When the Grass is Not 'Greener'
The frozen tundra - regions near the earth's poles - is a fascinating place. There are extremely low temperatures, long winters, short summers, no growing seasons, and periods of either 24 hours of daylight or darkness. What's most notable about this rough climatic region is that there are little to no plants. No greenery. Yet, life still thrives here. I've always been facinated by this. How can life sustain itself in such harsh conditions? Despite circumstances the people, animals, and few hardy plants that do manage to grow here have used the resources at their disposal to create a durable, successful and sustainable eco-system that has existed for centuries.
Today's world would have you think 'Green' = Sustainable. But severe natural climates like the tundra and deserts teach us otherwise. The two terms are related but they are not synonymous. Nonetheless, we've developed an entire market of 'Green' products that completely over-shadow the importance of comprehensive sustainability. We've also been convinced that frivolously throwing a few trees and grasses on our buildings and in our cities is the sustainable thing to do. It's much bigger than that.
There are a many definitions of the word "sustainable". But there are three pretty good one's that I'd like to share with you.
Merrian-Webster: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods.
Dictionary. com: as pertaining to a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse.
Lastly, a definition put forward by the World Commission on Environment and Development states, "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".
So, sustainability has little to do with any singular product or service. It is also not about how much grass, trees, and plants a place has. This is not to deny the importance of vegatation in society or the significance of environmentally friendly products. But it is to say that greenery and products alone do very little for sustainability. Sustainability is a system and a lifestyle. It is the way in which people choose to live and how they utilize energy. To be sustainable is to adapt to the resources around us and to live a lifestyle where those resources can be continually maintained and reused, for the people of the present and the generations of tomorrow. Some of the most sustainable civilizations and environments in history, in fact, had very little 'green'.
In the midst of ignorant climate change detractors that happen to be in positions of influence, the pursuit of true sustainability takes another hit. It has been scientifically proven that the way humans are living today - that is the systems we have established for ourselves - is exponentially deteriorating and depleting finite resources and conditions on our planet. Yet, these 'leaders' continue to invest in terminal technologies and markets that contribute this condemning trend. Private sector 'Green' products and services have their part to play in the pursuit of sustainability. But outside of the system - a self sustaining one - they are absolutely useless and in many cases defeat the goal of sustainability in the first place. We only need to look back a few hundred years see exactly how humans have and can live sustainably on this planet.
Architect and Urban Designer Dhiru Thadani says often in lectures " Sustainability is not a design aesthetic, but a design ethic" In layman's terms, sustainability is a philosophical procedure; a modus operandi; a criteria to make decisions by. It is not solely a product nor the over application of "green" things. Collectively we must understand this if humans are to truly live sustainably on this planet. We must also remember that humans have lived sustainably on Planet Earth for thousands of years and only recently have we strayed away from basic principles of a self-sustaining lifestyle. This "green movement", as with any aesthetic and trend, will fade away. And if we continue to place our 'faith' in it or ignore other negative effects of our current way of life, this planet will too, abruptly, pass with it. You and I will be gone. But what about your childern and your childern's children?