Sustainability and Philosophy

I’ve always been fond of Philosophy…

If philosophy was a highly paid profession, I don’t think I would’ve thought twice about choosing it as my university major…Being paid to continuously learn, observe, and think about the things I’ve learned and observed sounds, to me, like the very IDEAL occupation… Unfortunately, it’s hard to “make a living” philosophizing… So instead I went to the pragmatic realm of engineering. 

These fields may seem like two polar opposites to some people, but many applications of engineering require deep thinking exercises about complex systems… and a lot of wine drinking (though the reasons differ here)! So in my naive mind, philosophy and engineering do meet each other somewhere in the middle…

Anyways, I Digress…

How do Philosophy, the art of thinking about the meaning/methods/rules of our existence (my humble definition), and Sustainability converge as ideas? 

I’ve had this realization(?) that to the true philosopher, sustainability can be seen as a philosophical theory in and of itself. 

Sustainability as a Philosophy Theory:

1. Meaning that supersedes the individual

In choosing sustainability as a philosophy, one is forced to practice actions today from which he/she may never reap the benefits. Lowering your consumption habits, taking the plane less often, eating less meat, driving an electric car… (Okay maybe not the last one, because driving a Tesla is freaking enjoyable today!). People choosing to live in accordance with this theory purposely choose what is perceived as hardER actions for the greater good – improving inequity, animal welfare, climate change, etc. 

2. Systems thinking

Societies, our environment, our economy, our social dynamics. All these elements are key aspects in understanding how true Sustainability works – the realization that you cannot perform an action that will impact only one sphere of our world – your actions have impacts on you, your peers, the economy, your environment, your local hub. Whether you like it or not, every action has a ripple effect, even inaction.  

3. Sustainability is a means to an end

It’s a way of thinking that has repercussions on your way of living. Yes, you’ll make some “mistakes” (small or big actions that you consider derogating from the theory), but that doesn’t mean that you’re in the wrong, like making actions in accordance with the theory doesn’t mean you’re in the right. Sustainability is more of an internal compass, that you have internalized as your own, that helps informing your decisions – or your judgement.  

4. It evolves with time

Sustainability has a large back nowadays, and nothing infuriates me more than hearing people saying things like “okay, I’ve stopped using plastic straws in my life, so I’ve done my part”. Our understanding of the world, and the issues we need to work on continuously, evolves – with time and scientific discoveries, 

5. People will not agree

And that’s a hard one. Even though climate change is a scientifically proven fact, some people will choose not to dedicate time and attention to that. And you know what, that is A-Okay. People CAN choose not to aim for a more sustainable life, maybe to optimize their short-term pleasures, maybe because they just don’t give a fuck. It’s okay… let it go, because you can’t change how people decide to live, it is after all, their life… Little caveat here, ignorance is different than understanding and choosing it’s not for you. If people you know are ignorant (nothing derogatory here, simply lack of understanding on a topic) on the subject, take the time to patiently (at their rhythm) educate them through asking questions, listening, and providing feedback, facts, and resources, and still… it’ll be up to them to decide what they do with this information.

So, that is that… 

Please take everything above with a grain of salt, since again I reiterate that I am only a wanna be philosopher, and this is a petty take on what could have been my lifetime career…