• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Title

Ancient wisdom

There's a de facto standard answer to the question "what do you mean by sustainability?" Taken from the report of the Brundtland Commission, it talks about meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Given time, a conversation can go in a number of directions from that starting point.

February 10, 2011
 
 

There's a de facto standard answer to the question "what do you mean by sustainability?" Taken from the report of the Brundtland Commission, it talks about meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Given time, a conversation can go in a number of directions from that starting point.

One of the directions I found the conversation heading last week involved the idea that our unsustainable behaviors stem from a disconnect between our lifestyle expectations and our technologies. Very simply, we're using up our capabilities (constrained by availability of natural resources and waste repositories (often called "sinks")) faster than the planet can replenish them.

For some reason, the students I was talking to seemed reassured by this. Not (I think) because I'd reduced it to a technology problem -- I'd worked hard not to do that. But rather because they started envisioning the necessary resolution not as the abject-poverty-under-a-despotic-government that the fear-mongers have been promoting. Rather, they started envisioning it as a sort of moderation of lifestyle.

"Moderation in all things" isn't a particularly new idea, but it seems a potentially powerful one. Truth be told, if we (and by "we", I'm referring particularly to North Americans) lived more moderately, our sustainability issues might not go away entirely but they'd be much reduced.

(Of course, as soon as that starts seeming like a good way to describe sustainability, the political conversation in Washington shifts to determining by which method we can assure the US population remains the most over-housed in the world without allowing any significant government "footprint" in mortgage finance. The elephant in the room is the fact that the average US single family home has grown about 50% in square footage in a generation, at the same time that average US family unit size is shrinking. But nobody wants to talk about the fact that too many resources and too much money are going into housing, just like nobody wants to admit that you can't support a national economy on continually increasing consumer debt. Sigh.)

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