J500 Media and the Environment


Sustainability – a comparison to reality by Victor Vijayakirthi
July 17, 2009, 7:29 am
Filed under: J840 Week 5, Society + Media | Tags: , ,
As I thought about it over and over, I realized that the word ‘sustainable’ doesn’t just stop with the environment. It applies equally well to personal, social and economic issues.
To me, sustainability is – living and acting with a long term view of ourselves, our society and our environment, sharing what we have with those who don’t, consuming less than what we can replenish, and being able to live with our moral and spiritual integrity intact.
On a recent trip to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan I saw timber yards everywhere, and trucks carrying huge loads of timber on virtually every highway.

As I thought about it over and over, I realized that the word ‘sustainable’ doesn’t just stop with the environment. It applies equally well to personal, social and economic issues.

To me, sustainability is – living and acting with a long term view of ourselves, our society and our environment, sharing what we have with those who don’t, consuming less than what we can replenish, and being able to live with our moral and spiritual integrity intact.

On a recent trip to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan I saw timber yards everywhere, and trucks carrying huge loads of timber on virtually every highway.

Timber Truck - Upper Peninsula, MI

I asked a local resident what their primary industry was and it was “timber-related manufacturing”.  It made me wonder, in a larger sense – how long would this last? And how much was I contributing to this?

When viewed through the prism of my definition, I came to a sobering conclusion – this was completely unsustainable, from the forests and wildlife that are destroyed, to the fossil fuel used to transport the wood thousands of miles to their final destination, to the people who are displaced and whose way of life is destroyed. This may not be true in Michigan yet, but it is in many places on the planet.

The other conclusion that I came to is that my definition of sustainability is not easy to live with. I’ve created a lifestyle that requires me to earn a full time wage to sustain it. I only have so much more time and energy to give to those who aren’t as fortunate, I drive a car to work several times a week, I use electrical and electronic equipment and gadgets that draw power from “not so clean” coal plants, I work to increase society’s consumption, and I spend less time with my family than my parents did.

The dissonance is disturbing and depressing. I guess it’s time to go back to basics.

-Victor V

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4 Comments so far
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Victor, you pose thoughtful questions….

“Man is still the greatest miracle and the greatest problem on this earth.”

Although the David Sarnoff quote above is half a century old, it was ahead of it’s time. Since the beginning of recorded history, the human race has developed processes and inventions with human needs and wants in mind, but ultimately we’ve lost sight on basic essentials (i.e. clean air, healthy water, continuous human lifecycle). I cannot speak to all societies, but in mine we’ve lived without the concern of basic survival for so long we’ve lost sight of what it takes to survive/sustain life.

Almost everyone has adopted and is accustomed to consuming at an exponential rate. And almost everyone would probably reply to that point with, “Of course I am willing to sacrifice something to ensure a healthy world for future generations.” But I often wonder what most of the population would truly give up. There are things I would have a hard time parting with if I had to be honest with myself. Driving myself places, cosmetics, electronics—-these are all luxuries that sacrifice the sustainability of the planet, but would hinder my quality of life if was without them. I know it sounds terrible, but it’s true.

But about timber production—
I actually had the same concerns/questions has you during a recent trip to Portland. The timber industry has made strides over the last decade, mostly so ensure the sustainability of the industry. I was told a tree is planted for every one that is harvested, and they only harvest as fast as new trees are grown—it’s called forest canopy density (FCD) modeling.

Comment by bethd

Hi Beth,

I did hear about FCD modelling (not in the UP though) but I didn’t know how much of it was really put into practice. When the US Chamber of Commerce calls forest decline a myth, you have to wonder how individual companies think.

As for giving up something, today we have the option of buying carbon offsets (reminds me of the practice, in the Middle Ages, of buying “indulgences”) though it doesn’t really solve the fundamental problem of unsustainable consumption.

-Victor V

Comment by victorvi

Hi Victor. I think the cradle to cradle design concept is a great way to communicate environmental needs and progress. I hadn’t really heard the concept stated in these terms before this class, however. What do you think can be done to communicate this concept more widely? Also, do you think consumers should be the ones to adopt this concept and practice, or is it more important for companies to do so? It seems that companies that are manufacturing consumer products could make a huge impact in our environmental situation if only they would adopt even a few of these concepts.

Comment by jenniferedw

Hi Jennifer,
I think some of the C2C practices can only be done by companies but a company is still made of individuals and if we, as individuals, embrace this concept in our daily lives and work, from writing efficient software (so we can break Moore’s law and avoid having to throw away old PCs) to designing better water containers, etc., we may be able to effect a positive change.
Supporting companies (Herman Miller, for example) that already use these techniques might be another way.
I’m not really sure how to communicate this though. Maybe school syllabus should be designed to encourage this thinking? Maybe we need legislation that mandates the education boards and/or public universities to teach this? If there’s nothing in it for me now, today, (incentive or penalty), should society depend on just my altruism to sustain our quality of life?

-Victor V

Comment by victorvi




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