EVERYDAY EARTH: A personal reflection on the meaning and culture of sustainability

By contributor Chantelle Spicer

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It is with great pleasure that I give the environment a voice within The Navigator, as that voice rings definitively within my own head and life. I have lived my life under many labels: “hippie,” “naturalist,” “environmentalist,” and “activist.” Each place I live in seems to identify the way I live under a different term; however, to me, it is always the same life.

Sunset on Protection Island.
Sunset on Protection Island.

When I was eight years old, I decided (for the first time) to become a vegetarian. The consumption of animals was just too sad for this little farm girl—they were my confidants, my friends, members of a larger family of connected animals. I was a very broad-minded child, which has not changed as I’ve aged. I educated myself within the vast agricultural-driven landscapes of Nebraska, on the impacts of consuming meat on a global scale and on the effects of agriculture of vegetation such as corn and soy, both of which were happening all around me on my own soil. I became submerged in research regarding the hunting of whales in the Pacific, impending climate change (this was in the 1990s, so it was still impending), deforestation, and every topic on the environment I could lay my hands on. This inquiry not only impacted what led to what some would view as lame summer vacations filled with reading, but also my future life.

I am now a student at VIU with a diploma in Forest Resources (where my major focus was on ecology), and working toward my major in Anthropology. I live quite fully in two different worlds—having both a science-based mind and an emotional heart. There’s a deep connection to the natural world alongside a vast appreciation of our human-made world and cultures. I strive to tread lightly upon this planet while being an active participant in all of life. It is a dichotomy I am always aware of and exploring. I am a self-identified and avid sustainability and environmental devotee. This is also a large part of me which many people identify me through.

So I ask myself, what does this really mean to me? Why do I choose this path? Is it even a choice?

Sustainability is many things, but above all it is a lifestyle choice concerning many aspects of my existence—from diet to consumer practices to transportation, it has far-reaching effects. I am an avid re-user of plastic bags and paper cups, a frequenter of public transit and farmers’ markets, and I maintain a very water-conscious flower garden (do I ever love lavender). I am also part of a large global community and culture filled with like-minded people. We fall under the label of “hippie” or “environmentalist” through our actions which support a better or more conscious world—it is a culture which is supported by scientists, the United Nations, hundreds of non-governmental organizations, and probably you, the reader of this article.

In ecological terms, sustainability is defined by the capacity to endure. Think of a forest, as it is one of the best examples of sustainability on this level that I have come across. It never takes more than it requires to simply live and function within a closed-loop system. It takes nutrients from the soil it has helped create through its own organic inputs—leaves and other debris. The trees work to help stabilize the soil through its network of roots, thereby conserving water, which it then uses within itself and creates more water through evapo-transpiration. It is elegant, unconscious, and enduring, even through disturbance. A forest, however, has no obvious philosophy—only existence.

 

Sunlight in Tofino.
Sunlight in Tofino.

It is not only actions which make this culture. These actions are rooted in a philosophy and consciousness which is rooted on an individual basis—each person will create their own meaning for choosing this lifestyle. The ideology of my choice lies in respect and a glimpse of understanding, which is its own closed-loop system, each idea feeding the other. I say a “glimpse” because there is no fully understanding nature—it is powerful, irrational, and eternal—it works in ways we will never fully comprehend no matter how advanced the science. With this comes a profound respect for such a system and a desire to more critically consider and better understand what it means to be a part of it. Under this intellectual philosophy lies yet another layer, which is my true philosophy and guiding star through my life and all the decisions that come with it. It is a true gut feeling. I feel it when I hear of any human-caused destruction of nature, when I drive past the dump, when I walk through vast clear-cut blocks of old-growth forests. I feel it like a devastation to myself. Mixed with this is an unsullied sense of child-like wonder at the beauty of the natural world. One must ask, if you love your life, feel awe when faced with magnificent landscape and place your hand against a 500-year-old tree, when you turn on your tap to clean water and open your lungs to fresh air, how can someone not respect and covet that?

This life I have is more than me. It is my inherent duty to show respect to the planet which gave me the ability to live. It is also my duty to ensure that it is allowed to continue in this way, not for the sake of future human generations, but for its own sake. I encourage all who read this and the many articles to come to critically examine your decisions in all aspects of your life, and to spend some time in natural beauty both on and off campus. Cheers to a new term, self-exploration, and everyone out there doing their part!

For some incredible insight and inspiration into naturalism and environmental respect, I encourage everyone to check out The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, or our own provincial environmental superhero David Suzuki at davidsuzuki.org.

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