So what is the sustainable path forward?
The most often-adopted definition of sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” What is important about this definition is that we have to consider the needs of future generations. What is most productive though is that considering this definition leads people to the logical conclusion that almost everything we do is fundamentally unsustainable because everyday we are depleting non-renewable resources at irreplaceable rates and loading the atmosphere with climate-changing, carbon-based greenhouse gases. While this definition may be effective in raising awareness about unsustainability, it provides little guidance or tools to move forward.
At its base, sustainability is the capacity to continue a desired condition or process either social, ecological or both. Resiliency is the ability of a system to adjust its configuration and function under disturbance. Both concepts are important as we seek to ensure a sustainable built-environment and economy which can function under changing conditions in the emerging future.
At a pragmatic level, considering sustainability entails answering these bounding questions: “of what, for whom, for how long, and at what cost?” Thus, clarifying our values is just as important as understanding nature. This leads to a synthesis definition informed by both ecological and social science: “Sustainability is maintaining, or fostering the development of the systemic contexts including both ecosystems and the built-environment that produce the goods, services, and amenities that people need or value, at an acceptable cost for as long as they are needed or valued.”
In this highly uncertain transitional period we are living through, one characteristic is certain. Simply put, our present economy does not have the capacity to withstand the converging challenges of the twenty-first century.
Building resilience is our biggest challenge as the complexity and uncertainty of our situation make it evermore problematic how we are going to thrive. All is not lost however, because with resolve and purpose, we the people of this region can redirect our energies in this remaining window of opportunity to secure our future. The next 10 years will be the most critical period of the last four thousand years in which a human economy has existed here.
The focus of Sustainable Tucson’s April meeting will be to put the pieces of the economy together and explore how we got into this mess and how we may get out of it. The future of our economy should be the fundamental conversation in the community.
Because it is yet unclear whether sustainability and resilience will emerge as a core value and goal, ST is encouraging everyone to get involved with community initiatives at any level and lobby for a strong sustainability framework to facilitate the community-wide coordination of actions.
Fulfilling this mission entails a sense of urgency, especially concerning how we respond in this next critical decade to significant change. The past five years have taught us that we are already transitioning to a new set of sustainability issues which are gaining momentum at every turn. Whether it’s real estate collapse, foreclosure crises, rising unemployment, extreme weather and climate changes, new migration patterns, increasing health problems, significant shortfalls in public revenues, rising energy and food prices, growing debt and shrinking credit, troubled youth, and dysfunctional political discourse, the world is presenting us with increasingly unsettling events and trends which spell a dark future unless we respond now with imagination.
After four presentations, attendees will explore and offer ideas for economic initiatives to make the vision of a resilient economy a reality in Tucson.