What is sustainability, and why should we give a hoot? Is there something in it for us? Yes, there is. The capacity to stay alive, healthy and thriving. The ability to sustain oneself by attending to one’s host, and vice versa, for a long and successful time. Surviving today, surviving tomorrow, making improvements along the way.
What is sustainability and why should we give a hoot? Is there something in it for us?
Yes, there is. But don’t take my word for it. Make up your own mind.
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, a strain of yogurt bacteria found their way inside a man’s stomach. They moved down his digestive system, settled inside his intestine, and established a colony.
It was a superb move. Their approach was informed and mindful, their actions subtle and measured. They blended into the new terrain, using up resources in such a way that the economy of their surroundings remained undisturbed. Their involuntary host never knew they were there.
It was a symbiotic arrangement that facilitated the digestive process. It would have lasted a long time, if it weren’t for some rabid kin of theirs who had trouble controlling their appetite. Managing to slip into the man’s bloodstream through a skin gash, these newcomers spread all over the organism and went to work on it, doing as they pleased.
The man developed an infection. He ended up in hospital where the doctors treated him for weeks. He eventually made it through, after a close call with death.
But not without a price. By the end of the treatment, most of the symbiotic bacteria inside him had been destroyed along with all pathogenic ones. The antibiotics had devastated his microbiome. He experienced gastric and intestinal complications for months.
In time, he got over it. The culture of symbiotic bacteria inside him grew again, and he was back on track, recuperated and healthy.
But the danger was not over. Some of the mad bacteria had survived. Biding their time, they waited, multiplying, growing stronger, fitter, more organized and resistant.
Their goal was singular: overcome the hostile environment and perpetuate themselves against the odds.
A year later, they started multiplying at will again, spreading across the man’s organism with impunity. They consumed everything in their path, leaving behind a trail of microbial excrement.
Their actions manifested across the man’s body as fatigue and depression. He felt increasingly frail as the weeks went by. His immune system was stressed and his morale drained. The slightest change in his environment rattled him. He became vulnerable to disease, and was eventually hospitalized. Having suffered a number of bouts of ill health, he was now under constant medical care. The complications grew, the doctors unable to locate the source of his malady, nor agree to a cause of illness. None of the treatments and medication worked.
A few months later, the man gave in and passed away. And so did the bacteria that killed him. They perished with him, and that was the end of that.
The moral of the story? Be smart, and don’t overdo it. There’s a time to push against all odds, and a time to blend in and work in tandem with your surrounding environment.
Know Thyself And Thy Terrain… It’s The Basic Tenet To Lasting Success
So here we are. What is sustainability? The ability to sustain oneself by attending to one’s host, and vice versa, for a long and successful time. The ability to stay alive, healthy, and thriving. The capacity to evolve within a given environment, be it static or dynamic.
Easy in theory, yes, but not in practice. There’s an entire psychology behind this approach, an integration of thoughts, attitude and behavior that make it possible, which this series has begun to examine at length and breadth.
And yes, humanity is exactly like the bacteria living inside an organism. We better be. Bacteria are the greatest survivors in the history of the planet. Not only have they given rise to life on earth via photosynthesis, providing the first oxygen, they may have also brought said life to our planet from outer space, hitching a ride on comets and asteroids, crashing on Earth, inseminating their new host’s fertile primordial soup, making a new beginning, expanding their options and ensuring their future, even if they were not “aware” of it.
Pretty smart for a primitive microorganism.
If we play our cards right, we’ll do the same one day. Leave behind our planet and carry our seeds elsewhere in the universe. Hopefully we won’t do so because we’ve eradicated life on earth but because we’ve decided to preserve it, understanding how unique and precious it is. Because we’ve succeeded in sustaining it – and ourselves within it – while setting up camp in new places, establishing colonies in the vast expanse that awaits us.
For the previous version of this story, click here.