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What Is Sustainability ?

recycling-logo100x95Sustainability, Self-Reliance and Simplicity

Sustainability issues define an expanding social imperative.

Our natural resources are limited. Understanding this means we need to exercise care and be smart about how we utilize those resources as we move into the future. This does not imply sacrifice or putting the brakes on technology. It does, however, require that we look at the big picture: the cause and effect of our actions today, as a society, on future generations.

Technology can both expand our opportunities and diminish them. At this point in our civilization, we have to choose which course we will take. Because technology is accelerating so rapidly, it is essential that we make wise choices.

What Is Sustainability?


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Sustainable Measures looks at it this way:

Definitions of Sustainability

There may be as many definitions of sustainability and sustainable development as there are groups trying to define it. All the definitions have to do with:

  • Living within the limits
  • Understanding the interconnections among economy, society, and environment
  • Equitable distribution of resources and opportunities”

In the Real World…

We need to make a few adjustments.

Here’s a pretty good definition from the EPA website

“Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.

Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.”

On the one hand, it’s a noble, accurate and intelligent definition – and fine on paper. There is probably widespread agreement conceptually. On the other, we face a dichotomy here – or a double bind – because the source of that definition is rooted in a framework that is the very antithesis of sustainability, the federal government.

This should not be the case, but in reality it is. In short, he who has the best definition does not necessarily get the job done.

In My World…

Along the lines of ‘do the right thing’ – sustainability is pretty simple:

  •  Simple solutions can be elegant. with the right design and leadership. Right now, both are lacking. As a result, modern life is more difficult than it needs to be.
  • As a rule of thumb, we need to use only what we need (including practical reserves).
  • Produce more – or contribute more – than we take out of the system.
  • Productivity, honesty and work hard are required – all things which strengthen us as individuals.
  • Dissolve dependency. We can all learn – and teach – how to carry our own weight – joyfully and gratefully. Self reliance is empowering.
  • Individuals need no permission to take action and individual action creates collective change.
  • Sustainability also provides an excess for charity – to help those who are experiencing difficulty or are physically incapable of doing the work – on an individual, neighborhood or community basis while remembering the old expressions: “Charity begins at home,” and “Waste Not Want Not.”

Looking at History…

As a real world example, scroll back in time to the redwood lumber industry in northern California in 1905. At that time, 85-90% of the old growth redwood forests remained unlogged.

By 1925, about 67% of the original redwood stands still remained uncut. From 1900 until 1929, the annual cut of redwoods was about 520 million board feet, with about 80% coming from north of San Francisco. Simultaneously, up to 30% of the trees that were felled – branches, and parts of the trees that were blemished or sub-prime – was left to rot. Slash pile burning was not a prevalent practice at the time. So the piles of rotting redwood debris inadvertently encouraged the growth of other species where redwoods had been predominant previously.

Compounding the impact was the practice of clear cutting. It was more economically feasible, in the short term, to clear cut the steep slopes that were closest to the railroad tracks that took the timber to the sawmills.

By 1953, over a billion board feet of redwood lumber was being produced annually.

Today, less than 5% of the original old growth redwood forest remains uncut. The vast majority of the lumber used in construction, railroad ties, fence posts and various other products (since 1905) have subsequently been demolished, pushed into landfills or burned in the wake of modern development.

This begs the question retrospectively:  If we had to do it over again, could we have managed that resource (old growth redwood timber) more ­effectively? ­ In a word, yes.

Moving forward…

There are many intelligent solutions in development.

Where can we improve our thinking? How we see the world around us – and how we interact with it differently – so we can create a viable legacy for future generations? What methods can we implement to monitor and manage existing resources and the factors of production more effectively?

Both the opportunities and challenges we face are enormous. Yet, common sense does not have to remain the oxy-moron it has become.

Quoting the Dalai Lama…

When asked: “What is the best single meditation we can practice today?”

The Dalai Lama’s response without hesitation was:

“Critical thinking, followed by action. Discern what your world is. Know the plot, the scenario of this human drama. And then figure out where your talents might fit in to make a better world.”

That pretty much sums up sustainability.

Sustainability is a path that makes sense.

I Am Michael Barrett

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