Personal Choices in Support of Sustainability

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Since I became involved in sustainability work six years ago, my life path has changed quite dramatically. I have moved to another state where I could live for less in a natural environment that reminds me daily of the life we need to protect. I have changed my patterns of consumption and waste, and make a conscious effort to minimize my negative impact on the environment. Now that I can afford the investment in solar energy, I feel good about contributing to the goal of reducing carbon in a bigger way than just driving my Prius. My new goal is to encourage my daughter who will enter college next year to major in environmental design and planning. I hope she will draw inspiration from the values I hold and the example I have set and carve her own path in making a personal contribution to a more sustainable world.

All of these personal changes are great and important for each of us to consider how we can individually make a difference.  Yet they are not enough. I have been reflecting on the question: What do we do when we know there is a need for change? Years ago, the focus may have been on what each of us could do individually to change our habits or patterns of behavior. Organizations often thought that the answer was training people to do something differently. Now there is a growing awareness that we live in complex systems and, while individual actions are critical to systemic change, they do not suffice. We need to focus on the relationships and look for the leverage that will propel individual aspirations and knowledge into shared goals and innovation. As Dennis Jaffe noted earlier this week, entire conferences are now devoted to bringing people together to foster innovation.  Companies, such as Facebook, are designing space that supports innovation which will be the largest open space office design in the world. As Forbes points out, it may result in some personal sacrifice and need for a new perspective on working together in organizations.

We need to author our own story of living a sustainable life that includes our contributions to our local communities and our contributions to the societies that have evolved through human development. We need to hold the tension between individual rights and the common good and decide where the place of balance is that creates a good life for all humans, all other species, and our natural environment. We have to be in this together to care for  “the other” as we care for ourselves. In the words of Martin Buber, we need to live in an I-Thou relationship, not just with our immediate family, but rather as a way of being in the world.

Last week, I was reminded of how precious our life is in relation to other species. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by some creatures running around on my roof. Living in a wildlife corridor in New Mexico, I couldn’t quite imagine what was up there, so I just went back to sleep. When I got up in the morning, I noticed a bobcat hanging out in my yard. She was rather peaceful, not posing a threat. My daughter indicated that there was still something on the roof and after awhile, I determined there was still another bobcat up there. Turned out it was a mother bobcat on the ground and her kitten was stuck on the roof. An animal control officer came out and coached the kitten to jump and off they both went into the nearby arroyo. There were clearly choices to be made in this situation. My personal choice was to enjoy the brief time that these beautiful creatures graced my living space and to do what was needed to protect them. The animal control officer shared that perspective.

This is a time of great change. We must quickly change the ways we live, the ways we work, and find the leverage to tip the scales in favor of sustaining our natural environment. As we make new choices and learn new ways of being, I imagine as has been my personal experience, we will come to love a new way of life.

Read other posts by Nancy Southern

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