Thinking about Sustainability on Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!  We are in the midst of a very exciting and impressive Wolfeboro Area Earth Day 40th Anniversary Celebration. There is still time to participate in the remaining Earth Week events if you have not had a chance to already – just check the website link above for the latest updates.  Cleanup Day will culminate the week’s activities this Saturday, April 24th.  However, as you know, Earth Day IS Everyday.  With this in mind, I have written a blog reflecting on “sustainability.”  I hope it sparks some interest, or better yet, inspires some new environmental stewards!


Today, the word “sustainability” is commonplace.  But what does it mean exactly? And more importantly, how does it apply to me?


The literal definition of sustainability is: capable of being sustained; the ability to withstand or uphold some type of weight (or pressure). It essentially refers to the capacity to endure. Sustainability began to refer to environmental issues when scientific advancements allowed for greater understanding of the earth’s ability to endure the pressure of human impact, also known as “carrying capacity.”


Carrying capacity is based on a fundamental law of nature – natural systems have a limited capacity to recover from resource depletion and assimilate waste.   With this understanding, computer models began to illustrate how humans currently consume resources at a rate faster than the earth can replenish them and emit waste faster than the earth can assimilate (see Millennium Ecosystem Assessment).  Reversing this unsustainable course to one whereby we improve quality of life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems is the basis for the modern day sustainability movement.


One of the reasons discussing sustainability can prove difficult is because sustainable solutions looks different everywhere. Sustainability is intimately tied to unique local conditions – economic, cultural, political, environmental, and demographic.  What is sustainable in one area may not be sustainable in another.  Talking about sustainability can be even more challenging when we forget to decipher between sustainability principles, trends, tools, practices, or theories.  By making these distinctions and appreciating the fluid nature of sustainability, we can begin to discuss sustainability with confidence, and more importantly, hope!


Without a sustainability panacea, however, we must commit to making a different within our sphere of influence – our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities.  As Wendell Berry puts very simply, “The right local questions and answers will be the right global ones.”   In other words, if we want sustainability to be the emergent property of a global system, then we must take actions on the local level that will percolate upwards and increase the probability of a sustainable global outcome.   This approach serves as the basis for the organization I founded over four years ago called Global Awareness Local Action (G.A.L.A.).


I was inspired to found G.A.L.A. after learning an important value from my mentor Joanna Macy, who reminds us that sustainability is not a promise, but a possibility.   We will not reverse our unsustainable trends without an organized and concerted effort from the masses. G.A.L.A. is the vehicle for which I organize these efforts.


One of the most impressive concerted efforts seen by this country took place 40 years ago on April 22nd, 1970 when approximately 20 million Americans, primarily students, rallied against the deterioration of the environment.  This month, G.A.L.A. is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day by organizing a week of educational and community building activities regarding environmental stewardship.  We are using this anniversary as a chance to celebrate our society’s eco-accomplishments since the first the first Earth Day, while also reaffirming our commitment to protecting the planet’s resources.  A complete list of events can be found by visiting G.A.L.A.’s Earth Week website.