The idea that we are interconnected, both locally and Globally, with each other and the environment is key in defining the concept of sustainability. In the second chapter of his book, Mulligan, introduces the reader to the “intergenerational equity” principle by making reference to the concept that was laid out in the Brundtland Report of 1987 (Mulligan,11). Mulligan states that the principle was brought forth to encourage people to think more deeply about the possible future consequences of what they do in the present. I can’t help but think of the ever-growing ecological footprint that our current generation is leaving for the future. During his Ted Talk, Alex Steffen, outlines his understanding of the current state of humanities ecological footprint. His statement, “We don’t know yet, how to build a society that is environmentally sustainable, that is sharable with everybody on the planet, which promotes stability and democracy and human rights, which is achievable in a time frame necessary to make it through the challenges we face.” is a particularity chilling prospect to absorb.
The Route to a Sustainable Future
Worldchanging.com founder Alex Steffen argues that reducing humanity’s ecological footprint is incredibly vital now, as the western consumer lifestyle spreads to developing countries.
Alex Steffan – Founder of WorldChange.com
Alex Steffan – Founder of WorldChange.com
We are using up about 5 Planets. If everybody on the planet lived like we did we'd need between 5, 6, 7, some people even say 10 planets to make it. - Alex Steffan - 2005
Humanities ecological impact on current and future generations is not a new concept. The science of Ecology first appeared in the 19th century and “studied not objects but relationships and connections in the larger environment”(Robertson, 12). More to the point, it is the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment as defined by the Ecological Society of America. During the 1960’s scientist and author Rachel Carson, through her book Silent Spring, shone a spotlight on the ecological impact of the use of chemical pesticides such as DDT. Carson argued that the practise of humans trying to control nature through the use of synthetic chemicals would lead to nothing but misfortune for mankind (Cafaro, 2011). In fact, Carson had revealed that human action always has unforeseen ecological consequences (Mulligan, 2015). Initially criticised for her statements in Silent Spring, it is now viewed that Carson inspired a new paradigm of thinking where humanity is not the center of life on Earth, but part of nature (Bishop, 2012). Her arguments brought forth the need for humanity to begin to observe the larger ecological impact and all its consequences.
By the nineteen seventies, the World began to see the emergence of global environmentalism. Growing concerns for ecology, both environmental and economical, led to the development of federally legislated acts such as “The Clean Air Act” of 1970. 1970 also produced the first “Earth Day” celebration in the US with 20 million Americans taking part in the acknowledgement of a need for Global ecological awareness. The eighties saw the development of the Brundtland Report and the first move towards the banning of CFCs over the concern of a growing hole in the Ozone layer. By 1992, The UN initiated the Earth Summit where well over 15 000 delegates from around the Globe converged in Rio, Brazil to discuss the observed state of impacts on our ecology. Twenty-five years after Rio and ten years since Steffan’s Ted Talk we are at the point where we need to act in order to preserve hope for future generations. Never before has humanity been in such a situation as we are today. What action should we take? How do we educate the citizens of the World about humanities ecological impact when equally pressing issues such as poverty and war cloud our ability to put forth effective legislation? One solution is to pursue ecological initiatives in the local scene.
An Example of Lessening the Local Ecological Impact
Local ecological initiatives are the first step to tackling the daunting issues surrounding the current Global ecological crisis. One such initiative puts forth the idea of growing and consuming local foods. The concept of community gardens is not new and it has been in practise for some time now. Recently, initiatives to take the idea of local gardening to the next level of sustainability have begun to emerge. Aquaponics is, at its most basic level, the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water and without soil) together in one integrated system (Bernstein, 2012). The process is remarkably simple in that fish produce waste, the waste is in turn converted to fertilizer by microbes and worms, and the plants filter the water that returns to the fish. Food grown locally not only impacts the local ecological sphere, but in turn it has Global implications as well. Although, Aquaponics may not be the most effective manner for reducing our ecological footprint, it is a good example of sustainable solution.
Aquaponics Pod Casts: - http://podcast.brightagrotech.com/
Slavoj Zizek is a Slovenian psychoanalytic philosopher, cultural critic, and Hegelian Marxist. He is a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University, and international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities of the University of London.
The Ideology of Ecology
In her book, Examined Life: Excursions with Contemporary Thinkers, Astra Taylor discusses the concept of ecology with Slovenian Philosopher Slavoj Zizek. When asked to contribute to the ideology of the concept of ecology, Zizek goes on to state that “Ecology is the problem today, but the reason we are not able to approach this problem properly is because ecology is the site for ideological investment. First, one of the elementary ideological mechanisms is what I call the temptation of meaning. When something horrible happens, our spontaneous tendency is to search for meaning, it must have a meaning”. Upon further inspection of the topic Zizek furthers his arguments with the statement “It’s common to read ecology as a punishment for human hubris, excessive development. Like we wanted to dominate nature, we wanted to become masters of the universe, we forgot that we are just modest humans on the earth, and nature, God, whoever, a higher agency, is punishing us.” I encourage the reader to explore the thoughts presented by Zizek in the following video that served as a source for Taylor’s book.
Cafaro, P. (2011). Rachel Carson’s Environmental Ethics [Essay]. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/155638/
Hensley, Nathan (2011) Curriculum Studies Gone Wild: Bioregional Education and the Scholarship of Sustainability. Peter Lang Publishing Inc. New York, New York.
Mulligan, Martin (2015). An Introduction to Sustainability: Environmental, Social and Personal Perspectives. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Robertson, Margaret (2014). Sustainability Principles and Practice. Routledge, New York, New York.
Sumner, Jennifer (2005). Sustainability and the Civil Commons: Rural Communities in the Age of Globalization. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Canada
Taylor, Astra (2009). Examined Life: Excursions With Contemporary Thinkers. New Press, The. Kindle Edition.