Word meanings and their derivation have always intrigued me. In the sixties,
the catch phrase for a more natural lifestyle was “back to the earth,” followed by
recycling, eco-awareness, wholistic, green living and simplicity. The latest term,
“sustainability,” derives from the words, “to sustain.” This new word incorporates
elements of all former definitions, synergistically becoming a word larger and more
inclusive to earth friendly activities that any previous term. The earth does
physically sustain us and to survive as a race, some are beginning to realize
that we must support the earth with reciprocal sustainable actions. In other words,
we must assume personal responsibility for making this a better world. If we look
at the word differently . . . sustain"ABILITY" it implies empowerment to the individual
The problem with sustainability is that different groups with varying goals
want to define it in terms that promote their own agendas, coopting the hot new term
to attract attention to their endeavors. For example, a group advocating zero population
growth appropriates the term to justify their position. A computer CEO of a major
computer company used the term twice in an interview to assure stockholders their
investments were safe and earnings expectations were right on target. Other corporate
entities who have managed to capitalize on all other green trends will discover
sustainability profitable for marketing strategies by appealing to consumers who
identify with the concept. Don’t fall for it!
For those of us who have spent years seeking refuge from the corrupt material
madness and gross consumerism that has permeated our affluent western society, the
idea of sustainability offers an umbrella of protective sanity.
Some of the ideas that we collectively embrace are permaculture, alternative
energy, recycling, low impact housing such as adobe, papercrete, strawbale,
earthships, domes, teepees and yurts. In addition we seek toxic free alternatives
in our personal products, cleansers, building materials and all other products and
foods that affect our health.
We support balanced local forestry practices, preservation of endangered
species and land resources, but the means to accomplish such lofty goals are
thwarted by the ever present divisive path of political activism. One path is the
conservative approach which generally works from bottom to top with emphasis on
Constitutionally guaranteed liberties, private property rights and personal
responsibility. Emphasis is on local action and grassroots consensus. The second
path is the liberal view that subscribes to Big Brother government, or top to bottom
Federal management of humans and resources from cradle to grave. In other words,
a “one blanket” approach, where decisions are taken out of local and state
authority, and made by those in Washington, D.C.
Generally speaking, and of course there are exceptions, the latter approach is
more accepted by those who live in dense population centers where things often do work
better with a top to bottom authoritarain approach where control issues are important.
Those who live in rural areas often see things differently and are used to taking
personal responsibility for their actions and don't wish to have someone tell them what
to do. After all, isn't that the reason we shunned King George and established our own
government based on the principles of freedom contained in the Constitution?
In reality, most of us must participate within the framework of both approaches,
albeit, often somewhat begrudgingly. Hopefully compromises can be made between these
two views that will foster advancement toward our goals as a Nation. We must not let
our political leanings divide us as Gentle Survivalists seeking sustainable solutions
to the things that threaten our very survival.
For something to qualify as sustainable, it should not be made from contaminants
that negatively impact our air, water or earth, but we ourselves are all contaminators
to some degree unless we walk everywhere we go, eschewing all forms of polluting
transportation. We can only do the best we can and not be judgmental of each other. We
cannot make a religion of absolute sustainable purity with the reestablishment of Eden
as our Holy Grail, but take advantage of incremental advances as we discover them.
Regardless of our desire to make everyone conform to sustainable practices because
they are obviously the right thing to do, we must realize theat this is a very personal
spiritual journey that cannot be imposed on others by force.
We can support grocers and others who stock organics and environmentally
friendly products. If possible we should purchase native building material free of
toxins and compatible to the environment in which we live.
Zero-scaping with drought-resistant plants, gravel, rocks and cactus can also
save precious water and energy. Permaculture encourages the use of Native plants,
natural composting and non-chemical fertilizers.
Sustainability can easily be visualized as a closed circle with little or no
energy lost to extravagance and over-consumption. Solar, wind and geothermal power
can all aid us in maintaining comfortable lives without adding to the energy problems.
The green lawns, water funparks, golf courses, and electrical lighting demands
from Hoover Dam for Las Vegas, Nevada is a prime example of an ugly open-ended system
where the energy drains away, never to be recaptured. Traditional Native Peoples resent
such wastefulness, when they do not have enough water for their dry fields.
Nature’s bounty is diverted with little thought for those whose very life depends on
When we travel, whether in or out of the country, we look for eco-tourism
opportunities that support local communities, individuals and the earth itself,
instead of patronizing large mega resorts, gated communities, environmentally
destructive companies. We buy local handicrafts and indulge ourselves in tasty local
foods. By supporting local people in rural areas who are trying to live on and with
the land, we help staunch the out-bleeding of the local work force who often must leave
their families to seek work in large cities and even illegally in the U.S.
From making our own sprouts and recycling to buying in bulk to avoid costly
packaging and avoiding dangerous pharmaceuticals with costly side effects, we can all
contribute to closing the circle of energy use so less is wasted and more can be shared
Our civilization is daily becoming more paralyzed by polarization between the
haves and the have-nots. It is a matter not only of physical reality but also of
gigantic spiritual dimensions. Our quest as Gentle Survivalists for sustainability
and resource renewal must begin within the walls of our own hearts and homes. We cannot
force it on others, as radical activists do with arson and destruction, but we can be
good leaders by setting an example. Many corporations are already beginning to see
that being waste conscious is profitable in the long run . . . and isn’t that what we
all want— a long healthy run here on our Mother Earth, both for ourselves and the
children who will inherit our stewardship?|
Laura Bühler ©Winter 2002
More pages on specific areas to apply this ideolgy can be found at: The Gentle Survivalist
Where the Amish & other gentle folks find their necessaries!