Who are you? Where are you from? You have probably answered these questions thousands of times, with slight variations branching from a central facet of your identity, or maybe as though you are reading from an internal script. The answers might seem to have no consequence to sustainability or the environment, beyond confirming to yourself and others that you care; that you feel; that you are prepared to act on its behalf.
However, as I have found out repeatedly over the eight weeks of Green Initiatives’ Ecology and Sustainability course, our understanding of and how we relate to ourselves is inextricable from our relationship with the natural world, and thus vital to being able to understand why we care, what we feel, and how we can sustain the energy to act.
Sustainability can be understood in many ways, though most definitions center around ensuring our current use of natural resources does not detrimentally affect the lives of the generations which will follow us. It is a clean, easily accepted definition, and yet, curiously, it contains no reference to the two vital components which can help to explain its importance: nature, and the individual.
Following the works of academics, activists and pioneers of sustainable thinking, our small, intimate group have skimmed the surface of ideas which ranged from those which instantly struck chords with all the participants in the group, to those which were more controversial, such as ecofeminism and deep ecology. Discussions on ecophilosophy introduced a bigger picture way of thinking about how individuals and nature coincide, and taking part in nature reconnection activities empowered us to understand our anger at seeing images of a world under siege as a manifestation of the pain, our own pain, reflected in the destruction of a rainforest or the pollution of a body of water.
As well as delivering content Maria Souza, facilitator of the course, shared her research at Schumacher College. This was a brilliant opportunity to learn from her experience as a Social Ecologist and an activist in the Amazon Rainforest. During the session on Indigenous Ways of Being, we were introduced to an intricate Venn diagram of the many aspects of indigenous ways of life which could be applied to our own as we seek to reconnect with the natural world. This was made all the more vivid as Maria recounted stories of the rituals and stories the Alto Xingu practiced and passed down for generations.
As someone who looked at spirituality with some skepticism, this class, along with the spiritual ecology class held near the end of the course, changed my mind completely and showed me the value that inviting rituals and ceremonies could bring to my life, as a way to find stillness in the rush of a busy city, or to re-energise at times when I feel disillusioned or demotivated.
It has long been accepted by the people who know me best that I have taken up nature’s fight as my own, but my attempts to explain my motivations for this did not include the intrinsic drive which, until this course, were inexplicable even to myself. Nor did they inspire the people I spoke with to see the fragile beauty of the natural world and understand why many aspects of our lifestyles need to change. I am leaving this course with a quiet confidence that I will be able to impress upon those around me why sustainability is important, not only for the vague concepts of ‘the planet’ or ‘future generations’, but for each and every one of us.
This was not a course which gave us neatly packaged classifications and figures to memorise. We have been encouraged to look deep into ourselves and to find a personal understanding of why it is important to behave in a way which considers the natural world as a living being, standing alongside us. Before I started the course, I would define sustainability in terms of natural resources, societal needs and future generations. I understand it differently now.
Sustainability is about the sustenance of the planet and all the life on it, living in communion with nature, and changing our perceptions to consider ourselves as living within ecosystems, not above them. Sustainability is about connecting with the natural world on a personal level; acknowledging the pain we cause it through our actions and feeling that pain ourselves. Sustainability is seeing the life around us and cherishing it.
This is why I care. This is why I feel. This is why I act.