Is Sustainability A Fact?
I followed Matthew Ally’s bold invitation and in my mind, I joined him and the Apollo 8 astronauts as they were witnessing the 'Earthrise' for the first time. He was right – the mere imagination of this image brings up a feeling that we may all too often forget when we try to formulate the ethical foundations, the precise definition or the scientific basis of the pursuit of sustainability. That feeling was, perhaps, as Dr. Ally put it, an experience of sustainability, and historically, as he describes, it was a catalyst of our ethical reasoning that sustainability is a value and the scientific understanding that sustainability is a fact.
We may not realize how much we need these experiences. Of course, we
do not need to travel to space to have them, to realize with wonder that there is nothing inevitable or ordinary or obvious about the stability of the earth system, the living planet, Gaia - whatever you wish to call it. This prolonged and relatively stable period in its history has probably made possible the development of human civilization, and some version of the anthropic principle would suggest that it must be that way, because otherwise there would be no one to notice it. But that isn’t really the point. All around us, nature is full of the complex self-regulating interactions and feedbacks that help the earth system sustain herself, that show us that sustainability is a possible, yet difficult and precious feat. In that sense, this sustainability is indeed nothing short of a remarkable, wonderful and under-appreciated fact. And our society may well need to cultivate this experience if it is to do better at appreciating and protecting it.
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- Union Seminary Quarterly Review
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- Union Theological Seminary
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- September 10, 2015