The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Personal Accountability is Essential NOW!
Thank you to Living Green Magazine for posting and sharing my November 29th article, “Fahrenheit 451: What Ray Bradbury Already Knew About Our Future Sustainability” available by clicking here.
Fahrenheit 451 presents a future American society where books are outlawed and firemen burn any house that contains them. People are becoming addicted to media, and often watch an interactive soap opera on “parlor walls” that consist of three enormous, floor-to-ceiling television screens. Bradbury said that his novel is not about censorship, but a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of “factoids,” partial information devoid of context.
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It seems nothing in life of consequence is lost or gained without some level of debate. Of late, I have read and heard more and more people drawing into question whether “sustainability” is a buzzword. In full disclosure, my first book, “The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Personal Accountability is Essential NOW!” was just published. And, given the title, you may believe I already have a predetermined point-of-view on the answer to the question: Is Sustainability a “Buzz” word? I do, but my take on the meaning, value, and use of the word might not be what you think.
There is no doubt that “sustainability” is used in our vernacular more freely than ever. Politicians, entertainers, CEO’s, academic and research elite, and a myriad of other business, community, and government leaders now use the word “sustainability” in their daily deliberations. So do average citizens and consumers. I frequently hear shoppers at grocery stores, people pumping gas, and others in public increasingly asking more informed questions related to sustainability. Our “24-7” news cycle and integration of social media into our personal daily lives has magnified the visibility of the word “sustainability”. My iPhone buzzes each day with Tweets and emails with the world “sustainability” used in a variety of contexts. But is it a buzzword?
A reality check with Google tells us that searching the word sustainability results in “approximately 125 million” results, in 0.18 seconds. But that indicator is the tip of the iceberg. The word, concept, and practice of sustainability have been around for decades, if not hundreds of years. Formal debate on sustainability tied to the earth’s capacity to meet our needs for food, clothing, shelter, and abundant “life essential” resources began in the 1980s. However, civilizations long before our current generation also wrestled with their impact on the environment, and how they chose to live a life of purpose and balance.
Public-and-private universities, including the Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) have created new academic and research programs dedicated to educating, training, and developing the next generation of business, government, and entrepreneurial leaders focused on creating a more balanced and sustainable world. Small and large businesses and corporations with brands as global as Coca-Cola and Nike and as local and regional as Wegman’s Food Stores are embracing elements of sustainability into their corporate culture, policies, products, processes and people. And, countries around the world including Ghana, Ireland, Japan and Brazil are taking stock of their impacts and programs related to the role of government in defining and taking action on sustainability. As author and journalist Thomas Friedman astutely pointed out, the world has now become “hot, flat, and crowded”, necessitating the current generation to re-look at how it lives, works, and plays. In this new world, “sustainability” is not a buzzword in the mind’s eye of business, government, and university leaders. Rather it is the word by which positive and necessary change hinge upon, and by which the strategic direction of businesses and nations, are being built.
The notion of a buzzword carries with it a negative connotation that the word is indicative of a fad or something that is fashionable for the moment. And there are aspects to “sustainability” that meet that perception. Recent attention on the “greening” of products and lifestyles is an example. Celebrities, politicians, and others tout their use of hybrid-electric or electric vehicles as “sustainability”, yet addressing personal mobility is but one aspect of a sustainable lifestyle. Mass media and businesses have in recent years generated a lot of “buzz” on the idea that “going green” through the consumption of “greener” products is sustainable. Well, it is and it isn’t. Mass consumption of more goods and services that are “green” still create waste, hazards, inefficiencies, and consume energy. It is logical and appropriate that consumers would want, and feel good, about consuming products that have less of an environmental footprint. But while some “green” products do eliminate waste, reduce energy, and use more environmentally benign materials, they are not, when consumed in mass quantity, always “sustainable”.
With 7 billion people occupying earth and growing, more demands are being placed on earth’s natural resources. This generation is witnessing a convergence of social, economic, energy and environmental challenges that is simply unprecedented. The convergence brings great uncertainty and a sense of “issues overload” and overwhelming odds for many. It is far simpler to throw one’s hands up in defeat, or disregard “sustainability” as a buzzword than it is to accept the challenges and face up to the fact that we have serious issues which require an entirely new framework by which we should occupy the world, letalone Wall Street, if we are to earn the right to live well on the planet.
To address the constraints and challenges of our time it is equally critical for our generation to develop more “green” products and policies as it is for us to find altogether new ways to conserve, protect, and consume fewer natural resources. Sustainability then is not just about consuming more “green products” to save a buck or reduce a kWh or electricity. The use of “green” products is but one dimension of a broader, much deeper and lasting virtue of social accountability that is needed in all facets of society, and which empowers citizens to ask “what is my personal, and this generation’s responsibility, as conscious citizens and consumers, to address our needs and aspirations for today, and for future generations?”
Perhaps some people simply do not care about their collective impact on future generations. I have had many personal conversations with others that say “why should I care?”, “who is doing anything for me?” Those kinds of responses are very reasonable sentiments and perspectives considering that the basic life needs of billions of people remain unmet each day around the world. Addressing extreme poverty, providing access to potable water, building suitable shelter, feeding the hungry, and providing basic education and healthcare represent a sample of the global challenges at home and abroad. It can be personally overwhelming and simply illogical to have to account for the needs of future generations when we cannot get things right for ourselves in the present moment. But there is more to the equation of life than simply our own sense of entitlement and selfishness.
The basic tenants of life require clean water, food, and the freedom to grow and flourish. When these tenants are constrained, we all suffer. With so much focus on the economic crisis, we often forget what the fundamental building blocks of the modern economy are. Yes, the backbone of our financial management systems are “ones and zeros” of data stored in high efficiency data centers and server farms. But the materials, energy, and resources that are mined and processed to provide us with state-of-the-art electronics, energy systems, telecommunication networks, healthcare products, entertainment, and so on come from the myriad of rare and abundant resources of the earth.
Today, lifestyles have become “fashionable” whereas in the past fashion was an allure to model, a higher-end luxury, but not an everyday necessity to have. As we consume more “stuff” to remain in fashion with the fad of the day, our upstream impacts on natural resources intensify. Coupled with enormous population growth and new pressures from emerging economies like China, India, Latin America, and elsewhere, the earth’s global ecosystems (Rainforests, Coral Reefs, Wetlands, Arctic Biota) and banks of natural resource reserves (oil, gas, metals, ores, materials, water) are squeezed more and more. The net result: we don’t fully know yet. But if we don’t connect the dots in our lifestyles related to our impact on the natural world, a financial crisis won’t crush us, a sustainability crisis will.
In a democratic society no one wants to be told what to do. I cannot disagree with that. However, no one citizen, political, or business leader can address all of our competing needs or solve our interrelated sustainability challenges. A more balanced and sustainable future can only be achieved if “you, me, and WE” work together in an equation where an engaged and accountable citizenry equates to better choices and better living. In this model we should recognize that (1) sustainability cannot be mandated, dictated, or legislated, and (2) it is possible that sustainability will never truly be achieved.
Sustainability has to be defined, embraced, and enacted by everyday citizens and consumers if it is to have a shot at capturing the mind and spirit of this generation, and being a value that transcends time and place to have long term impact. Because sustainability is tied to our “life context”, to our needs as individuals, and as a generation at a specific moment in time, we will always be readjusting, tweaking, and refining our behaviors, values, and intended goals and outcomes. Thus, sustainability is something that we will continuously strive for with the best knowledge, data, and information we have at hand. We will make mistakes. And we may even fall back a few steps. But, if we remain committed to enveloping critical thinking and accountability into our daily lives regarding our fate and future, and as a symbiotic relationship with each other and the earth, then we will be moving in the right direction.
A buzzword does not have to carry with it a negative connotation. Something that is“buzzworthy” can be more than a fad and fashionable. “Sustainability” might just be the evolution of a higher purpose for people playing out in real time across society. Even if you are sick of hearing the word “sustainability” there is something to its allure. The word evokes debate, critical thinking, and personal reflection within individuals’ attempts to realize a better lifestyle and for society at-large and as a generation attempting to finds its foothold amid financial turmoil and ongoing geopolitical uncertainty.
Regardless whether you believe in certain “green” virtues others have placed on the word “sustainability”, it should be important to discover for yourself the role you will play as a conscious citizen and consumer and as a positive contributor to society, in creating and leaving a legacy which you can be proud of. What does that look like for you? And what role will you choose to play throughout your life? Living life with a strong sense of purpose, passion, self discovery, happiness, and accountability are the building blocks to your personal sustainability.Comments Off on Is Sustainability a “Buzz” Word?
In his 1789 letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, a prominent French scientist, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “the only two certainties in life are death and taxes.” This famous quote has been recycled many times over the years, including by author Mark Twain. There are also earlier references to the phrase dating to Edward Ward’s 1724 work, “Dancing Devils” where he wrote “Death and Taxes, they are certain”, and the 1716 quote “’Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes” written by Christopher Bullock in his 1716 work “Cobler of Preston”.
It is approximately two and a quarter centuries later and there remains much merit to “death and taxes” being the only certainties in life. Even so, while we may have to accept “death and taxes”, they are not by any means the measures by which a life is ultimately weighed or valued. How we choose to spend our time, and the value we bring to this world, are far richer than the taxes we pay, and more determinant to what life is about than death.
A third peg to the certainties of life is personal accountability: how one chooses to expend their time in recognition that the miracle of life is, in itself, a gift to be cherished, enjoyed, and celebrated as much as it is a medium for providing economic utility. To live with a sense of purpose, passion, and balance are the elements of what it means to be accountable to ourselves, and to this generation.
Much has been written on humans’ preoccupation to bide time through busyness and idleness. Humans are, at face value, a productive species. We invent, build, maintain, destroy, recreate, and rebuild again in an endless cycle of self discovery and improvement. We are never satisfied. As relentless thinkers and endless tinkerers we like to occupy our time so that we feel useful. But living a life of “usefulness” is open to interpretation. Too often, our “24-7” fast paced busy world consumes our conscious and we forget that we are human. In our hungered draw for attention, we can lose sense with the enormous potential for creativity, innovation, and self-fulfillment that we have. Yet much of the time we spend here on earth goes against our capacity to be great. We tend to focus on the mundane and minutia of decisions that matter too many, but also cloud this generation’s full potential to create a more sustainable world.
Two hundred years ago, picking up a hammer and nail to build a community center was deemed a very useful endeavor. Today, this would be equally as useful, particularly as many communities suffer from the loss of local assets and infrastructure that provide sense of community, an unfortunate loss for many of our rural places. Today we are more likely to see a packed coffee house as the new center of a community. But, our hammers are iPhones and Blackberry’s, and our nails are our worn down nubs that type bits and bytes of data as quickly as possible to build our virtual houses of information on Facebook, personal webpage’s, and other online repositories of “our life”. While we may feel like a community in our new-age community center, the outcome for many is only a scrapbook of photos and messages mirroring the busyness, idleness, and usefulness of life.
Humans are our own best and worst enemies. We built Rome, and we destroyed Rome. We learned how to fly, flew around the world, and then far into space. We are always striving for more, better, faster, bigger, greater returns, more progress, higher yields, and quicker service. If inventing the wheel in 3500 BC wasn’t enough, then we had to find more ways to have the wheel do work. If that were not enough, then we had to find a way to have several wheels connect to a trailer and pulled by a horse for the transport of goods. Horses turned out to be too slow, and they smelled! So inventing an engine to give us more horse power was more useful. In time, engines became too dirty and smelly as too many of them infiltrated more usefulness to the world. So, as busy as beavers we are, we invented a hybrid electric powertrain to make our usefulness less wasteful and more efficient. Humans like to keep busy, and useful is better than busy. But being useful all of the time is not always possible. So we make sure we are busy, even if to only appear useful. And the cycle goes on and on.
As humans, we are uncomfortable in our own skin. Lions don’t seem as uncomfortable as we do (maybe it is because they know they might have the upper claw on us in a close room). After a kill, lions will shade themselves, nap, and play until their hunger grows within them again. For humans, it seems that our hunger never goes away. Taking a naps, idle resting, and play – those endeavors which take away from busyness, let alone usefulness.
There are those moments, for example, when the day of work is complete, and we finally have time to occupy ourselves with what really matters in life: family, friends, connecting in our communities, or getting in touch with our spirituality. But in these moments, many of us choose more “busyness” as the preferred outlet for our time. After two hundred years we have fully bought into the notion that life is mostly about death and taxes and our hunger for “more” and “better” is never quenched. Why else would we spend so much time worrying about money and keeping busy? Busyness is simply a way to keep our mind from wandering too far out of bounds so that our true spirit and conscious don’t question who we are, why we are here, and what we want to really accomplish in a life well spent. And money, well that is just a medium to keep our minds and bodies fixated on those tasks measured by society that keep us busy and useful.
So what really is “more”, “better”, and “value”? And, what is our purpose for being human? Is our purpose for being humans only to build-up, and then tear down? Or are we here only to feed the chitter-chatter of social media or the “24-7” news cycle? Do we Occupy Wall Street or occupy our own self-interest and individual accountability to address what it means to be alive here and now? What we stand for, and how we live a life with determination and conviction toward realizing our full potential as individuals dedicated to making the world a better place are the calling cards for this generation.
It is far easier in any occupation, including the grandest occupation of all, “life”, to be a member of the chitter-chatter noisemakers that like to point fingers and drive attention, but are short on solutions and collaboration. This is why busy people stay busy. If you are busy, you rarely draw attention. When you step aside from the societal norm of being busy, and draw attention to the issues at hand (a need for this generation to be accountable to ourselves and to future generations), well then you get noisemakers reeling you back into their version of the debate which has to have a protagonist and antagonist to cloud the real issue. Without confrontation there is no issue to debate, to entertain the masses with, and ultimately profit from. In this way, “busyness” sells and makes money, so why not keep the busy minded busy.
If death and taxes are our measures of life’s certainties, well then, that is just sad. Accountability to living a life well spent should be front and center as we go forward as consumers and citizens who can have profound impact on our individual quality of life, and the sustainability of the world around us. Two days ago I was driving to work, keeping myself busy and useful. The car to the right of me caught my attention. It was a hearse. There was not a funeral procession, and I don’t know if the hearse was carrying anyone deceased or not. But as I drove alongside the a very visible metaphor of death I thought how hearses represent the final BTU’s of energy and last greenhouse gases people will have as an impact our atmosphere, and as they take their final ride before resting. This is unless people choose to be cremated, and then they might have an additional air emissions impact.
This is a morbid and silly thought indeed. But as the hearse turned right and I drove forward the thought seemed right. Our impact on the world begins well before we are born, and endures long after we are gone. It is our responsibility to be accountable to our choices, decisions, and behaviors while we are alive and conscious. We will have a long time to be busy and idle the 9 months leading to birth, and in the years following our death. What we have in-between is a gift like no other. And what we make of it is up to each of us individually. Being accountable is being alive. Death and taxes are the measures of a society determined to be only busy. Let’s choose to make the most of life.
Far more usefulness can occur (and quality of life, profitability, and sustainability) when people are accountable to their individual behaviors than when we continually shift our faults, hopes and dreams, and false promises onto the shoulders of future generations. Today, there are far too many challenges for this generation to address, compounded by decades of entitled behavior across all members of society, for us not to become more accountable citizens and consumers. There is no need to place blame for our woes. The challenges of this generation now runs deeper than any one individual, politician, corporate executive, or government agency.
If a fiscal cliff does not crush this generation, a sustainability cliff will. To address the fiscal cliff we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and choose our destiny, as individuals that can be accountable to our own behaviors, lifestyles, and needs. By being accountable to who we are, what we need, and how we intend to live a life with purpose, passion, and impact, we can begin to self realize what it means to be sustainable in our daily lives, and with a little hope, for this entire generation.
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