For the past few years that I have been teaching sustainability I have ‘gently’ cajoled my students along the path to is fruition. I have given the odd nudge and made the odd prod. It is with some pride that I look back on those years and particularly to those (few) students who have kept in touch re their continuing journey. Their effort in this direction not only in their personal lives but in their workplaces. But I am also a little (actually a lot) dismayed. Dismayed that I should even need to be teaching some of the very basic stuff around resource usage and ‘waste’ management. Don’t even get me started on that word ‘waste’; I could write a whole blog just on that. Waste is what we do not what we create!
But this week something in me snapped. Last week we were defining sustainability/sustainable development. Looking at the many varied but common definitions out there and in particular the (almost) defining one from the Brundtland report Our Common Future from the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) which was published in 1987:
“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
This week I put it to my students to look at the date the report was published. I then asked for a show of hands as to how many were born on or after that year (almost all of them) and I then asked whether they thought me and my generation and those before me had lived up to the definition. I don’t need to spell out the response.
I put it to them that sustainability in this sense needed to be redefined. It is not just about considering future generations it is about us and now also. Having the ‘future generations’ in the definitions implies that we aren’t already impacted, affected and not already worse off (haven’t already stuffed it up). Having ‘future generations’ in the definitions belies the immediacy of the situation (then and even more so now). We need to stop thinking about this as something that might happen in the future if we don’t act now. If you aren’t convinced by the scientific proof out there then you need to at least act within the principles of the Precautionary Principle. There is a (distinct) possibility of harm if we continue on this course so we must change.
This isn’t a small cut that can be fixed with a little bandaid. We have a major medical emergency here; we need to act and we need to act now (should have acted well before now). We have ignored this growing lump for too long; allowed it to grow like a cancerous cell. With each division and increase in its numbers it becomes increasingly resistant to the controls that keep things normal and make it harder to ‘cure’.
Many great civilisations have come and gone before us. Many without the vision to see the path of their demise their excesses were leading them to. Our journey is no different. The question will be will enough of us have the vision to see where we are headed or at least the wisdom to learn from their experience and to take a different path? (And with the vision the strength to do something about it?) For as I see it now our story will be no different to theirs although the scale of our demise might be one that sees the end of all humanity itself. Perhaps that is not a bad thing for this beautiful planet to survive…..
We absolve ourselves from responsibility by blaming someone/somewhere/something else. Blame Abbott, blame the Chinese, blame population growth; to mention but a few of those ‘responsible’ in the past, now and in the future. If the fault lies elsewhere then the responsibility does too.
Yes we need leaders. Sure they have a hand in this, an important role to play. One day they may be confronted by the pointing child and finally wake up and realise that the truths in which they clothed themselves do not exist. But formal leaders are not necessarily the ones that will lead us out of this. We need to take up a role. We need to see that we are part of the problem; that we have a significant part to play. We don’t have time for our ‘leaders’ to take quick decisive actions which we know will not come. The wheels of politics turn very slowly and as we have seen of late can even turn incomprehensibly backwards.
The energy that this has taken from me this week has rendered me speechless and in this case I do not mean metaphorichally but physically. And in a literal sense…well you have just read my ‘speech’.
I went through childhood fearing nuclear annihilation I don’t want my children fearing climate annihilation let alone be facing it.
Every little act is a step in the right direction. Every little act leads us closer to the courage to take a bigger and bolder step in that direction. Each of these actions demonstrates to and empowers those around us to likewise act and join the march. We don’t need to wait for the ‘decision’ makers. We don’t need to keep casting blame. We just need to get on with it.
…and a final word for Earth’s sake don’t let your children be the ones sitting in that future classroom looking blankly, sitting dumbly, seeming deaf and unable to act.
So let’s not fiddle while Rome burns
Some links that might be of interest
In the news: I fear for our future
For current information about the ‘situation’: Climate Council
New ways of thinking (or returning to some old ways of behaving): Collaborative Consumption (do we really need to own all the things we do or could we just share)