With a profound sustainability crisis facing humanity, it may be useful to try and glimpse what a sustainable relationship between people and planet might actually look like. This essay explores how cultures and their host environments mesh together in pre-industrial societies. It seeks to show how cultural beliefs and practices reflect and reinforce the environmental adaptations of seven different community settings – the Mbuti forest people in central Africa, the Kayapó people in the Brazilian Amazon, the Nuer cattle herders in South Sudan, the Chagga agro-foresters on Mount Kilimanjaro, Asian peasant farmers, and European small-scale urban systems.
A new study by an international team of 29 scientists from eight countries provides the third update to the planetary boundaries framework. The update shows how human activities are increasingly impacting our planet, thus augmenting the risk of triggering drastic changes in Earth’s overall conditions. The nine planetary boundaries represent the limits within which humans can continue to thrive and develop. “The planetary boundaries framework draws upon Earth system science,” the study said. “It identifies nine processes that are critical for maintaining the stability and resilience of Earth system as a whole. All are presently heavily perturbed by human activities.
In 2007, while studying sustainable communities for a chapter on the subject for State of the World 2008, I had the chance to visit several ecovillages. But none stood out like the Los Angeles Eco-Village. Surrounded by car-centric city sprawl, it was a tiny little oasis of green—literally and figuratively, with it being populated by many environmental activists. It was inspiring to meet them and learn about their efforts, and I daydreamed about what would happen if there was a little urban ecovillage in every city incubating citywide change, catalyzing human-centric infrastructure changes, teaching permaculture techniques, and so on.
In his 2005 bestseller Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, geographer Jared Diamond focused on past civilizations that confronted severe climate shocks, either adapting and surviving or failing to adapt and disintegrating. Among those were the Puebloan culture of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, the ancient Mayan civilization of Mesoamerica, and the Viking settlers of Greenland. Such societies, having achieved great success, imploded when their governing elites failed to adopt new survival mechanisms to face radically changing climate conditions.
Meet Wake Robin Fermented Foods, a small company based in the city of East Cleveland, Ohio, focused on local sustainability. About 90% of its vegetables are sourced from farms in Northeast Ohio; all vegetable waste goes to compost; paper, cardboard and metal is reused or recycled; fermented products are packaged in reusable glass jars. Wake Robin would be impressive if it stood on its own, but it’s part of a larger vision to establish a closed loop, community-owned supply chain in the three square miles comprising East Cleveland. The organization leading the work is called Loiter.
Venezuela has proposed actions that unite economic and sustainable development to restore the vital regeneration of the Amazon rainforest, to be accomplished with the support and union of all South American countries, according to vice president of Venezuela, Delcy Rodríguez, speaking at the Fourth Amazon Summit 2023, taking place in the city of Belém, Brazil. “We are called to coordination and union,” Rodríguez stated this Tuesday, August 8, during a presentation at the summit. “Surely, unity is the work that binds us for vital regeneration.
In June, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network published its Sustainable Development Report 2023, which tracks the progress of the 193 member states towards attaining the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ‘From 2015 to 2019’, the network wrote, ‘the world made some progress on the SDGs, although this was already vastly insufficient to achieve the goals. Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020 and other simultaneous crises, SDG progress has stalled globally’. This development agenda was adopted in 2015, with targets intended to be met by 2030.
After years of discussions, the UN finally adopted the “Treaty on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction” during the resumed fifth session of the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) that was held in New York on Monday, June 19. The legally binding treaty will govern the use of high seas, or seas beyond the territorial control of countries, with the objective of protecting its ecosystems from pollution, over-fishing and over-exploitation. The treaty will form a part of the UN Convention on the Law of Sea, adopted in 1994, and will be open for signing by member states from September 20 during the annual UN General Assembly meeting at New York.
New research shows we’ve long underestimated the environmental benefits from kelp forests. Now these important ecosystems are threatened. Floridians are bracing for an unwanted visitor this summer: sargassum. A 5,000-mile-long island of this rootless seaweed is floating around the Atlantic, and large swathes of it are expected to wash ashore in Florida and other states in the coming months. Smaller amounts have already arrived, and the rotting clumps of algae on the beach release hydrogen sulfide, giving off the smell of rotten eggs. A large landfall will be a health hazard — and a deterrent for tourists and nesting sea turtles alike.
At first glance, fish might seem like a climate-friendly alternative to meat for a world that needs to shift away from carbon-intensive cattle. At least the seafood farming (or ‘aquaculture’) industry would have you see it that way. Right now the market for farmed fish like salmon is booming. In fact it’s the fastest-growing food sector in the world. This is thanks in no small part to excellent marketing that brands this fish as the ‘chicken of the sea’: low-carbon, easy to cook and sustainable. But there’s a hitch with this ‘sustainable protein’ spin. Like other intensive farming sectors, aquaculture has been dogged by controversy, and accused of varied ecological and social harms including animal welfare concerns, pollution and highly complex, extractive supply chains, which source the feed that farmed fish rely on.
Our four day immersion in London Transition activities started on Thursday evening at the Doreen Bazell Hall, a Tenants and Residents Association (TRA) Hall on the Goldington Estate in Camden, to visit one of the weekly meetings of Camden Think and Do, an initiative created between Camden Council and Transition Kentish Town. Think and Do happens here every Thursday, offering a free lunch as well as workshops on a range of things, from repairing clothes, to energy efficiency advice, to advice about the cost of living and benefits, and much more besides. We spent the afternoon with the community members there, meeting Maria and Tuli who coordinate the Think and Do sessions, and Halima who runs Sharing Space Eats from there, a social enterprise providing catering to local businesses.
If you are interested in learning about permaculture, about green energy, about ecology and the environment, the range of courses out there can be a little overwhelming. From the flexible, free and online variety to the two or three year long, in-person degree courses offered by many institutes of higher education. For example, the BA (Hons) Sustainable Futures: Arts, Ecology and Systems Change degree at the Black Mountains college in Wales. In 2010, two women, Sarah Pugh and Laura Corfield co-founded Shift Bristol, fired up by the idea that what people needed in order to make that shift – to a more sustainable, eco-friendly, viable and happy existence – was some hands-on training.
Everyone has a gift. That gift is a talent or passion. But not everyone gets to use their gift, talent or passion. Sometimes, people are not invited to share their gifts. We see this a lot. There is a problem. It could be big or small. Some people or groups are labeled as the source of the problem. They are called a nuisance, incorrigible, incurable or worse. They get cast aside, then forgotten. And the problem never gets solved. That doesn't mean the problem no longer exists. It just means "it's not our problem anymore." We may choose not to see it, but it's still a problem. This way of thinking is how we get unsolved problems and why we have the same longstanding issues that don't change.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes live among some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country. Their home, the Flathead Reservation, covers 1.2 million acres dotted with soaring mountains, sweeping valleys, and lush forests. Flathead River bisects the land and drains into Flathead Lake, the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River. Long before anyone called this place northwest Montana or considered it a tourist destination, it sustained the tribes and they sustained it. “We have a proven track record of sustainability,” says Shelly Fyant, former chair of the CSKT Tribal Council. “We can trace it back 14,000 years.”
For over three centuries, banks have been consolidating their power by extracting interest from people, businesses, governments and the planet. This power helps to explain why politicians and governments bend to their will. Mainstream economists treat money as a neutral medium of exchange and never consider its origin and purpose. Is it meant to serve the people, or to serve the interests of the monied elite alone? Exploring that question helps explain why there’s always plenty of money for military research and development and none for protecting pollinators…and always enough to finance luxury condos instead of affordable dwellings.