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Why sustainability? — The state of the world

‘Only if nature is brought into people’s everyday images, into the stories they tell, can its beauty and suffering be seen and focused on’ (Ulrich Beck, in Buell, 2009, p. 1).

The last 100 years have seen humans make incredible leaps in scientific knowledge and technology, solving many problems, increasing health care and economic welfare (Pulselli, Bastianoni, Marchettini, & Tiezzi, 2008). Yet everyday we are presented with ‘geopolitical issues of space and place’ (Somerville et al., 2011) — the effects of climate change, the rapid loss of endangered species, degraded environments, decaying landscapes, the impact of extreme weather events, issues of displacement and migration, the widening gap between the rich and the poor — all tightly bound by the illusion of never-ending economic growth and the magnificent progress of the Western industrial model.

What does this tell us about the state of the world?

The problems of nature and resources concern everyone; including the third world, which we are all aware is only coming to the party now, also seeking to delight in comforts of abundance. But, by now we have disused, misused and abused resources, both on the surface and underground, and the Earth is in crisis. We are standing at historical crossroads between survival and destruction of the planet — the environment and future generations can no longer be excluded from the discussion — ‘living systems do not possess the determinism of technology; they can not be reduced to a quantity’ (Pulselli et al., 2008, p. 54).

What, then, is the source of increasing discomfort of people like you and I, who do not see science as a means for dominating the world, but as a path of knowledge for living in harmony with nature?

Whilst science celebrates new peaks, one only needs common sense to work out that the biophysical constraints of the planet exclude the possibilities of infinite growth in an ecosphere of finite space and recourses. It is clear that the quality of life (human and non-human) has deteriorated, and our ways of living are unsustainable. This is also true about our psychological realm — we are not getting any happier, we live fast, consume far more that we need, pollute the whole system, and our mechanistic ways of thinking have pushed us further and further away from connecting with each other and from practices that truly sustain us.

If we perceive the external environment as unsustainable, what does that say about our own internal landscape?

As we can see, the concept of sustainability is multifaceted; the problems we face (internal and external) are all connected and thus cannot be solved in isolation. They require an interdisciplinary approach — one through which we can create a spiritual connection with nature; one that sees localisation of focus in the name of ‘voluntary simplicity’ and ‘re-learning of intimacy with self and nature where habitation and re-inhabitation of place have an important bearing on internalising its associated cultural characteristics, and shaping needs and livelihoods according to the land’ (Selby & Kagawa, 2010, p. 45).

 

References:

Buell, L. (2009). Writing for an endangered world: Literature, culture, and environment in the US and beyond. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Pulselli, F. M., Bastianoni, S., Marchettini, N., & Tiezzi, E. (2008). The road to sustainability: GDP and future generations. Southampton, Boston: WIT Press.

Selby, D., & Kagawa, F. (2010). Runaway climate change as challenge to the ‘closing circle’ of education for sustainable development. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 4(1), 37-50.

Somerville, M., Power, K., & de Carteret, P. (2011). Landscapes and learning: Place studies for a global world. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.