Sustainability is a word that is rapidly entering our human consciousness. Sustainability makes sense as a concept, but what does it mean to you and me? Are we embracing sustainability as a way of life? What changes would we need to make to begin to live sustainably?
These are questions that I am attempting to get my head around.
My wife and I have a very small backyard, but we grow much of own food in six raised beds. We have two apple trees and a pear tree in the backyard and two apple trees in the front yard. We use only LED lights in our home. We have a sixteen-panel solar system on the roof. We have no grass in the back yard and a very small patch in the front yard. We recycle. We use drip systems to water our flower and vegetable gardens, and all of our fruit trees. We are doing what we can to live more sustainably; more “green”.
But are we really embracing sustainably?
Are we actually living in right relationship with nature? I’m not as certain that we are when it comes to waste. Essentially nature (Gaia) does not create waste. Everything is recycled and used by other living systems. This simple reality is challenging me to be more conscious of the huge amount of trash we create as a family every week, and to wrestle with the deeper question…..what would living in right relationship with nature actually look like?
Using Our Bodies As A Metaphor To Better Understand The Meaning Of True Sustainability
I find using our human body as a metaphor for sustainability to be helpful; a good way to understand and simplify the 3.5 billion years of wisdom that nature offers us. For example, in the concepts of cooperation and the mutual benefit of all parts of a living system mentioned above, it’s clear the human brain is not considered more important than the heart. They are both necessary. Not only are they beneficial to our body, they both mutually benefit from being part of our human body. And both need to be healthy for us to continue living.
In other words, our living body is the epitome of diversity and cooperation. No organ or system in our body takes more than it needs. No organ or part of our body hoards the body’s resources. And all organs and systems of our body both benefit from and contribute to, the rest of our body. Our human body is self-sustaining and self-regulating at the cellular level, and every part of our body, down to the smallest cell in our big toe, needs to be healthy.
Wisdom We Can Learn From Nature
When we look at our human body and nature, six major points seem to stand out. (1) We see no waste. (2) Everything in nature is recycled. (3) We see that no living system in nature takes more than it needs. (4) We see that nature honors all diversity. And most importantly, (5) nature has perfected inter-dependent cooperation and (6) the concept that there is always a mutual benefit to all parts of its living systems.
When I look at the waste we create as a family, and as a human culture, I realize we have some work to do.
Our human body is an excellent example of the awesome creative power of diversity, cooperation, and sustainability in action. When human civilization is defined as a living global human “body”, living in right relationship with nature would mean that all waste would need to be eliminated. Even the concept of waste would have to be removed from human consciousness, our human language, and our human thinking. All byproducts of our global human “body” would need to be recycled and benefit Gaia and the future life forms she will create.
True Planetary Sustainability
Naomi Klein, in her book This Changes Everything, says clearly if the goal is sustainability for our planet and our species, then we need to create a new economic model. The old economic model was created to honor greed, survival of the fittest, and competition. It has created our human civilization. Unfortunately, it produces an enormous amount of harmful waste and pollution. She is also clear that the new economic model will change human civilization and our way of life as we know it. In other words, it will change everything. True sustainability in the new economic system will be achieved only when our species has learned to eliminate waste and the harmful pollution it creates for our planet.
To become a sustainable species we will need to mature and embrace growth in our human consciousness; a growth that includes not only a new economic worldview but increased clarity regarding our values.
For example, the new economic model would need to include all recycling costs; including the costs of cleaning up all pollution and waste produced in the manufacture of the products we purchase and consume. And that would also include the costs to clean up all waste and pollution resulting from the extraction of our plant’s resources used to manufacture the products we consume.
That would significantly increase of the cost of the products we purchase, but that would be the least difficult of the changes that we would need to make.
If our goal is sustainability, and we are open to using both our human body and the 3.5 billion years of wisdom and experience that nature has accumulated as our guide; then we would need to fully embrace the concept of mutual benefit to all parts of the evolving, growing, living “body” we call human civilization.
If we are to create a truly sustainable and healthy human civilization, all parts of that “body” will need to benefit mutually from their participation in the “body”. We will need to eliminate the concept that any one cell, or individual within the “body”, is somehow more important than any other cell or individual within the “body”.
True sustainability would also mean no one individual, organism, or system within the “body” would be allowed to hoard the “body’s” resources for their own befit. Using the metaphor of our personal body, the heart does not hoard all the blood in our body and sell it at a profit to the brain, or the lungs. The smallest cell or individual in our human civilization must experience the mutual benefit of being part of the living, growing, evolving, self-sustaining, “body” we call human society.
Stated differently, true sustainability and living in right relationship with nature would require that we eliminate all hunger in the world.
It would require that we distribute and share our wealth and resources equally with all the living cells or individuals that make up the “body” called human civilization. Sustainability will mean the elimination of hoarding, or in any way denying the benefits of nature’s resources to all parts of the “body”.
In other words, all cells (or individuals) within the human “body” would have equal access to food, clean water, housing, and jobs (their contribution to the larger human “body”). Nature recycles everything and uses it for the benefit of other life forms. There is no waste in nature.
To state this simply, in the new economic system all diversity contained within the living system we call the global human “body” would need to be honored and protected. When we destroy the diversity of other living species, or the diversity of indigenous and third world cultures, we are wasting valuable resources, knowledge, and wisdom. Especially the wisdom, skills, and insights achieved by indigenous cultures to live sustainably in right relationship with nature.
What Sustainability Really Means For You And Me
Sustainability means learning to embrace the wisdom and experience of nature (Gaia) and living in right relationship with her. And we are rapidly running out of time to embrace that wisdom. Nature’s negative feedback systems are beginning to tell us that she is already starting to repair the damage we are inflicting on her. Our weather patterns are shifting. Storms are getting more severe. Ice is melting. Our glaciers are disappearing. Droughts are intensifying. Increasingly, people around the world are being displaced, starving, and dying as the intensifying storms and deepening drought have already begun destroying communities that depend on fishing or farming for their food.
Gaia’s priority is protecting her planet, not the human species.
For human culture to embrace true sustainability, the ideas and concepts we are talking about; this evolved level of consciousness, must be embraced voluntarily by every cell (or individual) in the larger human “body”. This sustainable worldview cannot be mandated or “regulated”. It would need to become the operating worldview of every cell (or individual) in the body.
Using nature as our guide, those cells (or individuals) that resist this worldview by creating waste, or refusing to support the distribution of our planet’s resources for the mutual benefit of all cells within the “body”, would be removed from the “body”. The “body” would recognize their presence as dangerous foreign bodies and quickly remove them. In the “body” called human culture that removal could be accomplished by exercising our collective values through the application of social stigmatism.
What It Means To Live Sustainably
If nature’s experiment in creating a conscious species is to be successful and sustainable, the concept of “acceptable” waste will need to be removed from our new worldview and new economic system. We will need to accept and embrace the wisdom that no one person (or cell) within our human civilization (“body”) is more or less important than any other. All by-products of our “body” will need to be recycled and used for the mutual benefit of every cell (or individual) within the body.
Nature’s wisdom is clear. The growth, evolution, and survival of humanity will require that we embrace diversity; that we protect and honor all life on the planet; and that we allow every part of the living “body” called human civilization to benefit from, and contribute to our global “body”.
True sustainability is not merely a feel good, compassionate idea. Nature is telling us clearly that this is how she has been evolving and sustaining living systems for billions of years. Those living systems that ignored her wisdom quickly became extinct.
Gaia has survived many extinction events in her 3.5 billion years. If her most recent experiment; the creation of a conscious human species, continues to create environmental destruction on its current path toward extinction…….she will heal the wounds humanity created, she will rebalance her diverse systems, and she will continue creating ever more diverse living systems….for another 2 billion years.
As I said above, sustainability is not just a good idea. I believe, like the vast majority of our environmentalists; our time is running out rapidly. I believe our future survival both individually, and as a species, is going to depend on how quickly we can learn to embrace the wisdom of nature; especially her wisdom on the importance of sustainability. We can choose to be part of the solution….or we can continue to be part of the problem. It’s our choice.
Since my choice is to be part of the solution and learning to live in right relationship with nature and our planet, my next challenge will require learning to pay attention to the many ways that I create unnecessary waste in my day-to-day life.
I think I need to begin with paper towels and plastic water bottles…..or fast food packaging…..or…….
Maybe a better way to think about waste is to ask myself the question, other than waste and pollution, what am I, or my species, giving back to nature? If Gaia recycles everything for the benefit of other life forms, what are we contributing back to her? Why would she want to keep us around? Gaia is a self-sustaining global living system that uses feedback systems to maintain health and balance. Are global climate change, and climate intensification Gaia’s negative feedback systems kicking in; Gaia’s way of driving us into extinction?
97% of all credible environmental scientist in the world believe they are. They are also warning us that we are rapidly running out of time to fix the problem.