There are various ways the term “sustainability”
can be defined. In terms of the management of natural resources, I understand
sustainability as not using resources faster than they can be replenished.
Sustainability also means taking only what is needed. This is typically what
first comes to mind because it is easier to focus on one “moving target” at a
time. However, sustainability has much broader connections to human society. It
connects society, environment, and economics. Human well-being should always be
promoted. There should be equity and participation among all social groups, so
people can have access to what they need. Environmental resources should not be
depleted. The protection of natural resources and systems should be integrated
into human activity. People should be able to establish livelihoods for
themselves. There should be viable economic growth that does not just benefit
one class. Each sector can be improved upon without reducing the other. When
decisions are made with these three things in mind, sustainability can be
advanced. But sustainability is a bit of buzzword. Sustainable food. Sustainable
energy. Sustainable growth. Sustainable resource use. Sustainable industries. Sustainable
livelihoods. More people want sustainability in their lives. Yet our behaviors
and actions can often contradict these ideals.
To live more sustainably, we need to reevaluate
our relationship to each other and the environment. Depending on our
backgrounds, it is easy to become disconnected from the impact our decisions have
on others. It can sometimes be easy to forget the consequences when the result
is not immediate. For instance, our environmental protections for extracting natural
resources locally are stronger than in developing countries. We value certain
natural resources, but only to a certain extent. As a society we still base a
large portion of our industries and buy products sourced in other countries,
namely developing ones. This can have lasting impacts on the people,
environment, and economy in that country. The affects are not necessarily instantaneous
or felt here.
Our ability to understand sustainability also
depends on our personal philosophies and cultural perspectives. Some people have
anthropocentric viewpoints, while others believe in biocentrism or ecocentrism.
An anthropocentric viewpoint places people at the pinnacle of the universe.
Things are evaluated and given weight through human values and experiences. Contrastingly,
biocentrism regards all living organisms and natural environments as having intrinsic
value. Humans are no more important than other species and the environment is
central to our decision-making. Ecocentrism is similar to biocentrism, but it extends
this inherent value to all systems, biotic and abiotic. How and what we prioritize
in our lives and how we place ourselves in relation to the environment has a
profound impact on sustainability. There is a greater focus on sustainability and
people can implement small changes into their lifestyle to live more sustainably.
But I think it will take a greater change in thinking, especially from those in
power, for sustainability to have a greater impact on more people.