Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sustainable Cake

This week marked the 49th time that the earth has circled our sun since I entered the world in 1962.  In his birthday greeting to me, my older brother asked me if I had a sustainable birthday cake in honor of my one year from being on the earth for half a century.   His question along with an article by Greg Breining in today’s Star Tribune titled “Is Sustainability Sustainable?got me thinking about what it means to be sustainable.   

On my part, I have sustained (or continued to exist) on this earth for 49 years.  During this existence, I have experienced much growth – from the nurturing I received, and much learning – mostly from my mistakes.   I have not led a stagnant life, despite my attempts at times to fight the changes that I experienced.  There is a part of me that would like to take the credit for this accomplishment, but there is another part that realizes that my continuing life has much to do with forces beyond my control.  

I was fortunate to have been born into a family that had the available resources to keep me alive and relatively healthy as a child.  It was from my family and the community in which I grew up that I learned some of the tricks of sustainability.  These include the simple things like living healthy, avoiding unnecessary risks, and to have a basic respect for and participation in the community around me. 

As I continued to grow, I began to understand that the community that sustained me included not only the human community, but also the land on which I lived, the air I breathed, the water I drank, and the plants and animals that fed me.  It was not only their basic life sustaining functions that kept me going, but that these components of the ecosystem exist -- without them, my life holds little meaning. 

I also began to understand that my actions and the actions of the other human beings that lived in my community could play a big part in determining whether or not the other members of my ecosystem would be sustained or perish, and in effect continue to be able to sustain my own existence.  And so the bigger question for me becomes not whether my cake was sustainable or if sustainability is sustainable, but how do I need to act to avoid destroying the ecosystem that sustains me?   

After reading Breining’s article, I am not sure what he is recommending to his readers as far as whether or not sustainability is sustainable.   He seems to imply that sustainability cannot be defined, or that its numerous definitions make it incomprehensible, or that to know it presumes ability to “divine the future”.    Breining writes that “‘sustainability’ is a reflection of the human abhorrence of change and a desire for stability”.  He concludes by telling us to “look to advances in technology and planning, in production of energy and treatment of land and water, and the surprises they will bring in an unknowable future.”

As I reflect back on my life, it is not knowing my future that has sustained me, nor has living a stagnant life.   I also don’t believe that technology deserves much credit, nor planning or energy production.  The land and water and other components of the ecosystem however do deserve credit for my sustenance and how I treat them will play a big role in whether I continue to grow and adapt or perish.  In other words, if I respect the entire community that has sustained me to this point in my life -- I can have my cake and eat it too.