James Pinsky: Sustainability: a key weapon for freedom

James Pinsky


Contrary to some opinions, it is a word spelled with a few more letters than four. Still, among some, the mere mention of the word inspires the use of some of the most colorful four-letter words we have in our language.

I have always found resistance to sustainability ironic. Why? Let’s take a closer look at what exactly sustainability is – and what it isn’t.

By definition, sustainability, in its simplest form, is the act or behavior of ensuring something lasts longer. All of us practice sustainability every day in our lives toward things we want to last. If you change the oil in your car, tell your spouse you love him or her, or show up at work every day, I hate to tell you but you are absolutely practicing sustainability. It’s a behavior our parents probably instilled in us as children when we were reminded, sometimes often, to take care of the things we have or they simply won’t last. Makes sense, doesn’t it? When we think of the word sustainability in this manner, it’s not an evil word at all but one rooted in maturity, responsibility and even insightful economic sense.

I think where the word sustainability might not be welcome is when it becomes apparent to some that being sustainable might mean we can’t do or have whatever we want, or more directly when we think being sustainable means being less free.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me explain it this way: I have the freedom not to take care of my truck. I can ignore its maintenance schedule, keep it filthy, introduce and allow foreign substances to stain and eat away at its interior, and I can recklessly use it to give me short-lived pleasure. That’s my right. Sooner or later my truck will reflect the neglect I show it. It will perform more poorly over time and eventually simply quit working. While some might have the financial resources to survive such careless treatment of their vehicle, I certainly don’t. If I choose irresponsible freedom and quite frankly selfishness, then sooner or later I’ll be without a truck and chances are I’ll still have to pay for something I get absolutely no use from. However, if I practice sustainability toward my truck then all of the freedoms the truck gives me will last a lot longer and in essence I will expand and prolong my freedoms.

The same is true regarding sustainability of our planet. To borrow sage advice from our parents, we have to take care of the things we love otherwise we simply won’t have them very long. Since I am pretty sure most of us prefer a life with our planet functioning as it should, then it makes sense for us to live in a way which prolongs its existence. Simple behaviors like keeping our water clean, our forests green, and our wildlife seen absolutely make life on Earth better for everyone, which in turn enables us to enjoy the freedoms we have more richly than ever before. But, decide for yourselves. As for me, I’m a fan of this planet since all of the freedom in the world would be wasted if I had to exercise it in the middle of a desert, landfill or … the moon.

James Pinsky is the Education and Information Coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.