Saturday, August 16, 2014

Not stasis, sustainable

The poison ivy and the sumach are showing splashes of red. Patches of yellow can be seen in some of the local groves of deciduous trees. The tamaracks are fading from darker green to chartreuse. I'm sitting on a screened porch in sultry weather that threatens to produce thunderstorm later. Sweet corn is for sale locally at bargain prices. We are at Summer's cusp, the beginning of the change of seasons.

bee on sunflower
bee on sunflower
Photo by J. Harrington

I don't know about you, but I had developed a distorted mental image of sustainability, so that, once attained, it was like a solution in equilibrium. I was imagining it as kind of a perpetual recycling, or the replicator on the Star Ship Enterprise. I haven't been able to reconcile that image with what I think I've learned of the history of the universe and evolution on earth. These days I think Heraclitus, he of not stepping into the same river twice and change is the only constant, may have anticipated sustainability by several thousand years.

high water, St. Croix River, Spring 2014
high water, St. Croix River, Spring 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

Of the different approaches to sustainability that incorporate change, I'm inclined to think that The Natural Step fits best with how the world works and with my preference for using a systems approach. The latter goes back to my earliest encounters with sustainability in Limits to Growth. The Natural Step's foundation involves four principles of a sustainable society derived from four system conditions:

I've read, and reread, The Natural Step for Communities and been impressed by the variety of strategies and tactics others have used to move toward the attainment of the Four Principles. Of course Minnesota, being Minnesota, has developed a variety of sustainability models of its own. Unfortunately, over the past few years, we seem to have drifted back to more of a business as usual approach, rather than treating the recent economic "great recession" as the opportunity it was, and still can be, to hit the reset button for Minnesota's future, or we could look for Kay Ryans' "charms that forestall harms"


By Kay Ryan 
There are charms
that forestall harm.
The house bristles
with opportunities
for stasis: refolding
the linens along
their creases, keeping
the spoons and chairs
in their right places.
Nobody needs to
witness one’s exquisite
care with the napkins
for the napkins
to have been the act
that made the fact

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