About sustainability…and spark plugs

Community journalism is that spark plug that gives us the power to see a problem and generate support as a catalyst for change.   —Bernell

When I took my dog out for a walk this morning, early, the snow was falling in fat white flakes and everything was white and lovely. But four hours later, that same route was coal-gray and treacherously riddled with trash and yellow dots. It got me thinking about some of your comments, that sustainability is far, far more involved than a modification of some aspects of our individual lifestyles—that, in fact, it involves a paradigm shift on a global level.

Foremost, perhaps, is a need for our willingness to examine what has set us on the path to our current sustainability crisis. Lynn’s comment succinctly addresses this:

We have been taught that we have dominion and have every right to do what we want with nature. Consequently we now suffer from the poisonous effects of chemical and nuclear wastes and oil spills. Our inland water tables continue to be poisoned due to fracking. Our forests and oceans are experiencing large die offs and we continue to release “Franken” seeds, pesticides, radio waves, etc. into the atmosphere. Our foods are lacking in nutrition and are so different from what nature intended that we are now allergic to most of the foods our ancestors lived on for thousands of years. In fact we are so distanced from the natural world that we live like aliens on our own planet.”

 Breuk also makes a really interesting observation about the scope of the paradigm shift that the authors of our text, The Post Carbon Reader, and many of your comments, refer to, in her example of Star Trek. She writes:

“Star Trek is an interesting vision of the future because advanced technology is merged with a cultural revolution to create a better society. After World War III, the Earth is poisoned by radiation and plunged into a nuclear winter, but the first test flight of a warp drive (faster than light) ship is detected by aliens. Vulcans come to Earth to say, basically, welcome to the galaxy. It is the discovery that we are not alone in the universe that brings the human race together to finally live in peace on Earth…”

William Rees expresses a similar point, in more scientific (but perhaps less fun!) language in his explanation of “resilience thinking”, when he explains that resilience thinking, “Accepts that the human enterprise is structurally and functionally inseparable from nature. That is, the human enterprise is a fully embedded, totally dependent subsystem of the ecosphere—people live within socio-ecosystems” (Post Carbon Reader, 32).

Here’s what Jon Marc says about sustainability (all of your comments are excellent, by the way):

“I am starting to realize that perhaps [sustainability is] not so much about reducing my overall footprint as it is changing the footprint all together. What I mean by that is unless we radically change how we go about living day to day, there won’t be much living to go about – perhaps sooner than any of us realize.”

And yet, given the enormity of the task, it’s so important to remember the beauty, and awe, inherent in our relationships to nature. Spencer addresses the enormous capacity for such radical change that our natural environment embodies, in his comment:

“While I tend to lean towards more idealistic thoughts about sustainability, I have come to the conclusion that it is possible to live in a modern day society, and still take care of our earth. Mama earth is smart. She’s beautifully designed. The colors, shapes, sounds, and smells that occupy the air are magnificent. It’s really ingenious if you take the time to stop and comprehend.”

Radical change is, well, so radical that it is hard to see the forest through the trees (or the clear-cut through the stumps). Tessa Lou vividly portrays the kind of overwhelming sense that words like “paradigm shift” and “radical change” can evoke, when she asks:

“I also wonder if it is possible to so radically go about overhauling a system so based in the growth model, as The Carbon Reader suggests. I want to farther understand how the book proposes we do this, for the change would in effect encompass every layer of our economic, social and governmental system. This dilemma is something I have come up against a lot in my studies and beliefs, because I do believe that radical change is needed on many fronts in our system, in order for humans to thrive as a whole; however, I want to work for things that are actually possible.”

Certainly the questions she asks are at the heart of the matter of what sustainability really involves. All of you wrestle with this in your comments, and with the economic changes that underlie a systems-overhaul. Some examples of your thinking on economics and sustainability:

Sterling writes:

“I like to keep it simple and I think sustainability is pretty much like it says; the ability to sustain. This is in reference to some sort of ecosystem that uses resources to keep itself going. Resources can be anything money, food, labor or even something simple like clean water. What is our ability to keep these resources from drying up? Are we using too much? I think sustainability is about identifying these factors and coming up with solutions to sustain our environment.”

Spencer adds:

“What I think is holding us back form accomplishing a modern world that is also sustainable, is greed. Money can do some great things, but it can also be disastrous.”

And Lisa provides an excellent supporting statistic for her observation on money, power, and change:

“Yesterday, the humanitarian NGO (non-governmental organization) Oxfam released a report that stated 85 individuals own as much of the world’s wealth as the least wealthy 3 billion people… Money and financial value are culturally constructed concepts. And wealth is really a synonym for power. If this is true we can safely say that these 85 people have the ability to influence major corporations as well as government policies to maintain their share of power. The rest of us have dwindling amounts of power to influence levels of social and environmental sustainability…. This is where citizen journalism comes in.”

I think you hit the nail on the head, there, Lisa. In the context of sustainability, citizen journalism is tasked with the same level of responsibility as each of us individuals are: to effect a transformation of cultural consciousness. Taken as a whole, it’s an impossible task. But if we consider what change involves on a personal and local level, we can begin to see pathways to this transformation.

Bernell, for example, discusses his own significant work in creating such pathways:

“I started a computer-recycling program. Every three months we collect used computers from various companies and we recycle them and give them to low-income families and to entry-level college students. In the past 3 years of operation I was able to recycle close to 1,200 computers and employ 26 part time students whom learned how to repair computers and prepare for their A+ certification. So I’ve learned firsthand if we can just make better use of what we have in front of us we can extend our precious resources for the next generation. In short, sustainability means life for our future by governing what we use in the present.”

 Lisa further connects the dots between citizen journalism and grass-roots activism in her comment:

“My Google search of the phrase “off the grid heating” resulted in 10,500,000 results in .33 seconds! I selected the “images” tab and a myriad of photos depicting solar panels, wind turbines, stoves, battery units, and other designs I wasn’t immediately familiar with appeared. The ability for off the grid homesteaders to share their successes in finding alternative methods of providing heat and electricity in their homes is an excellent contribution to citizen journalism. These bloggers provide concrete ways of moving from the unsustainable practice of relying on fossil fuels to ushering in the post carbon era.”

And Tessa Lou, in her comments on We the Media, reflects on the potential for empowerment that citizen journalism has demonstrated when she writes:

“I think that We the Media… encourages individuals not to underestimate the power of their own voices. I love that it gives concrete examples of the power of individual reporting and ‘speaking out’, as it were. I have believed for a long time that our cultural obsession with celebrity, leaders and role models (even), is a means to disempowerment. If we believe that we must have a great leader to organize the success of a movement we are in effect useless on our own.”

William Rees, who developed the concept of the ecological footprint, writes that ”Resilience science is based on the simple premise that change is inevitable and that attempts to resist change or control it in any strict sense are doomed to failure” (Post Carbon Reader, 31).

Citizen journalism offers us each a chance to steer the cultural conversations handed down to us from big media in new directions, and to create altogether different conversations in our efforts to work toward social sustainability (see Post Carbon Reader pp. 21-23). Perhaps we have more power than we think in relation to the Goliath of corporate capitalism that seeks so entirely to resist or control change.

Himanee, a long-time professional journalist (who, I am very happy to say, will be sharing some of her experiences in professional journalism with us when we meet at the residency), implies a kind of sustainability to citizen journalism, as well a participatory model that touches upon the social aspect of sustainability, when she writes:

“I see Citizen Journalism as an aspect of helping to sustain the future of journalism. We can make it a lasting profession that is better, more connected and more responsible than the mainstream industry has been in recent decades. I am observing to learn, and I look forward to learning from all of you.”

At the same time, our power to encourage positive change through citizen journalism can only be as great as our ability to think differently about things, to think in new ways, to think across disciplines, across boundaries (like nature/culture, reason/emotion, us/them). Lori expresses this idea nicely, when she writes:

“I feel that Citizen Journalism is a grass roots format within the journalism realm in which John Q. Public can get in-depth and reliable information on what is happening around them especially when it comes to anything related to the environment. This format is like anything else on the great worldwide web…as a consumer, it is your responsibility to do your own research to verify the content of what you read and choose what to believe as fact.”

I’ll end this post by a very perceptive question by Tessa Lou:

“The dilemma here is if I then work on these small fronts that do not really address the systemic issues, but may help in small areas, am I in effect undermining my purpose?”

Anybody have any thoughts on this?




2 thoughts on “About sustainability…and spark plugs

  1. violetvague

    Thank you for creating such a powerful summary of viewpoints form our collective posts. I am proud of our work and hope that others outside the course view our posts as well.

    As for Tessa Lou’s question, I think that our collective thoughts offer a great example of how powerful one person’s actions can be. Several voices combine to create a theme of sustainability from different dimensions.

    Without getting on my soap box about the history of patriarchy and how it has driven us to our current environmental situation, I think it is important to keep in mind that we won’t reverse several millennia of entrenched culture. But … the good news is that awareness is the the key. Have you ever left the sink dripping with the stopper in place? Doesn’t seem like a big deal, but eventually the sink overflows and has to be dealt with.

    Each citizen journalist is a drop in the sink, Each person who makes a decision to recycle, buy local, is a drop in the sink. Each person who uses their money, vote, or actions to support a more sustainable future makes a difference. We do make a difference.

    1. Karyn

      Hi violetvague (aka Lisa?),

      That’s a great analogy, of the drop of water eventually filling the sink. I certainly agree that patriarchy, with its logic of domination, is not something that will change quickly. Sometimes these days with the political attacks on women as a class, it is hard not to despair. Ecofeminist theory, which studies the relationships between women, animals, nature, and patriarchy, recognizes that patriarchy is not a simple man vs. woman type of ideology, but constitutes a way of thinking about the world and our relationships within it, one that demands differentiation between groups of people and species, and hierarchal thinking. So, as you point out, this several millennia of entrenched culture are what we are talking about when we talk about a paradigm shift.



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