Sometimes, my friends and I joke that if the popular indie band, Animal Collective, tacked the term “sustainable” on to the front of their name, their mp3 sales would be off the charts. Already floating on the extreme hype of Pitchfork and other underground music sources, as “Sustainable Animal Collective” they could simultaneously surf the wave of “sustainability” – the new environmental buzzword - into eternal rock kingdom glory. But this is a not a column about the power of Animal Collective. It’s about the power – yet relative ambiguity – of the term “sustainability.” It’s been a few years now since its “official release party” within the environmentally conscious community and quite frankly, I’m ready for a new take on the term.
So is Wabash College biology professor, David Krohne. He spoke out on Earth Day this year with an important reminder: “We will live in a world with 9 billion [people]. In that context, sustainability seems pretty important and it is. But remember how we’re talking about this. Biofuels, a smart energy grid, hybrids, compressed natural gas, carbon credits, wind farms…What is the implicit goal? To give up nothing. What is the object of the verb sustain in this context? In the current conversation, it is not the planet, not our spiritual health, but an economy and a lifestyle.”
Gary Snyder, a prominent author and environmentalist, also acknowledges this dilemma in his piece, A World That Takes the Environment Seriously. He states: “We have not succeeded in making a global economy ecologically sustainable and I doubt that we will ever be wise enough and smart enough to do it on a global scale. All of the fashionable talk about sustainable development is mostly about how to do more of the same, but with greater efficiency. The most prosperous economies still depend on the ruination of distant places, people, and ecologies.”
I don’t want to be a downer here – I do hold a Sustainability degree, after all, so I’m certainly not against the movement– but I do want to point out the single most important false assumption that the term may carry. Sustainability invites images of technological progress – images that SocialEarth often provides in its articles: Justin Timberlake’s green links, green beer, a green Sears Tower, etc. These are excellent examples of sustainability, but we also remember that technology alone cannot solve the world’s problems. Sustainability is also a state of mind. It is a change in lifestyle, which I think we’ve done a good job projecting in our posts as well, but I want emphasize the latter sentiment – the “state of mind” – so that it is exceptionally clear.
To borrow from Snyder again, because he is ever so articulate:
“We have accepted the radical inversion of purposes by which society is shaped to fit the economy instead of the economy being shaped to fit society. Human needs are increasingly secondary to those of the abstractions of markets and growth. People need, among other things, healthy food, shelter, clothing, good work to do, friends, music, literature, a vital civic culture, animals, and wildness. But we are increasingly offered fantasy for reality, junk for quality, convenience for self-reliance, consumption for community, and stuff rather than spirit. Our economy has not, on the whole, fostered a largeness of heart or spirit. It has not satisfied the human need for meaning. It is neither sustainable nor sustaining.”
To fix this, we can do three things.
- Support social enterprise. This is the movement that is putting heart and spirit back into our economy.
- Go outside. Seriously. Just do it. Feeling connected to the Earth is way cooler than feeling connected on Twitter or Facebook.
- Take only what you need and give to those who have less. I am confident we are going to make great technological advancements in sustainability, but like all challenges, it is 10% ability and 90% mental. It is imperative that we do our part as individuals to curb our wasteful practices.
Yes I know. This all sounds like common sense, but it’s not when you’ve been raised the way most of us have. Animal Collective might be “just another band” in the eyes of some, but this is not “just another Earth.” It’s ours and it’s the only one we have.
[The author would like to note that in her personal opinion, Animal Collective is not actually "just another band." They're awesome, but so awesome that their excessive media blitz happens to work well for her metaphor. Thanks guys. ]