Sustainability relies on a deeper understanding of the world and the economy. Many people will agree that the earth is resilient and that humans behave arrogantly in believing we have the power to destroy the earth. Sustainability thinkers instead consider the economic state of survival as a part of future generations. For example, studies have shown that if it cost five or ten times more to heat our homes, obtain drinkable water, or fill-up our automobiles, this will have an obvious detrimental effect on economic development and thereby effect the quality of life.
Recently, I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon golfing with Mr. Vernon Eads. Vernon is a mechanical engineer that lives in a small town in Ohio. He is a World War II Air Force veteran that flew several bombing missions. He asked me about the environmental field and I humbly replied. How do we compare what we do today to a man that risked his life on a daily basis to sustain our current lifestyle?
Days later I read an article on the U.S. EPA's New Source Review Standard. Simply stated this standard was born litigiously in 1972 in a court battle between the Sierra Club and the EPA. The courts found in favor of the Sierra Club. This required the EPA to develop a process to ensure that operators, who make changes to air pollution sources, obtain proper permits and comply with the most recently promulgated rules. As a result, the agency is looking back 22 years and retroactively assessing violations. Don't think it will stick? Ask Willamette Industries. They recently settled with the United States for $11.2 million after the EPA looked back 20 years into the company's operations and determined that proper permitting and pollution control was not applied for and installed.
I began thinking about Vernon and his 30-hour bombing missions. He fought to sustain our beliefs and freedoms for future generations. He explained that the entire country - men, women and children, fought World War II. During those times the sense of trust, team and purpose must have been extremely gratifying.
Today, as the Republicans and Democrats debate on who has the better plan for a sustainable future, I find myself asking who is the enemy now? Are we turning on ourselves and as a result inadvertently eroding our national trust for one another. I hear environmentalists and industrialists calling each other evil. In this environmental movement, have we lost focus on what we are about? Do we simply not understand that the war is no longer fought with bombs, but must instead be fought with the weapons of innovation, creativity, efficiency,and supportive legislation that sustains our economic, environmental resource and societal future?
As Peter Senge claims, the "enemy is out there" syndrome is actually the result of a nonsystemic way of looking at the world. When we focus only on ourselves and do not see how our actions extend beyond the boundary of our position, we live in an illusion while rationalizing our actions. This myopic view produces selfishness, distrust and anger. In the case of the environmental movement, it has lead to a legislative war with an unclear mission that lacks focus on sustainability. As in any war, many look for a clear division between right and wrong. In this case we may all be wrong.
The sustainable development challenge to sustain the quality of life for future generations isn't unlike the sacrifices made by past generations. It is a challenge we all must be willing to meet. As for Vernon, he is 76 years old, is a diabetic, and has had open-heart surgery; he has an exceptional golf game, walks the golf course and carries his own bag. To me, that's sustainability. IH