Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to." -Terri Swearingen

Modern space exploration has revealed a great deal about the wonders of our universe, but we still have yet to discover another place with conditions so perfect that it can actually host any form of life. Our little planet Earth is nothing short of a miracle, being the perfect distance from the sun and having enough water on its surface that it can self-regulate its temperature range as it spins and rotates in the Solar System. It has a natural atmosphere that blocks out the dangerous wavelengths beaming from the sun while still allowing the necessary ones to warm the surface of the planet. Millions of years of changes within this rare environment have led to the ecosystem that we know today, one that is more complex than the inner workings of your computer. Naturally, the earth's systems are sustainable. Joining in on this sustainability is our venture, but what exactly does that word mean?
Two summers ago, I had the opportunity to teach a class on sustainability to schoolchildren in Arkansas. I was able to convey the concept of sustainability to them by allowing them to draw a picture of a forest. They would add their sketchings of rivers, trees, bugs, and animals, and then I would start by pointing at the sun. "The sun gives us energy," I would say. "The sun heats up our planet so that it is warm enough for us and it also provides food to plants." Several anxious students would volunteer the word "photosynthesis" at this point, and proud of their input, they would smile at themselves as we moved on. The plants make food energy out of the light energy provided by the sun. Then animals eat the plants and that gives them the energy they need to live. When these plants and animals die, their bodies breakdown and provide nutrients to the soil, allowing new plants to grow and new animals to live. Each action allows other actions to begin, energy and matter are never wasted.
Living sustainably means taking from the Earth what we need to live now without compromising the ability of future generations to live later. According to, it would take 4.44 planets to sustain my current lifestyle if everyone shared it. I am using significantly more resources than our planet can naturally regenerate. I encourage you to visit this site and take the short quiz to find out how your own ecological impact compares. While they rarely admit as much, people often take for granted that there will always be a place for humans to live with the things that they need. But there doesn't seem to be much hope for finding another planet to live on anytime soon, so we need to start joining in on the cycle of sustainability to properly handle the resources that we already have here. We need to relearn ways of participating in the Earth's natural, sustaining, life-giving ways of being.

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