Monkeywrench

Introduction to Sustainability

Living Sustainably?
Everyone knows that awareness of the need to live sustainably is growing and increasingly gaining traction in the face of global warming…too bad nobody is telling us what this might mean for us as individuals. Eating meat is apparently not sustainable, so why do my sustainability supporting kids love steak? Is this what living sustainably should be like? Not doing something that we know is more sustainable because we prefer doing something else?
We have learned to live on numerous mega-grids that provide all of our creature comforts (energy, water, waste removal, access to all manner of products and services), jobs for us, revenue and all the things we can buy to support our lifestyle. Gas stations, grocery stores, the light switch, the cell phone, and most of the things that we use daily are all our connection to these mega-grids. So, our governments are now ostensibly focused on regulating the behavior of these mega-grid to be less damaging to the environment. But, what about our own individual behavior? What does it mean to live sustainably?
In coming posts I will argue that for as long as our primary resources, namely energy, water, food and waste management, are provided almost exclusively through mega-grids, we cannot live sustainably or even understand what living sustainably means. Before we become a “zero waste society”, should we not learn how to use garbage in the zero waste home? Before we collect the water from our sewers to reuse it, should we not find simple ways to reuse water within our home? Before we talk about getting off oil, should we not define our own energy use expectations? And bananas? Surely a Canadian sustainable lifestyle must include bananas?
As a child, I recall living off the grid. No running water, no electricity. Yet, we did not lack water; nor energy. Delicious potable water was found in the local springs. The cistern under our yard collected the water from the rain which was used for everything except the farm that was watered by a ground well with a hand pump. Washing your fruit without collecting the water to reuse for the flowers was punishable! Candles, wood and propane provided the energy. Yet people enjoyed each other’s company mostly by the changing light of the sky.
Today, few people live sustainably and off the grid in terms of their primary resources. What’s more, we now have exceptional technologies for generating our primary resources locally and sustainably, in almost all conditions. We even plan to establish such sustainable colonies in Mars! Why are we not doing it here and now?
In fact, we most often do the exact opposite. Our persistence to provide primary resources through a mega-grid, have had devastating consequences in some regions and some cultures. One Canadian example would be the challenges facing our Northern communities, where living on welfare, imported food and diesel has damaged the culture of the People that for so many years knew how to live sustainably in the harshest environment.
How much could we gain if we all lived in micro-grid habitats in terms of our primary resources; mostly autonomous habitats that generate their own energy, water and food, and reuse everything so that there is no waste? We will do the numbers in future posts. For now, let’s enjoy a banana and then consider the peel left in our hand. What is it? Garbage? Food for the roses? Shoe polish? Meat tenderizer? Essentially, sustainable living involves living as lightly on the Earth as possible. Someone who succeeds at living a sustainable lifestyle will use few resources and will leave the environment as untouched as possible so that future generations can also thrive. Hmm…living off grid is full of challenges and opportunities!

Mike Gridcheck