In reading that word – sustainability – cradling the head of our current Guide Dog puppy in my hands, her deeply pleading eyes looking up at me, I am reminded that this word not only describes what I feel so many, many more people around the world – more commonly come to understand of its meaning.
I have hitherto thought of sustainability as the fundamental, physical process that needs to be implemented in order for the Earth to continue providing for all the life that inhabits it. Physical processes like recycling, up-cycling, ‘make-do-and-mend’, conservation of energy, switching off and simply to stop being so extravagant with the energy we use! We urgently need demonstrate the will to push harder for renewable energy in power generation. It also demands something else of us. It requires us to adopt a certain philosophy, to change our human habits; a need to behave differently. It expects a certain attitude and assumes that an essential ingredient to the achievement of a sustainable World is that the human beings, who inhabit the Earth, become determined to adopt a way of life that is … well, sustainable!
It is an unfortunate character of the human condition that it is not until we lose someone that we become much more conscious of their value to our own life. It seems, whilst they are still around, that we prefer to focus more on their faults and shortcomings than on their virtues and strengths. We are even more prepared to abuse or betray their trust, than to respect them. So too, our Mother Earth.
As I regularly drive the roads around us, particularly the lanes of the beautiful countryside that surrounds us here in Yorkshire, I am reminded also of one of those human faults, anxiety, and of all the consequences of that condition: stress, impatience, fear, anger, aggression, depression. All too often, when I glance in my rear view mirror, I see another car race up behind me and sit so close to my rear bumper that I can’t see their number plate; at speeds and in situations in which it would be lunacy to contemplate overtaking. It is as if they are tempting me to yield, give in, pull over into a ditch and let them pass … and claim me as another vanquished enemy! It isn’t necessarily that, I know, but it feels like that and, even in my advancing years, with the wisdom and insight of the road that I have gained in fifty years of driving and my lowered testosterone levels, I sometimes feel like retaliating … and we all know how that could turn out.
The Dalai Lama it was, who attributed anxiety or agitation as the root of all conflict in the World. There is no doubt that he is right. Yes, I hear the academics, anthropologists, psychologists and any number of other -ologists, state the obvious, that Darwinian principles of evolution and survival in the animal kingdoms, of which human is one, dictate this behaviour. Our base instincts are therefore not to respect any forms of life outside our own sphere, outside our immediate survival zone; to consider them a threat to our survival? Really?
But, we are beyond this, surely, aren’t we? Can’t we exert more control over our behaviours, or are we simply hopeless victims of our own psyche; our individual intractable personality. For many in the Western World, the need to survive, to subsist on what our local environment can provide us, has long since turned into higher and higher expectations. Each generation starts with more, but wants still more than the previous generation. Our survival instincts have turned into greed; at the expence of those on the margins of the overexploited third world. Are these expectations a consequence of some out of control unconscious driving forces within us, or could we re-educate ourselves. I believe the answer for some is ‘no’. For others it would be ‘yes’.
I contend that the World could continue to support all life, even with its currently burgeoning population (of humans). If we were able to overcome our greed and unreasonable expectations, there is one overriding benefit that could accrue, apart from vanquishing our own greed … we could begin to feel what it is like to live with less poverty in the world, and less debt. Less personal debt, less corporate debt, less national debt. Currently the only way Western governments can see to pay off the latter, is growth, economic growth, which has become the unquestioned Demi-God of economic and political policy objectives; growth is, I believe, a largely misunderstood, overused and abused tool of political campaigning. This is, unfortunately, a vicious circle. I’ve heard growth described as a means of servicing our national debt. Long term, this does not make economic sense and surely cannot be sustainable!
So, what are we to do? Save more? Conserve our resources, however modest they may be? Adjust our expectations and those of our children? Their generation and the ones that follow, will otherwise only continue this roller coaster of a suicidal ride into debt and debt slavery; a World in which the super wealthy few have more and more control over the increasingly debt-ridden many. Freedom from debt, however you achieve it, whatever the cost to your expectations, your dreams, has to provide the way to a more sustainable World; and…
It. Is. Liberating.
Otherwise, our greatest and only means of survival, our patient and beautiful Mother Earth, will expel us, rich and poor, forever, and no-one will inherit anything! Space exploration to find a new life sustaining planet somewhere out there in the vastness, is pure fantasy ... and vanity!
What can we do to reduce your anxiety? A starting point for me is to have a hug with your best friend, be they human … or puppy dog ...
|Photo: Barbara Anstie. Creative edit: Dave Anstie|
This essay was first published in the BeZine, on 15th June 2018, along with a poem, which has also been published in My Poetry Library