Sustainability is mainly a spiritual crisis, not a material one

The more godlike he becomes, the less godly Homo economicus behaves.” – Andrew Nikiforuk

When I started out as a sustainability activist, I firmly believed that “sustainability” meant finding better, more efficient ways for humans to live within the means of our resources.  I considered the problem of sustainability as a problem of materials and design: too many humans, not enough global resources to fulfill our aspirations.  So, to fix this problem, we must design more efficient ways of fitting on the planet (a la Buckminster Fuller, of whose life work I was a faithful follower at the time.)

Over the course of four years, my definition of sustainability and subsequently, my life’s course, have been revolutionized many times.  I continue to actively integrate many diverse perspectives on sustainability into my life.  But perhaps the most significant thing I learned from my journey thus far is that our serious lack of sustainability is not strictly a materials problem.  It is mainly a problem of how we interpret the world in which we live.  Today we have very real material problems, such as ocean acidification and global warming, but these material manifestations are an effect of what is, at root, a spiritual crisis.  A spiritual crisis exemplified by the persistent assumption that the nature of reality is fundamentally objective and material.

Many people still harbor the belief that human beings are not, at our most basic level, living beings–that we are more accurately defined by our intellectual, artistic and technological pursuits, and that one day we will transcend our earthly limitations and jet off throughout space as sheer consciousness, utterly free.  Four years ago, I too believed that humans are vastly and uniquely more accomplished and intelligent than the rest of life–that we were “special,” and thus could play by our own rules.  I believed that with the same gumption and elbow grease we used to build our modern society, we will easily overcome the environmental management problems facing us.  In other words, I believed firmly in the supremacy of humankind.

Possibly the only reason I am not an evangelical “transhumanist” today is that I ended up putting my supremacist philosophies to the test, through embarking on an ambitious project to devise and then embody a universal formula (like a Theory of Everything) for 100% sustainable living, perfectly balancing the equation between Earth materials and human lives.  The formula would be so perfect that if every human reorganized their customs and applied this formula to their lives, everywhere on Earth, we would achieve total global perpetual sustainability–i.e., a sustainability utopia.

Of course, my initiative fantastically failed.

But I didn’t.  My consciousness (itself never short on gumption) rose from the ashes attempting to make sense of what all had happened to my grandiose project.  Which proved–if nothing else–that I am not my aspirations.  I am a living body who can survive–and indeed thrive–after the successes or failures of any of my projects.
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