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Biology 103
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Sustainability in Action

Carrie Griffin

Humanity could never have come this far had it not been for the bevy of natural resources available on this planet and our own ingenuity regarding their use. We've found shelter from forests, energy from oil, and food from sources that might strike a diner as peculiar with a second glance at the unprepared fish or spiny pineapple. And, as history has rolled on, we have become rather taken with all of our innovations, from our multi-colored vinyl siding to our canned tomatoes, and rather than focusing on the fulfillment of human needs, we're now seeking to satisfy human wants, a Sisyphean task.
Consequently, humans have polluted the air, depleted the soil's nutrients, rendered water unpotable, chopped the tropical rain forest, even heated the globe up a bit, all in pursuit of economic expediency (1).

Fortunately, during the 1960s, a burgeoning social conscience struck America and began to transform the conventional wisdom regarding a variety of issues, including the environment. As the American public grew increasingly aware of environmental concerns, environmentalism soon developed its own political and social agenda. At the core of the movements' goals rests the concept of sustainable development, an answer to the chronic economy versus ecology conflict. In the words of the 1987 Bruntland Report, Our Common Future, "sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (2). Sustainable development acknowledges the interconnectedness between ecology, economy, and a third factor: community. The principle asserts that by focusing on one of the smaller groupings in society, i.e. neighborhoods, cities, townships, the tensions between economic opportunities and ecological preservation can be treated on a local, and therefore better specified, scale. Or, as Minnesota's Office of Environmental Awareness concisely stated, "Sustainable development means development that maintains or enhances economic opportunity and community well-being while protecting and restoring the natural environment upon which people and economies depend " (3) .

As a philosophy, sustainability has been embraced globally by countless individual countries and the United Nation itself. Indeed, the UN cited sustainable development as the hallmark of their environmental creed at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conference ultimately produced Agenda 21, a document that affirms the UN's commitment to sustainability and offers a method of implementation of the philosophy. Agenda 21 was re-examined recently at the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesberg, where the ideals of sustainable development and the relationship between "the environment, poverty, and the use of natural resources" were again established as important for the upcoming century (4).

Certainly, the ideals of sustainability are often met with enthusiasm and pledges to commit to them. Who can truly argue with a philosophy that, as Stanley Kuston and William Gibson, authors of The Ethic of Sustainability assert, is " a call to ethical responsibility" (5) ? The question now lies beyond the ideal itself but in the practicalities and implementation of the philosophy.

And, ironically, the answer is implicit within the theory. Sustainable development requires local action and therefore depends upon individual behavior for its existence and sustenance. Furthermore, the movement has already started. The September 2002 issue of the Utne Reader highlights " Thirty Under Thirty," a list of thirty in-their-twenties youth (and some younger!) who have taken up the banner of activism for a variety of issues, including sustainability. The article describes the work of Malaika Edwards, a twenty-seven year old resident of Oakland, California who founded The People's Grocery, a "community-owned organic grocery store run exclusively by youth." Distressed by the lack of healthy wares offered in her neighborhood, and further urged by the growing population of unemployed youth, she conceived of a small market that could also, as she put it, " tackle issues of racism and globalization on a grassroots level " (6).

Edwards' story is one of many local tales that fulfill sustainability's credo. Ultimately, these regional actions can serve as the creation of better normative behaviors for consumers. With these seemingly small acts, it could become customary for humans to ask questions regarding environmental viability versus economic practicality, so that sustainable development becomes a part of any manufacturing procedure or any plans for construction. Sustainable development does not have to exist merely as an abstract principle; it only requires thoughtful consumption and decision-making on our parts.

Web Sources

1) World Scientist's Warning to Humanity

2) SD Gateway

Minnesota Office of Environmental Assessment

4) The United Nations

5) Kuston, Stanley and Gibson, William. "The Ethic of Sustainability"

Non Web Sources

6) Optiz, Maria. "Thirty Under Thirty: Young Movers and Shakers."
Utne Reader, Sept-Oct 2002.

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