On Sustainability: Introduction

**Look for a new post in this series each Saturday.  At present it looks like there will be nine installments.**

 

It has always been a primary goal of mine to help right the imbalance between humanity and the planet – to do my part to ensure that we as a species can live more-or-less fulfilling lives on Earth until the sun dries us to a crisp a few billion years from now, or until Homo sapiens winks out in the grand story of evolution and another equally intelligent and self-aware species builds civilizations that we could not begin to understand.

Sustainability is, to use one common definition, meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.  It is a most-overused and heavily greenwashed word, coopted by the market economy to sell a great variety of ever-so-slightly-less-unsustainable products to consumers who then can say they have done their part.  It is still, however, a meaningful word, and I intend to use this series of essays to unpack it in some depth: what sustainability means to me and what a truly sustainable society might look like.

For four years I worked in ecology and conservation, attempting to understand the declines of birds, mammals, and plants and to preserve habitat to save species and ecosystems.  In doing so I came to see that the roadblocks were not scientific; we lacked not so much the understanding to preserve ecosystems but the social and political will to prioritize this in the face of a growing population and an ever-expanding economy.  For five years after that I researched photobiological hydrogen production, attempting to engineer cyanobacterial photosynthesis to produce hydrogen instead of sugar.  The goal was to create an abundant source of clean energy that could replace fossil fuels, but instead I learned a lesson about the limits of technology and the importance of working with, rather than against, evolution and natural selection.  For the past seven months I have worked for Wild Garden Seed, growing organic vegetable seeds by the hundreds of pounds.  Here I have learned the often-overlooked value of diversity vs. uniformity, the essentiality of soil fertility, and the importance of a local, human-scale economy based on food production and direct exchange.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do feel that my experience has given me a unique perspective on sustainability.

Over the next weeks, look for essays on:

–Principles of Sustainability

–Sustainable Energy: A Story

–Sustainable Energy: In Practice

–Sustainable Agriculture

–Sustainable Economy

–Sustainable Society

–Sustainable Population

–Sustainable Religion

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