Monday, August 31, 2009

Sustainability and Our Role

There are a number of programs on television where the host travels the world, eating regional dishes ... favorites of the area. You know the ones ... there's a host family or chef ready to introduce us to the culinary delights of their ancestors and the proud tradition of cooking. Usually, before actually cooking up the feast, they take us on a tour of their local markets. There will be table after table of beautiful, mouth-watering produce ... and then they'll turn and enter the impressive fish market. Here, one will find every imaginable (and unimaginable) type of fish ... lots of fish .. TONS of fish.

Whenever I see these programs, I think ... it's one day, in one town, in one country ... and they have taken tons of fish from the waters. This happens every single day, year after year, in towns all over the world. It makes me wonder ... what will happen when there is nothing left?

It's the same with many of our natural resources ... we consume for the here and now without much thought about tomorrow. And quite frankly, that's exactly how advertising agencies want to keep it. Whether it's because we buy into the idea that we need more and more stuff, or because we enjoy our comforts, or because there are just so many people walking the earth ... the fact is that, for the most part, we don't live sustainably.

Sustainability, simply put, is the capacity to endure. Humans do much more than endure, however ... we over consume, we accumulate lots of stuff ... we have allowed ourselves to believe that we NEED more of everything. Commerce accommodates us ... which means we deplete natural resources ... at alarming rates. The human species is enduring and growing and thriving ... but, because of it, many plant and animal species are not. So, I ask again, what will happen when there is nothing left? What will become of humans?

My personal belief is that humans won't endure ... that if we continue to use up everything, a point will come when we don't have anything. And that particular "end" won't be pretty!

Can we stop the madness? Sure! We can do all the things that make sense ... the things that native peoples have practiced for generations ... the things that we were taught as children but have, more than likely, forgotten. Things like taking only what we need. Things like thinking about the big picture ... understanding that while one purchase by one person may not mean much, one purchase by a whole lot of people might have a big impact. All of the ideas that we've talked about in this blog ... buying local, reducing consumption, recycling ... they all contribute to a sustainable lifestyle. There are other concepts which we haven't talked about, like population control (hello Octo-mom).

The point is ... we have to think about our actions and choose those that maintain life for generations to come. If we take one fish and leave the others to propagate and grow, we'll have fish for another day. If we take all the fish ... we'll have nothing.

As always ... I would love to here from you!


  1. Here it is a week before payday. I so wanted to rush to the store and buy more stuff for us to eat, but I did not. I am forcing myself to make do with what we have. I will waste money on food that we don't "need". I wont waste my gas and time either.

    Use what you have on hand.


  2. I love this post and it is a great reminder. It's a struggle in our retail-driven world, but I really am getting better, and I'm excited to pass it on to my children. Your example of the fish markets reminded me of a shopping experience I had recently. I walked into a Babies R Us and saw, with new eyes, the shelves stocked with everything plastic, wrapped in plastic, encased in boxes much to big for the product they carried, and with brightly colored ink. All I could think was "how much petroleum..." And that was just ONE store in ONE small town!! It almost makes me sick to my stomach. But it does not deter me. I am responsible for my own actions and I can reduce reuse recycle even if corporate America does not. What I do does matter!

  3. When my mum was young, almost 80 years ago, she did a lot fishing in the Rejang River in Borneo. Within a generation, many species were gone.

    It is the same as birds, they are over hunted and have become extinct. Even the common household birds are threatened with the innocent gardeners putting out baits for snails. The birds inturn eat the dead snails and they die.

    I do my bit by feeding the birds especially in winter.

  4. I also look at things on shelves with "new eyes". Thanks to you, I am more conscious of where my food comes from, packaging of products I buy, and how I can reuse, reduce, and recycle.

    The fish market analogy is a good one and a great reminder of how much we waste on a daily basis. I don't think as a rule that we think of the cost of our waste or the impact of our gluttony. Thanks for the gentle reminder!

  5. There is a saying in very slang-french in Quebec that is :

    "On fait du touski!"

    Touski = Tout ce qu'il reste = Everything that is left.

    Which roughly translates into "We do with what is left" and I find it to be a great adventure every time. Going through your fridge and creating new recipes from what is there instead of buying more things and throwing away.

    Being happy with what you have is an art... one more people should take up!

    Wonderful post again my friend!

  6. After traveling to so many undeveloped countries in the world, I truly believe that we can all learn to live sustainably by simply following what the poor have done to survive. They recycle everything--and I mean EVERYTHING! If the poor have what we have in terms of technology and resources, they'd outlive all of us by ten folds! While filming in the slums of India today, I saw a man make a funnel out of a bottle of water, a little girl using an old plastic plate as a shovel, an old man collecting cans to make souvenirs. It's so simple, yet we in the developed world have such a hard time grasping it--I just don't understand it.

    I think we've got a lot to learn from the poor.

  7. You mentioned population control, which is an interesting point. The Duggars are adding child #19 to their lineup, too. They definitely have Octo-mom beat.

    I even read that in one of the cities in China, they are allowing parents to have 2 children (as opposed to one) because a major part of their population will be dying off in the next 50 years.

    Very interesting...

    I'm beginning to study sustainable food and bioenergy systems. This is one hot topic...