An “almost” perfect life
Ask a dozen people what sustainability means and you’ll get more than a dozen answers. The United Nations says it is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Many definitions emphasize the environment, but that’s just one piece of it.
Every definition is (or should be) rooted in the same concept: balance.
The Bible describes balance in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
Sustainability is not just about balancing our actions in time, but of balancing them in the context of all action. A decade before the term was popular, “The Lion King” described it pretty well.
Some say eat or be eaten
Some say live and let live
But all are agreed as they join the stampede
You should never take more than you give
Sustainability is not about doing one thing exactly right, or avoiding one energy source. It is about a balance of eating and feeding, birth and death, giving and taking. There is no universal perfect life. What is sustainable in Fairbanks is different than what is sustainable in Anchorage or in Portland. Available energy sources, food sources, even light sources vary in each of those places.
An equation for sustainable decisions would have to weigh thousands of factors per decision. Even a complex model couldn’t optimize grocery purchases, transit methods, socio-economic issues and other factors to come up with the right choices for an individual living anywhere on earth. There is no universal perfect life, just a series of cost-benefit analyses of many small choices. The environment plays a part, but it is not the whole play.
Earth Day is Thursday. There are a variety of events planned at UAF throughout SpringFest to celebrate Earth Day, but the idea behind it is to remind people to be aware of how their choices impact the earth. That is a piece of sustainability. Just one.
Sustainability is about more than just the environment. If people can worry about trees, they should also worry about their fellow man. There is no hope for the earth if mankind fights a nuclear war.
In “The Want of Peace,” Wendell Berry wrote, “We sell the world to buy fire, our way lighted by burning men, and that has bent my mind and made me think of darkness and wish for the dumb life of roots.”
We cannot sell the world to buy fire. We cannot sell man to save the environment. Enjoy free food atop the Lola Tilly Commons on Saturday. Acknowledge where that food comes from, how you get to it and how it gets to you. Optimize decisions in a way that is rational and practical and livable. There is no perfect life.