We live in an age of abstract concepts. The reasons for action remain vague and undefined. The problems seem too large, too draining. Likewise, the actions taken to address these problems are too large, too draining.
So where do I start? The first step is to clarify. Sustainability is defined as the ability to meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same — still a huge concept, so you need to make it personal. A friend of mine described sustainability as a diet based on making changes to your lifestyle, and in these life choices, the commitment to becoming a more conscientious consumer is paramount. There are a million moments in a day to practice sustainability. Every time you step outside, you can ride your bike, buy local foods. It only requires the recognition that the purpose of making these choices is so that you can continue to enjoy this world as it is. Living well and living wisely do not need to be conflicting. And not everyone can or needs to be a hero.
How can I learn more? Be proactive. There are a number of student organizations on campus that have an agenda relating to sustainability. I recently helped form Students For Sustainable Living (SFSL) under the charter of pursuing and promoting practices of sustainability on a personal level through: (1) exploring lifestyles, life choices, education and careers in line with these practices, (2) following the mantra “Someone can’t do everything but everyone can do something,” (3) grassroots activism on campus and within our community, and (4) organizing and attending functions designed to create awareness for the necessity of sustainable living.
What if I don’t have time to join? Be proactive and get creative. Education and exposure are the bare necessities of sustainability and can be found through many different mediums. October 17th-19th, the Great Lakes Bioneers Conference (http://glbconference.org) is taking place in downstate Traverse City. It is a weekend of music, workshops, speakers, food and fellowship designed to get you directly engaged with seeking “sustainable solutions for social and environmental justice.” Contact me ([email protected]) for more information.
What about events happening U.P. here? The collective of musicians holding the Friday night concert at the G.L. Bioneers Conference make up the Earthwork Music label (www.earthworkmusic.com). The impetus Seth Bernard and (Daisy) May Erlewine held in bringing together these talented musicians was the belief in the “intrinsic and historical power of music to raise both community and self-awareness.” With this at the forefront, they created the annual Grand Rapids Water Festival (http://www.thewaterfestival.com/). In a day-long, admission-free event, speakers and musicians share the stage discussing our most abundant and valuable resource in Michigan: our waters. As old family friends, Seth and May approached me this summer about their desire in bringing the Water Festival to Marquette. They expressed how they wanted young people to be involved with this event. Tentatively scheduled for early April, SFSL will be collaborating with other student, community and national organizations to facilitate the Marquette Water Festival. In a day (or two) that will marry music and education, we will bring the principles of sustainability, with a focus on water, to the NMU campus.
In a lecture I attended earlier this year, environmental and economic author Bill McKibben said, “We have the superstructure of the movement towards sustainability without actually having the movement.” We have the crisis and the buildup. “Going green” is cool. And profitable. So what is stopping us? I think it is this obsolete — but trendy — notion that Rothbury Music Festival, with 50,000 people, conveys the principles of sustainability. It will not be a massive gathering of people and resources that makes substantial changes. It will be a massive commitment of people and resources, gathering in their communities and actively bringing creative changes to their own lives. We are not fighting on one front. We are fighting to change ourselves, to change our lifestyles. As outdoor enthusiasts, we have an obligation to the amenities and environment that provide us with fun, beauty, solace and challenges. We have an obligation to be leaders in this movement for sustainability.