Monday, July 14, 2014

Sustainable St. Croix,
a continuing series
Getting hitched

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

As we increasingly pay attention to global warming, climate change, mitigation, minimization, adaptation and sustainable, resilient and/or restorative activities, including development, we might want to keep in mind Muir's observation. The St. Croix Valley, the Iron Range, and Minnesota, are all part of the nested neighborhoods of the Universe. Much of the reading, actually, skimming, I've been doing recently has been triggered by a number of folks recently writing as if sustainable living and development are a fad whose time is ending and it's time to move on to resilient development or restorative development. My response fails to see that these concepts represent either / or, mutually exclusive, approaches. It reminds me of the way a class of bright students responds when the teacher throws out a "softball" question. All the star pupil wannabes start bouncing in their seats, hands stretched to the ceiling, voices shrieking "Me! Me! Me!, call on Me!"

Take a look at the photo below, please.

mixed wildflowers, Wild River State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

Can you tell which plants are the most critical? Is it the tallest ones, the most colorful ones, the greenest ones, the most abundant ones? If we could tell which are the most critical, are those the only ones worth protecting? Might some be food for deer? Others might feed rabbits which, ultimately, become owl food. Might some have medicinal use for humans?

Except for Emily Dickenson, and we give her a special exemption, most folks know that a prairie comprises many, many plants, serving varying purposes, all functioning as part of an integrated system. Muir is correct that the Universe is an integrated system. After all, we are stardust, literally. Considering systems brings us to Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows and Limits to Growth. Dennis thinks it's too late for "sustainable development," which he describes as
"When I use the term sustainable development—which I consider to be an oxymoron actually—I am trying to capture the meaning that most people seem to have. In so far as I can tell, people who use the term mean, essentially, that this would be a phase of development where they get to keep what they have but all the poor people can catch up. Or, they get to keep doing what they’ve been doing, but through the magic of technology they are going to cause less damage to the environment and use fewer resources."
Dennis Meadows uses a very different concept of sustainable development than most folks have come to understand from the Brundtland Commission, or even from Minnesota's own Sustainable Communities Network which notes that
Sustainability is the commonsense notion that long-term prosperity and ecological health not only go together, they depend on one another.

Sustainability means long-term cultural, ecologic and economic health and vitality. Or put another way, sustainability is about actions which are ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just and humane.

It has also been defined as meeting our needs today while ensuring that future generations can continue to meet their own needs. Sustainability involves preserving the natural environment upon which people and economies depend.

In 1996 the Minnesota Legislature defined sustainable development -- the process of moving toward the state of sustainability -- as "development that maintains or enhances economic opportunity and community well-being while protecting and restoring the natural environment upon which people and economies depend. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

silky prairie clover
Photo by J. Harrington

It seems to me that, if we use the more commonly accepted definitions, it is far from time to "move on" from sustainability to resilience. We need, I think, all of the above, and other, unless, of course, you think Miss Emily covers it all.

To make a prairie (1755)

Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

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