Where does Sustainability begin?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Sustainability begins within the self and not anywhere else. Within the self and within yourself. Until we unlearn bad habits that arise from our acceptance of unquestioned notions that lead to these kinds of unsustainable behaviors we will be stuck in modes of behavior that will prevent us from achieving the kinds of changes we need to achieve.

You are the change that you want to see in the world and before you can get others to make changes you have to start to make those changes yourself and within yourself.

The single most profound thing that we need to change in order to make our world sustainable is ourselves, our attitudes and our behavior. We must revisit how we view ourselves and our place in the world. We must come to understand that we are not the be all and end all of Creation but just one cog in the wheel of things.

Nothing will really succeed in the general world as long as so many still subscribe to a kind of misguided world view of endless plenty and fail to grasp the very real physical facts of limits to growth, especially the fact that the resources of the Planet, oil, coal, gas, minerals, etc., are not limitless and that the end of cheap and abundant oil is about upon us.

We, and that is all of us, need to start living within the budgetary restraints of our Planet such as they are and until we learn how to do this we are not really living sustainably, regardless of what we may be thinking.

Our outward behavior is the result of our beliefs and habits and these are much more resistant to change than we often would like to believe. Carbon Credits or Tradeable Emission Quotas, which seems to be the latest reincarnation of the Carbon Indulgences, are not going to help anyone bar the corporations to continue with business-as-usual, destroying the Planet.

Habits are hard to break and too many people believe, erroneously, because naysayers in the industry that claim there is no problem, that oil, as an example, will last for ever and ever. How they are working that one out beats me but that is the belief of many.

It is true that we are not, as yet, running out of oil entirely, and there may be a lot more deep, very deep, in the ground and especially in the ground below the seabed. But, and this is the important part, we are running out of cheap, abundant and affordable oil land no company will continue to attempt to bring up oil from those depths when it will cost half a barrel to bring up a barrel of oil.

The big problem is that there is a tremendous amount of momentum in habit. We humans, like other creatures are in most ways creatures of habit and once a habit forms it is really very hard to break. If you would ask any marketeer about this they would tell you that it is the very momentum of habit is something they count on and is one reason they target the young, who are just beginning to form what will become long term and often life time consumer habits.

We can see daily nowadays how such habits have been formed in that it is the young people, children, juveniles, and young adults that seem to be the greatest consumers and those that throw away their gadgets and whatever else after less that a year or so. If there is a new cell phone out after they only got theirs a few months ago they just have to have it and many providers give upgrades every so often automatically and without charge to keep people locked into contracts.

But it is not just like that with regards to cell phones; they do the same as to computers and other things. If it is a year old then to them it is old and has to be replaced, regardless of the fact that it is still working perfectly without problems.

I run a workhorse computer that is an old Compaq EVO that has only got 128MB RAM, a 20GB HDD, and a Pentium 4 1.6 GHZ processor, with Linux Ubuntu “Dapper Drake”as operating system, which means both the computer and the operating system are rather ancient, but both work fine. The computer was secondhand when I got it but it is doing fine. I had, in fact, mothballed it for a while but then, in the beginning of 2011, decided to bring it back from retirement and I am glad I did. It is the one on which I can work best.

When you see the young people today though it has to be the latest iPad or whatever and as soon as the new iPad was launched the “old” ones ended up on the market cheap or, as I understand from some recycling centers, in the Wee recycling and nothing was wrong with them.

Habits are going to be our downfall if we do not learn and do not change and that rather pronto.

How we see the world and our place in it is also the result of these unquestioned accepted notions and beliefs. Notions such as the view that resource supply can always rise in response to price rises or that growth is always good for example will lead us to act in ways that are unsustainable and cause long term harm even to our own self interests.

The powers that be keep hammering it into our minds that growth is good and we must have growth to survive as a nation, etc., but this is not so. Growth is not always good and our present economy, as of the early twenty-first century, has growth factored in simply by the fact that products are made in such a way that they have to be replaced after a year or a few simply because they are designed to break down by that time and cannot be repaired. Many goods have one-way screws, for instance, which means that you cannot open them.

In years gone by, and that is not even that long ago, everything was repairable and there were people about that could repair everything; the tinkerer at home or the professional mender. Everything was designed, in fact, in such a way that it could be repaired. Now the opposite is true, and it is but so that you and I have to go and buy new “to keep the economy turning”.

As far as I can see it has little to do with the economy and such but all to do with creating more and more profits for the makers, for industry, who have relocated from making things at home to places such as China, Vietnam, India, etc. to save on labor costs and on costs as to safety regulations and such. Greed is the name of the game, and greed has also crept in on the green products level, be those “recycled” goods or others.

Of course there is the outward practice of sustainability, the formal definition of programs and policies, all the institutional reformations and so on, and good it is too but...and here comes the but.

Sustainability has to start with you and me, it has to come, as a persuasion and action, for lack of better words, from within ourselves. Only when we have come to understand how each and every thing that we do, every act of ours, impacts on the Planet and act upon that understanding, from the point within us, can we come to the point where we can lead sustainable lives.

Outside influences and even pressures from governments, peers (no, not the ones of the realm), etc., can only do that much. By the end of January 2011 a, what could be referred to as, green fatigue is beginning to be noticed amongst people, amongst shoppers and this may have a number of reasons. Not the least of these will be the fact that green products are so heavily overpriced that the poorer groups cannot see how they can be part of the green revolution. But it would also appear that they cannot be bothered to bring back refillable bottles to be – well – refilled.

As said, sustainability must be created within us first and no manner of cajoling and even forcing by governments, local and central, will have much of an effect there. Until and unless the people understand what they must do, and the power comes from within, then it is but a dream. This is, however, not to say that we should not, as individuals, families, organizations, institutions and businesses, continue with our sustainability efforts. In fact we must, if but in order to convince others that it is worth is.

The goings on in the sustainability space and fascinating and and we must support the many virtuous attempts to help organizations adapt to and adopt sustainability – and that in meaningful, measurable ways. This outside visible manifestation is, however, supported within us all by our own internal notional, intellectual and habit rooted superstructures of sustainability and conversely is obstructed by our bad habits, bad unquestioned beliefs or notions, by all the stubborn knowledge we have become habituated to know without examination. And that is where some of the problems lie within so many.

How can we and do we unlock sustainability from within?

How can we and do we sort through our pre-existing layered strata of notions, beliefs, memories, pre-knowing, good and bad habits and so forth?

How can we unlearn the anti-patterns that exist within each of us and that put together can effectively roadblock even truly sincere attempts at living sustainably?

Those are some of the questions that we must consider and we must do it now.

Looking within ourselves is always the hardest, though, paradoxically, also the easiest, thing to do, but in this case of discovering the path to sustainable living within ourselves, it is worth turning over every proverbial stone within. We must leave no proverbial stone within us unturned. We must turn them over one by one in order to see what they are really made of in light of our understanding of the bigger picture, and to see whether it is not they that prevent us from living an even more sustainable life.

This goes for each and every one of us, within ourselves, and this is foremost of course, as I have indicated above.

However, it is also critically important, especially at the current crossroads of history that we are now living in, to perfect good practical techniques to help others to cross their own inner bridges to find, within themselves ways to live sustainably and ways to form habits that are sustainable.

I did mention history in this here context, because, as many will be aware, human activity is causing us to bump up against our Planet's physical limits to growth, though the powers that be try to make out that such limits do not exist. Well, they do and we have reached them, basically.

We will soon begin to discover just how real reality is compared with the shadow world of our human notional constructs. A shadow world that we have used for the last few centuries to fool ourselves into thinking that these limits did not apply to us. The patently absurd economic theology of eternal growth will soon to be shown out for the short sighted long and very long term mistake that is always was.

The realities of limits to growth will shake things up

Sometimes civilizations need to get seriously hit over the head by reality before they abandon deeply ingrained ways of doing things and of looking at life or, as is very often the case, perish in the dustbin of dead civilizations and many of the once great civilizations are a good example for this.

Unfortunately, sometimes it appears to me that we are going to have to play it out by this script and that collectively the various internationally significant societies of our world, will all do too little, too late in order to affect the outcomes of drastic climate instability, inexorable energy depletion, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity, desertification and an the rest, that are looming ever larger.

Certainly, most would agree that the world is now at a grand cross road; what we do and accomplish or do not do and don’t accomplish is going to be critical for how things evolve over the next five decades and this period of the next five decades, in so many ways is going to determine what kind of future our world will have for the next ten thousand years or more.

Soon we will reach the global peak of oil production – some argue that the world has already crossed this threshold – and the entire complex of industry, of transportation, of urban living and o agriculture that in so many ways relies on cheap abundant oil will begin to discover just how dependent it is. Everything that we do and have done ever since the arrival of cheap oil has been based on just that, cheap oil. We have based our entire economies on this cheap source of fuel in the belief that it would go on for ever and ever. It ain't and is about to run out.

OK, let's face it: oil probably is not about to end altogether. However, the abundant cheap oil upon which our entire way of life of the present day is built is about to come to an end and some reckon that this could be in the next couple of years, with some reckoning that diesel and gasoline will reach a £15 to £20 an Imperial gallon by 2012/2013. This will spell the end, I should think, of the commuter belt and people will clamour to get back into towns and cities to live in order to be able to live in walking or cycling distance to their place of work. Life as we know it is about to change and that rather drastically and dramatically.

Societies that have with foresight done more to build alternative means of powering their critical infrastructure and that have become more sustainable and efficient in everything they do will tend to fair better than those that have had a corresponding lack of wisdom in terms of their policies. But how many of those are there? Very few.

This impending energy shock will do wonders – and that within a very short space of time – to concentrate minds and action. The very fact of sky-rocketing liquid fuels prices is really going to start forcing people to seriously and sincerely question how they live and what they will need to do in order to survive.

With price of crude around the $100 a barrel mark things will impact seriously on the economy, local and global, and will sent many countries back into serious recession – not that most have come out of it properly as yet.

The drop in demand, due to a recession, will then send the prices into a downwards swing again and this could mean that oil will last a little longer than predicted. Not that that will make much of a difference to the average user and consumer. We all know that the prices at the pumps rarely go down, even if the spot price for oil falls.

I believe that it will not be long before the average punter will have to seriously reconsider how he she lives and where, especially. Suburbia, as we know it, as dormitories for the towns and cities where the work is, will, I should think, come to and end and people will either have to work where they live or live much closer to where the work is.

On average, I should think, oil is going to become so expensive that it will have major impacts on just about everything that we do and it may just spur people into action to seriously start thinking hard about finding other ways to do the things they need to get done that are less dependent on oil products.

Do I see horses and carts back on the streets and horses before plows and such in the field? Yes, I seriously do, and some young farmers are thinking about it not only but have begun doing it. Some farmers never went away from it, but those are the Amish and the likes who have been doing it for other reasons that that of fuel.

Sustainability Begins Within

We need to start to change and transition now to this new way of thinking and of doing things for we very soon are going to get our collective backsides kicked by reality that may, hopefully, awaken all from the blind momentum of habit that is leading us into an increasingly unsustainable way of life and into a very insecure future. Many argue that by then it will be too late. I sincerely hope that it will not. We can do it and we must do it. We have the skills – and if we don't have them we can learn and especially relearn them, for our elders did have them – of living and thriving in a post cheap oil world.

However, until enough people and in enough different places begin to really make these profound life changes the world is going to keep careening on a fossil fuel and resource consumption binge, careless and not caring about the inevitable hangover… and what a hangover it will be. It is also a hangover that is going to get worse the longer we continue to do nothing much about it.

The time for change is now, while we still have oil and have it at a pricing level that is not gone totally through the roof as yet. We must start by reducing consumption of oil, and oil products, and of things in general. We must make things last and demand that products are made again in such a way that the (a) will last and (b) can be easily enough fixed when they break (down) and this must be equally so for our cars (maybe we should rethink their use), our bicycles, our computers and everything else.

I remember the days when we built our own – though small – computers and communications radios, etc. It was possible to build them from stuff that was salvaged from old TVs and wireless sets, etc., and they could also be repaired when needed and the same was true for wireless sets and everything else. Today, however, everything is designed to be thrown away and to be replaced after a year or two. This is not sustainable.

To have a sustainable world products too must be sustainable: they must be sustainably made and repairable.

I rest my case – it is getting heavy.

© 2011