But keep recycling and get rid of your car anyway
This almost mystical word gets tossed around a lot and marketers have latched onto it in a big way: sustainable.
Sustainability. The new holy grail of advertising.
You’ll feel better buying this whatever-it-is because it’s made from sustainably harvested whatevers. You’ll ease that insidious feeling of guilt for driving everywhere by rigorously seeking out anything that has those four magic syllables — sustainable — on the label.
Here's some bad news that can't come as a surprise.
In case you didn’t get the memo life is not sustainable.
Life is voracious. It’s endlessly hungry and devours everything within reach. Ask life about balance and it will laugh in your face. When it comes to sustainability, don’t put your money on anything living. Living beings are all about unchecked growth and spread at every level.
Now, if we were dealing with an infinite environment filled with endless resources in which to do all that growing and spreading, well, the point would be moot.
But we’re not.
Does Life care about that? Not for a minute. Wherever a living thing can get even the smallest toehold, it’s going to dig in and suck up resources from any direction and grow. And grow. And grow.
Every life form from elephants to slime mold - not to mention cancer cells - will eat up everything in its immediate vicinity and then move to find more to eat.
Leave it to us canny bipeds to come down from the trees, rummage around for roots and berries for a couple hundred thousand years, and then have that eureka moment. Agriculture! In some science fiction story with a lurid cover that might have been the turning point to sustainability. After all, with careful planning and good stewardship as well as some future technological breakthrough, the same area of land could theoretically produce plenty of food for…well, ever.
But what do living beings with plenty to eat do? Make lots more living beings.
However, while Capital L Life may not be sustainable, little l life — at least that of us smarty-pants bipeds — can certainly be more sustainable than it currently is. Anecdotally, we can thank the Black Death of the 14th century for the fact that there are any trees left in Europe (no, I couldn’t find proof of that but Mrs. Hyde in the sixth grade told us that and feel free to ask the Google yourself).
And all the glorious wide-open space in Iceland? Clearly, the plague arrived too late to save their trees.
But come on, people, do we really need to have a quarter of the population wiped out by plague to ease up on that silly carved-in-granite requirement that every spreadsheet in the world must show significant growth every quarter? Shareholders, we're talking to you.
We can do better (can we? I’m straining for some optimism here so work with me).
Whether we actually will before the immune system of this planet — or the itchy trigger fingers of the jerks with nuclear weapons — does us in is another matter altogether. But let’s be bold. Let’s be imaginative and radical. Let’s find other ways to eat and work and get around and have fun and create stuff. Let’s pay the people who feed us more than we do the people who force smartphone upgrades on us every year, hmm?
Let’s live more sustainably, share more, give more, and care more.
Or let’s get ready to go the way of all the other dinosaurs. Because we’re eventually going to run out of stuff to eat and to breathe and to drink. And no matter what Brother Elon or Cousin Jeffie are trying to sell us, terraforming other planets is not the answer.
The answer is to live within our means. Sustainably.
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