is sustainable enough?

The following post is by Rick Thomas. To contribute articles or blog posts to this site, contact us at info@normansustainability.org.Reading Krista Tippet’s remarks about sustainability, I think it is obvious that she makes several great points, quite eloquently. Instead of a trial, she believes pursuing sustainability can be a joy. Instead of being our cross to bear, sustainability can flow from our expressions of hope and love.

I’d like to add to that list something I believe could be another source of sustainability. Passion. And I’m not talking about passion for your job, your charity work, or your college football team. This is not the passion that accompanies obligation or duty. This is the passion that is felt when we peruse our deepest desires, the kind of longings that we don’t like to talk about in public, and don’t even like to think about in some cases. Craving, loathing, anguish, misery, screaming, slashing, gnawing, weeping, writhing, worshipping…these are the kinds of words that describe the kind of passion I am talking about.

I first came across Charles Bowden in a bookstore while I was browsing the nature section. Mostly books with lovely landscapes and innocent sounding titles, his book stood out. Blood Orchid. On the cover is a man, clutching (not hugging) a tree, his face and most of his body hidden, pain apparent in his clenched fists. In the background, a lovely riverbank forest. The contrast is striking, and unsettling, and exactly the way I was feeling at that time in my life, and still sometimes do.

Bowden also laments the plain and monastic flavor of the discussions about our environmental crisis. For Bowden, (and I’m quoting here, probably a little out of context), “Ecology, pornography, murder, and breakfast all seem to flow together.”

Certainly a different take than the public radio fare to which most of us are accustomed. Blood Orchid is a trip to hell and back that leaves your heart pounding and your eyes bulging. You want to cry but can’t, you’re too exhilarated. Midway through the book, Bowden implores us:

Imagine the problem is not physical. Imagine the problem has never been physical, that it is not biodiversity, it is not the ozone layer, it is not the greenhouse effect, the whales, the old-growth forest, the loss of jobs, the crack in the ghetto, the abortions, the tongue in the mouth, the diseases stalking everywhere as love goes on unconcerned. Imagine the problem is not some syndrome of our society that can be solved by commissions or laws or a redistribution of what we call wealth. Imagine that it goes deeper, right to the core of what we call our civilization and that no one outside of ourselves can effect real change, that our civilization, our governments are sick and that we are mentally ill and spiritually dead and that all our issues and crises are symptoms of this deeper sickness. Imagine the problem is not physical and no amount of driving, no amount of road will deal with the problem. Imagine that the problem is not that we are powerless or we are victims but that we have lost the fire and belief and courage to act.

So maybe going for sustainable isn’t quite enough. Sustainable to me sounds like a reduction in order to maintain, a surrender in order to survive. I don’t want to maintain, and I certainly don’t want to surrender. I want more. I wake up every day and want to pound my fists against the wall and demand more. I want to devour what is in front of me and insist on more. I feel like if we are honest with ourselves and take what we want, what we really want, we will be given more. We won’t have sustainability, we will have abundance. An abundance that knows no limit. A real abundance that will ignite every one of our senses, and leave us without words to describe how we feel.

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