time travel
  • Solstice Song: A Christmas Carol for the 21st Century
    Solstice Song: A Christmas Carol for the 21st Century


Do you ever wonder if something is missing from our conversation about sustainability?  If the way we're thinking and communicating about the challenges we're facing is "off" somehow...but you're not sure what's wrong, or how to get under the surface of your intution? 

If so, you are not alone.  In the last ten years, the concept of sustainable living has begun to enter the mainstream, and that's a welcome change. However, much of the conversation is focused on surface issues--PV panels, electric vehicles, carbon trading--and very little on the equally important, but much less visible facets of sustainability...which involve how we think and communicate, and how our relationship patterns and mental models influence and shape the world we live in. 

Sustainability is a glittering, 21st century buzzword...but what exactly does it mean? Is sustainability simply about choosing to drive a Prius instead of a pick-up truck (or the other way around), or do we need to ask deeper questions about how we structure our transportation systems? Is it enough to buy a tomato labled "organic"...or is there more to healthy agriculture than the final product? And when we talk about green power, is the issue only oil v. natural gas, fracking v. strip mining?  

Technical fixes are the "what" of sustainability; making them is important. But there's a broader and more subtle picture as well, one that involves the process of how we do things...and how we think. This is the depth approach to sustainability, with an emphasis on the quality of our relationships...with ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

Practicing depth sustainability is about thinking, and acting systemically...noticing patterns, appreciating complexity, attempting to account for the impacts of our actions at varying levels of scale. Practicing depth sustainability involves embodying design principles and practices...both as an artful method of problem solving, and as a way of developing ecological literacy. Finally, practicing depth sustainability involves listening, and responding in new ways to the chronic, daily problems that plague us, and that don't have obvious technical fixes.  At this level, often our challenge is to slow down and develop our capacity to appreciate nuance and different ways of knowing.

Practicing depth sustainability is neither less, nor more important, than technical change: ideally, we need to do both. But the timescale for depth sustainability is different, and its outcomes are more subtle. At heart, practicing depth sustainability involves a willingness to change how we think and act day to day.

Practicing depth sustainability involves learning...learning to use our senses more fully...learning to think in oblique and unexpected ways...learning about ourselves as members of an interconnected, interdependent, global community capable of co-creating a more hopeful planetary future.

Developing a depth perspective can be challenging: learning to notice the deeper levels of our thinking, and to adopt different attitudes and approaches, takes time. But that's OK: we didn't arrive at this point overnight.  And while some of our social, economic and environmental problems appear to have simple, technical solutions, many are incredibly complex, and in truth, will always be with us in one way or another, no matter what we do.  They are part of the human condition.  In the face of such complexity, taking the time to look up from the daily grind and get to know your neighbors--all of them, from the butterflies and earthworms to the people next door--is just as crucial a step as installing solar panels and driving a hybrid car.

Depth sustainability begins by cultivating keen observation and communication skills. Doing so is useful in many ways: in problem solving, in working with others, and in coming to know ourselves and our communities more fully.  The opportunity cost is low, and the benefits are high.  So go ahead and install those photovoltaics, if that's in your budget.  Or build a backyard chicken coop.  Replace your lawn with meadow, and the concrete drive with a pervious courtyard.  And while you do that, give yourself permission to slow down, to look, and to listen, because even with all the problems we face in contemporary society, it is still a beautiful world.