Notes from a Nonprofit Nerd: The Balance in Abundance

According to numerology, 2015 is a year of the number 8. Eight is the symbol of abundance, which many of us are keen to associate with money and power. In the conservation community, abundance is understood a bit differently. Characterized by words like balance, new notions of abundance are evolving alongside the ethics of sustainability. As it becomes apparent that diminishing resources impose limits to our traditional ideas of prosperity, we find ourselves in an exciting new era of urgent innovation. Whether or not we intended to be, we are all facing the tradeoffs of sustainability.

In 1987, the Brundtland Commission published the first version of “Our Common Future,” which  offered the first internationally significant definition of sustainability. “Sustainability is meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Back then, acting with the next generation in mind was a lofty goal, asking people to hedge their consumerism for the benefit of others. This marked a fundamental shift in basic assumptions about human ethics as we collectively moved from an attitude of self-serving behavior to one of equalizing our needs with those of others. At first, sustainability appeared infeasible, why would people living with abundance sacrifice their own well-being? More often than not, the initial reluctance to sustainable initiatives was fueled by the assumption that we had to give something up in order to achieve our vision of sustainability.

Twenty-eight years after the Brundtland Commission, great progress has been made towards realizing sustainability. The critical issues of the environment have been studied, examined and met with promising actions to deal with them. International communities have developed unprecedented systems of collaboration to shift the course of our collective fate. Lastly, individuals have made tremendous progress in their understanding of and concern for environmental issues. By 2015, the global community is on the road to achieving a sustainable state of being. Costa Rica, for example, is currently running on 94% renewable energy and is the first country in line to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2021. In lieu of the massive amount of innovation that has made such accomplishments possible, it seems that we haven’t really had to give much up in order to get here. Many of us still live with an expectation of an abundant lifestyle: one in which sacrifice has not factored into our collective lifestyles in a meaningful way. Our progress begs the question, is sustainability enough?

On the macro level, we still have a lot of work ahead of us in order to live in balance with the Earth. Sustainability thought leaders are going so far as to urge for even more ambitious goals like resiliency or thrivability. These theoretical ambitions are cutting edge, propelling us towards greater expectations and calling for unprecedented ingenuity. This can inspire hope, but it can also lead to confusion as we now confront these large scale challenges on the community and individual level. How can communities function in such a way as to improve the environment?

Depending on our various comfort levels, we will have different levels of tolerance for the impact that we each have on the environment. The individuality of this consideration is both a challenge and an opportunity for the cause of sustainability. On the one hand, it is difficult to hold ourselves accountable without external standards for self-evaluation. But, this is also an opportunity to do what we can, where we are, with what we have. In part, these are practical questions, but they also have ethical components. We must consider our individual relationships with moderation, a virtue that is not meant to be easily achieved.

2015 is the year of the 8, the year of abundance and so there are some questions that each of us must ask ourselves in earnest: What is my ethic of sustainability? Can I reconfigure my idea of abundance so that my lifestyle reflects my environmental ethic? We are reaching the time when we might have to give something up in order to achieve our goals. Conservation may not be a sexy tactic in the grand-scheme of sustainability because it asks a lot of each and everyone of us, but it is an essential component of sustainability. As Einstein once advised, “Problems can’t be solved with the mindset that created them.” Realizing that our potential lies within the context of our natural resources, the Center for ReSource Conservation urges you to join with us in 2015 to put conservation into action in pursuit of the abundance that awaits us all.