourish us in the variety of ways that we need.
Understanding sustainability and the relevant intricate issues touched on in this essay is so obviously fundamental to the work of everyone, and of course, of managers and entrepreneurs today and will only become increasingly so going forward, that discussing why almost has no merit. To embark on any new initiative, start a business, propose policy change, or to carry on existing endeavors without integrating concerns and solutions regarding sustainability is irresponsible and will result in failure, if it is defined as it ought to be, in broad terms. The failure is to neglect caretaking our people, our land, all of the creatures that share it with us, and the coming generations. The world situation is quite dire and human civilization is close to preventable collapse. If we, as total human family, wish to enjoy life, no party can afford to ignore the imperatives of transitioning to sustainability.
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