3 min read
Posted on 04.22.11
  • 3 min read
  • Posted on 04.22.11

Guest blog from Catherine Werner:

The April cover of my college alumni magazine encourages "sustainable travel." My April homegoods catalog advises me to "celebrate summer & sustainable living." It seems that one of the successes of Earth Day is that it raises awareness of the notion of sustainability -- for a day, week or even the whole month of April. But what is sustainable living? And what are we to do about making sustainability happen? I was invited to speak at an Earth Day panel on climate change where the agenda included watching a snippet of the new movie, Cool It. At the heart of the movie are the ideas of Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, among other things. I found the movie to be fascinating and it really made me think. Are we so sure about our priorities and do we have all the answers we need to proceed full speed ahead in our goal to beat the clock on climate change? Mr. Lomborg suggests that we have it all wrong -- that an economic cost-benefit analysis will show that for the same amount of investment that the mainstream environmental community proposes to spend on efforts to slow climate change, we could invest the same amount in social programs such as health care and education and achieve far more good ... and quicker. I'm no economist so I won't take one side or the other on the cost-benefit assessment. What I took away from that was that we would be ill-advised to forge ahead addressing climate change on a pure environmental level, perhaps at the expense of society. It was consistent with my thinking that sustainability should rightfully be defined in the sense of a three-legged stool to include economics and society along with the environment. This triple bottom line approach is certainly a more integrated, personal, and holistic way to approach things. Each of these must be considered, weighed, and balanced for something to be truly sustainable in the long run. Which is not to say that we should wait around to act until we have all the answers, or have enough funds to solve all the problems through research and using new renewable energy sources. Almost everyone agrees that climate change is happening -- the differences of opinion are mostly related to questions of what is causing it and how rapidly it is occurring. If we leave those questions aside, however, I think we are better able to get to the heart of the matter: assuming it's upon us to some extent, what do we do about climate change or becoming more sustainable? I was viewing a webinar the other day and there was a cartoon depicting some scientists talking. One says to the other "what if we are wrong about climate change and we end up making the Earth a better place for nothing?" Until I watched the Cool It movie I probably would have agreed -- why not do what we can if the worst that can happen is the effort will simply cause some good? When asked, I generally have told people it doesn't matter what you do to be more sustainable, so long as you do SOMEthing. This movie has me thinking that next time I'm asked I might qualify my response a bit. While it is most important to take that first step, perhaps the next most important thing is to consider the direction in which you are headed to ensure it is grounded and balanced. There's not much sense trying to sit on a one-legged stool. This is one of the reasons why I'm so excited that the City is embarking on its first comprehensive sustainability planning process -- the approach is to strategically and simultaneously consider issues relating to economy, equity and ecology in the City. The result will be a holistic yet targeted Sustainability Action Plan for the City. It will not only take those important first steps, but balance many factors -- some competing and others overlapping. I hope you will join us as we explore how we can become a more sustainable City. Happy Earth Day!Catherine WernerSustainability Director