If we use our fuel to get our power, we are living on our capital and exhausting it rapidly. This method is barbarous and wantonly wasteful, and will have to be stopped in the interest of coming generations. The heat of the sun’s rays represents an immense amount of energy vastly in excess of water power. [attributed to Nikola Tesla, 1915]
A wise person seeks strategies that succeed over time. Whether the issue is the availability of food and water for the billions of people on Earth or how long one’s personal assets will last, sustainability is essential value in the assessment of and plans for future well-being.
Some people have tried organizing ecovillages, in which people share equally and live in a sustainable way. Though relatively few people live in them, they keep an ideal alive.
- Jan Martin Bang, Ecovillages: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Communities (New Society Publishers, 2005).
- Jonathan Dawson, Ecovillages: New Frontiers for Sustainability (Green Books, 2006).
- Liz Walker, EcoVillage at Ithaca: Pioneering a Sustainable Culture (New Society Publishers, 2005).
- Hildur Jackson and Karen Svensson, eds., Ecovillage Living: Restoring the Earth and Her People (Green Books, 2002).
Other narratives on sustainability:
- William deBuys, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest (Oxford University Press, 2011): “ . . . the Southwest, and other subtropical regions including southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, face imminent danger from droughts, fires, heat waves and other social stresses.” “ . . . it is a sweeping story, encompassing global weather patterns, the mysterious histories and farming practices of the native people whose settlements rose and vanished in the desert, and the firefighters, biologists, anthropologists, water administrators and others who deal with increasing dryness today and seek to plan for an even drier tomorrow.”
- Lucas Bessire, Running Out: In Search of Water On the High Plains (Princeton University Press, 2021): “Bessire . . . reminds readers that the High Plains supported only marginal dry farming until after World War II, when the newly discovered Ogallala Aquifer, which extends from South Dakota to Texas, produced an irrigation bonanza that now supports one-sixth of the world’s grain production. Like fish, forests, and buffalo, it seemed inexhaustible—until it wasn’t. Massive withdrawal is shrinking the Ogallala, and many wells are running dry.”
Champions of sustainability:
- Laura Dassow Walls, Henry David Thoreau: A Life (University of Chicago Press, 2017): “Thoreau laid the groundwork for a field that would come to be known as ecology. He was one of the first advocates for the establishment of a system of national parks. He was a passionate champion of the ethical treatment of all living things and embraced the tenets of Eastern religion, incurring the wrath of fundamentalists who accused him of blasphemy.”
- James Rebank, Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey (Custom House, 2021): “tackles the confounding problem of how to make money from land without wrecking it.”
Technical and Analytical Readings
Resources: In technologically advanced societies, people are massive energy consumers, posing global challenges for the sustainability of life as we have developed it. In our time, dependence on oil and other fossil fuels has posed an immediate challenge, to which none of the world’s developed nations has responded with suitable urgency.
- Daniel Yergin, The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World (The Penguin Press, 2011)
- Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (Simon & Schuster, 1991).
- David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming (Tim Duggan Books, 2019): “There’s plenty of science consulted here, but the book, he writes, isn’t about the science of warming: It is about what warming means to the way we live on this planet.’ He warns of collapsing ice sheets, water scarcity, an equatorial band too hot to be livable and — for anyone fortunate enough to reside elsewhere — extreme heat waves that will burn longer and kill more.”
- Alan Weisman, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? (Little, Brown & Company, 2013), laying out scenarios for a sustainable world population.
- Joel K. Bourne, Jr., The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World (W.W. Norton & Company, 2015): “Bourne concentrates on rehabilitating Malthus’s reputation and making him less armchair scold than prescient thinker whose ideas about poverty are startlingly relevant.”
- Thomas Malthus, Essay on the Principle of Population (1798).
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Music that adheres to its roots in nature reminds us of the value of sustainability. Usually this is performed on one or a few simple instruments, and sometimes by voice. Here are some albums and compilations:
- R. Carlos Nakai, “Canyon Trilogy”
- R. Carlos Nakai, “Earth Spirit”
- R. Carlos Nakai, “Water Is Life” celebration, live at Martha’s Vineyard
- R. Carlos Nakai, Native American flute with fire and night sounds for hot summer night compilation
- Flute music of the Andes, “Spirit of the Incas” album
- “Sacred Andes Mountain” album
- “Flutes of the Andes” album
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Gotye, “Eyes Wide Open”
I recall that man and not two centuries
have passed since I saw him,
he went neither by horse nor by carriage:
purely on foot
and carried no sword or armour,
only nets on his shoulder,
axe or hammer or spade,
never fighting the rest of his species:
his exploits were with water and earth,
with wheat so that it turned into bread,
with giant trees to render them wood,
with walls to open up doors,
with sand to construct the walls,
and with ocean for it to bear.
[from Pablo Neruda, “The People”]