On Sustainability. Clear as muck. Maslow in shambles. Becoming human.

Share / Follow

Crap, I’ve started writing this piece five different times, and I’ll just give up trying to get it right. Excuse me for being in a gloomy mood. There’s politics. There’s being up to stuff I don’t know how to go about. I keep being a stupid emotional human and piss of people (well, very few really) that I love. Then yesterday evening the murder of Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov followed by a Pakistani refugee slamming a truck into the crowd of Berlin’s Christmas market. I hope I’ll never get numb. This morning is the second time in the two years since I quit that I’ve wanted to light up a cigarette again. I didn’t want to write, but told myself to pull my head out of my ass and write anyway.

Darwin age-of-the-sage.org

I wanted to impress Tim, who asked me to teach him about sustainability. So, I thought that I should write about historical perspective, about geology and archaeology, about utopian vs. distopian literature, about early naturalism, about Yuppies in Hummers, the Anthropocene Era, about Greenpeace and the United Nations, and comment on the typical definition of the Brundtland Report 1987 vs the Thwink verson. Being the recovering project manager, I created an outline of topics, but it really does not inspire me right now.

On Sustainability

What do I really want to say about sustainability? What are my big questions, my big ideas?

Early on in my umpteen attempts of writing, I looked up the official definition of sustainability. Support, confirmation, endurance, resilience, balance. Sustainability means “being able to continue to do what you/we are doing now… and here the catch: without being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources.” (dictionary.com)

Do we have a shot at that, living sustainably? First I was going to be all diplomatic and write: ‘Well, maybe.’ But the answer is flat-out: No, we have never ‘continued’ to do what we did. We always changed, and now even faster. No, we have already harmed the environment. No, we have depleted natural resources.

Again, Ingrid. What do I really want to say? What are my big questions?

What I really want to say: sustainability ultimately is about preserving ourselves from extinction. (Yes, yuck, it came out of my mouth.) We really haven’t been around that long and we have behaved, as Agent Smith said, like viruses. Actually more like a cancer. The stages of cancer are measured by how fast cells divide and how that spills over into other tissues. The news that upset us used to be the crazed shooter in the US. There’s too many of us crazed now. Systems are failing. The cancer is spreading fast.

Not Innovation

You may say “Well, humans are very innovative, they’ll think of something.

Ah, yes, innovation. Two weeks ago, my brother-in-law gave my mother a tablet for Sinterklaas. (you know, the original Santa Claus) My mom has no affinity with electronics. She has figured out how to read her email and make payments on a desktop computer. She likes to look at photos but prefers photo albums. (me too) He gifted her a book reader years ago, and she never used it. But he likes stuff and wanted to give her something (his love language). So here take this thing and it will entertain you and make you happy. I set up her email account and added my sister and my email addresses, but she keeps forgetting how to navigate between the screen, touches something by mistake and gets lost, gets frustrated and puts the darn thing away. I don’t blame her, I don’t want to even teach her anymore. What she wants is for me to just spend time with her, belong. I told her she can just give the tablet back. Really.

Thus far innovation hasn’t saved humanity, it has just increased our numbers. Medical innovation has allowed us to produce more offspring and live longer. Technological innovation has allowed us to mass produce goods and communicate with video around the world (which I love BTW). They have not prevented war, famine or climate change… likely have only added to it. Innovation does not equal sustainability. Innovation it is adding another layer of complexity and calling it a solution. We’re chasing some Truth Out There and have made life more and more complex, lost connection with each other and gotten more and more crazed looking for the next fix. And, we can’t help ourselves; we want to figure it out. Heck, I’m doing it myself, right here, right now.

Not Maslow in Shambles


image via simplypsychology.org

Mom’s tablet made me think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. She has all her other needs met, right? “Here, take this tablet, it will make you happy” Maslow’s hierarchy is messed up, which isn’t surprising really, given that he studied the healthiest 1% of a college student population: “the study of crippled, stunted, immature and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.” *

Reality check: humanity isn’t the top 1%. There’s the remaining 99%, which include the crippled, stunted, immature and unhealthy. Heck, I’m in the 99% … with stage three osteoarthritis and being menopausal. I work with people that clearly are not in the top 50%. T gives me hugs and kisses all the time and G gave me a Christmas Card and befriended me on Facebook. It is good to work with them. It is simple contribution, they can help me just as well as I can help them. We work together. Brains get in the way.

Yes, Becoming Human

I’m hunting for the correct link, and cannot find it. I didn’t bookmark, ha! Innovation did not save me here… Last year I read a really great interview with Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arch and author of “Becoming Human”. Oh, as I read the first sentence again, it promises so much: “THIS BOOK IS ABOUT the liberation of the human heart from the tentacles of chaos and loneliness, and from those fears that provoke us to exclude and reject others.” Vanier’s work with L’Arch is an inspiration that I want to learn more about. (bookmarked this time: jean-vanier.org)

Not Responsibility

Well, humans are very innovative, they’ll think of something”. I’m going to hold a mirror in front of you and say “YOU think of something”. And then go do it. Find it or create it. This mess we’ve created isn’t someone else’s responsibility. It is ours. But people don’t ‘like’ to take responsibility. It is ‘hard’. History teaches that it has to hurt enough for things to change. And at the same time, change seems to happen all on its own, without anyone taking responsibility for it all.

Maybe Endurance and Love


image via wikipedia.org

What I want to say: humanity is experiencing a big re-set. Mass migration, racism, climate. That in the end we may or may not survive. (What is the End anyway?) Other species have become extinct. Heck, we even have a Red List (see below). Extinction, or ending, may not be such a bad thing. Better for the earth. Not so fun. We’ll lash out at each other, but truly facing the End, we will also be kinder.

Rather than sustainability, or even resilience, I like the distinction ‘endurance’ the most: ‘the capacity of something to last or to withstand wear and tear.’ I grew up with the French slogan on the Dutch weapon “Je Maintiendrai”, which means “I will maintain”. It speaks to me of being flexible, being able and willing to change, to adjust and to survive.

Facing the end. I am simply reminded of my Dad, facing the End, knowing he only had days left to live and soaking up every last morsel of love and goodness he could.

Tip: Do Some Thing.

Nagham brings me pink slippers

All I know there is to do is what is in front of me.
All I have to do today is what I have to do today.
Ask and learn.
Cook from scratch and don’t throw leftovers away.
Learn about seeds.
Invite a friend to come for dinner.
Play a game.
Combine your errands into one loop and save on gas and time.
Make furniture from discarded wood.
Get those solar panels.
And maybe find that pink slipper.




image via howtoconserve.org

*Maslow, A (1954). Motivation and personality. New York, NY: Harper. ISBN 0-06-041987-3.

Share / Follow