The Problem with Sustainability: Time for a new approach

16 02 2012

I’ve been blog-less for the last few weeks, in truth this is the first time I’ve sat down and tried to write anything, I’m not going to force something out if there’s nothing there so I’ve been quietly absorbing things. Also if I’m honest I read my last blog whilst drunk a few weeks ago and thought, “what a pile of crap that was”, so I decided it was best not to write anything more unless I have a clear picture of what I wish to say. Fortunately that feeling has now passed so I’m back with my own unique brand of nonsensical, warped but well-intentioned drivel, here goes…

Will the Humboldt Squid take over the world after all the sharks are gone? Probably not but it's a scary thought!

We’re all going to die, the western world is one big terrorist state, the planet can’t sustain us any longer, the oil is going to run out, the wars of the future will be fought over water, we are into the last 100 years of the existence of man as a technological species, the big carbon atom is coming to get you in the night, nuclear holocaust is a near certainty, food is going to keep getting more expensive and will eventually become so scarce that even the obese diabetes ridden manatees of the Western World will starve to death. Oh and did I mention the fish? The fucking fish are all going to run out and Humboldt squid are going to take over the world, we’re fucked…

Now that may all be true and of course a lot of it may also be bullshit. One thing is for certain though, all of it is boring as fuck and therefore about as likely to get you (mankind) to change your behaviour as writing smoking kills on a packet of cigarettes stops people smoking. This kind of talk changes nothing and actually slows down the process of shifting consciousness, indeed if anything it creates apathy towards the idea of sustainability.

Sustainability has the exact same problem as smoking, and indeed as drug abuse, alcohol abuse and pretty much everything else our society would prefer we did differently. Basically too many assholes like me walking around telling everyone that they’re going to die. It’s not helping anything and it’s not necessarily always true, so if we want to make something like sustainability happen shouldn’t we be selling the exciting possibilities created by our involvement in the subject rather than the devastating consequences of inaction?

I started a three-month internship at one of the UK’s leading sustainability communications agencies around a month ago and the first and most eye-opening thing I have learnt in my time there is the importance of “selling the sizzle, not the sausage”. I guess in terms of sustainability, survival would be the sausage, it’s a good thing but it is really be a byproduct of something else. If  all we’re doing is surviving it means that something is trying to kill us, and who wants to think about their own mortality all the time? No one, it’s freaking depressing. We’re built to worry about what’s in-front of our faces, fight or flight does not work outside of the here and now, so you cannot scare people into being sustainable.

Michael Pritchard and His LifeSaver bottle

So the sizzle of sustainability is what we need to latch onto if we’re going to change the world, many elements of it are already heating up nicely, we just need to work out how to communicate that in a way that “makes sustainability so desirable that it becomes normal”. That is the key, let’s talk about the exciting solutions to the problem instead of the problem itself. Like the new technologies that bring our social systems in line with the systems occurring naturally on this earth. Technologies like Michael Pritchard’s LifeSaver Bottle, which instantly turns all filthy water drinkable using nanotechnology; or Eden Bayer’s MycoBond, an organic adhesive that turns mushrooms and waste into a foam like substance for packaging and insulation.

There are literally thousands of exciting new inventions available to us today that can help us forge a new sustainable world, it’s not going to be easy, but it’s very exciting. Given the choice, if you look back over the history of humanity when would you want to live? Do you want to live in a time where nothing happens, things stay the same and everything is ‘fine’, or do you want to live in times of uncertainty and excitement and new possibility?

Paradigm shifts are fantastically complex and enthralling times to live in, (Just ask the Beatles, Bob Dylan or Bob Marley) when shit goes down, great shit gets done.That is why I am proud to be a member of ‘generation fucked’, because ‘generation have it all their own way’ didn’t turn out particularly well and the ensuing carelessness that only comes with having things all your own way has left us with a unique and difficult challenge.

Packaging and Insulation from shrooms?!?! What next?

It’s a challenge I urge you to accept, it is one that if met, will put generation fucked on the map like no other and will advance our human and natural world beyond our imagination, it won’t be easy, nothing worth doing ever is, but trust me on this, sustainability is well worth a go. I’m hooked, indeed if it were a drug, I believe it would be a crispy cream doughnut (so good it must be bad), I just hope we find a way to get everyone else on the stuff.

I’ll leave you with this from Buckminster Fuller, thought up years before sustainability was even a concept, it touches on the very essence of what it would mean to be sustainable.

“Think of it. We are blessed with technology that would be indescribable to our forefathers.
We have the wherewithal, the know-it-all to feed everybody, clothe everybody, and give every human on Earth ‘a chance’.
We know now what we could never have known before-that we now have the option for all humanity to “make it” successfully on this planet in this lifetime.
Whether it will be Utopia or Oblivion, will be a relay race up to the final moment.” 

Who knows how a sustainable future might look? The unimagined possibilities are endless

For me that’s what sustainability is really about, finally putting something in the win column for Utopia. Oblivion has had it all its own way up to now, but we can undo all that hard work with one crazy, exciting, insanely cool idea called sustainability. As apple once put it “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human race forward. And whilst some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, well they’re the ones that do”.

So next time you meet someone who works in sustainability or who believes it is the way forward, try, just try not to roll your eyes all the way through the conversation or scoff at their “laughable” job title and ideals, because ideas are fragile and maybe, just maybe you could be talking to the guy who changes the world, so tread softly. Having said that, we’re not going to get there with negativity so if you come across someone who doesn’t “sell the sizzle” (myself included) you have my permission to slap some sense into them and send them down a more positive pathway…

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