What is sustainable? – A letter from our planet Earth

Often we live in a city surrounded by buildings made of concrete, metal, and glas. We eat neatly cut meat, wrapped in plastic, which only lets us guess where it actually came from. From our office we go straight to the gym and watch TV while running on the treadmill. In our everyday life we are often far away from nature and step by step, we lose the connection to it. The majority of humans has forgotten how to live in and with nature. And this majority as well as its economy is growing and growing. The consequences are surpassing the boundaries of what the Earth can cope.

Rush our in the city
Rushing through concrete, metal, and glas – a working day in big cities. Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

Prof. Dr. Wendelin Küpers published an article about the so-called Anthropocene that is among other issues characterised by a separation between Nature and Man/Culture as well as the resulting consequences. If earth could speak directly to us, in our language, what would she say to shake us awake?

Dear “Hu-Man”!

You, who call yourself “homo sapiens”, you humanity, all too hu-Man!
You, who thinks of yourself as being a “world maker “!
Do you know that you can never grasp the world in its totality
but only according to the mode in which you inhabit it…?!
As much as you exist in that which you cannot fully define, yet
you as individuals and you as collective humanity do define the world
(mostly in your own image), definitely!

You overlook me, the Earth….
Separating you from me the earth and all who I am from animals, plants to biotoma,
yes and also bacteria and virus,
By elevating your status over me, the Earth, by defining me to what surrounds you,
calling it environment, you distanced yourself, as part of cultural evolution
and what you call civilization full of success.
But, can you learn to accept that there will not be a continuation of ‘civilized’ life
as you are so much used to, particularly those of you living in comfortable zones?
Or do you really think you parasitic form of living can go on like this for forever:
exploiting me, burning me as oil and gas, pumping carbon and pollutants into me as air,
poisoning me as soil and overfishing me as seas, killing off me as other species,
while processing all your disembodied unending activities
in your technologized and especially nowadays digital(ised) mediated spheres?

Urban pollusion
Humans pollute the atmosphere in which they live. Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

The realities of me Earth of being affected by global and local (‘glocal;) climate change (which is in fact a hearing up) caused by you will of course affect you too.
Driven by your supposed short-term-oriented energy usage, perpetual, infinite,
especially economic growth, endless production and consumption, permanent innovation, unjust distribution an all kinds of maladaptive behaviors,
you are an unsustainable and even dangerous species!
Your, petro-, carbon- and greed-fueled capitalism with its techno-utopian ideologues and toxic, (self-)destructive ways of living form a zombie system that is burning out, and endangers not only my diversity, but me all together!
Oh, now you realise that you need to be ‘sustanable”…
But you over-use words like “sustainability” with little authentic or empty meaning used in misleading ways, for washing green…
Does being sustainable imply sensually, perceptively arriving in the places around us and living with me, the earth, in your bodied mind?
Living sustainably[i], perceiving yourself as earthling and others, plants, animals and other ‘more than-human’ and human others as well as me, the earth, as well as, well (the wells of) the inter- and interconnections between all of us!
Are you honoring, are you aware of the appearance of me as earth?
Do you remember how it was like to touch humid soil or dry beach sand?
How was it like when you were immersing in waters
 of watery tide between chosen shore and seeing the sea?
Did you ever feel me, the earth, beneath your feet as you walk across the ground?
Are you or can you be grateful for the sound of birds, who sing, affirmingly about spring on the cherished white apple-, pear- and cherry trees? Announcing the joy about the fruits also of your cultivation!
How was it like feeling embraced and appreciating the warmth of summery sun?
When did you experience the smell of the forest after a rain the last time?
Have you been consumed fully by watching the thunderstorm passing by?
That smelling of the swelling ripe fruits in autumnal suitability?
Breathed in the crisp hint of cold in winter?

Being in nature
Being in nature calms and reconnects us. Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

Living Sustainability, would involve awakening to and enacting a lifestyle that seeks to sense the earth in places where it is rendered out of bodied mind, like in relation to trash[ii]!
I am your home! How do you treat your home?
Can we sustain each other?

Sustainability is all about sensing, meeting and fulfilling needs
of earthly beings, including future ones!
(Genuinely it starts with a gerund, a verb-turned noun that originally refers to an action, a verb, cloaked as a thing, a noun)
Thus, rather than being an ‘object’ that can be analyzed or aimed at as SDG from a distance,
I encourage you to understand, take the stance in relation to “sustainability” more as ‘ability’ livingly to sustain that is being more as an ‘action’, practice, in praxis that implies performing actors and acts or enactments, including non-acting!
‘Living’ sustainably  invites you exploring what you with me sense, feel, smell, tasts, sounds and looks, like living with us as earth-body in embodied mind…

What is our relationship?
The word “relation” is traced through the Old French to the Latin word “relationem,” means a “bringing back or restoring.” To live in relation to me the earth, therefore,
is to bring the earth back into your minds and hearts. To re-store me the earth, calls you to consider me when you carry out daily habits and routines, and not only on occasional retreats in nature.
Re-storing the earth, then, requires a turn, perhaps return, but forward.
Into an inter-relation-Ship with me earth overcoming the earth alienation and relating to me as the immediately intuited essential elemental of feeling and awareness as well as imagination.

Planet Earth
The planet earth with its inhabitant is our home. Only through the cooperation of different living beings can we breathe, eat, and drink. The human needs to be a part of this cooperation.

Can you  break from anthropocentric reason, in which you can know and name me, the earth, in a way you call “objectively”, to a place in which you re-store the earth and instead of claiming to know it for appropriation and exploitation, seeking to listen and hearkening to what I might have to say?

Can you engage your everyday experiences as decisions with consequences that ripple out into me, the earth, and thus into you in ways that beg to listen, observe, and know sensually?
What does it mean for you to live with me, your earth-body, in body-mind?
How are you involved into a living ability to sustain beyond yourself
(“involvere” meaning to “envelop” or “rolling into”)?
Do you see and understand how sustainability is rolled into you as individuals, commutates and humanity?
Living a sustainable lifestyle entails moving tenderly, empathetic, thoughtfully, and lightly in an earth that is burdened by earth-dismissing ideologies.
Live up to what you call yourself and be a wise homo sapiens

You are Me! You are Earthlings. You are Earth!
Y-ours Earth

Article by Prof. Dr. Wendelin Küpers, Professor of Leadership and Organization Studies and Head of Degree Program of the new master course Leadership – Politics, Philosophy & Economics (M.A.) 


[i] Sustainable combines both the prefix, “sus” with the Latin verb “ten?re.”
“Sus” is a version of “sub,” meaning under, up to, or towards.
Ten?re is a verb meaning to hold.
So, to sustain something is to hold it up, or to uphold it.
Upholding something requires first a recognition of something that can be upheld.
As much as I, earth, hold you, giving living structure, ports of support, and founding ground to re-found, you can hold “up” me as something (not as a thing to be exploited but) to be valued and honoured.

[ii] Why do you hold your noses as we lift the lid to the trashcan?
Are you aware of all the “rituals” related to trash imply an alienation and loss of world?
To throw trash “away” means, as indicated in Old English, aweg, “on from
this (that) place”, anywhere but our current place, moved from your sight and from your mind, making it and thereby me the earth invisible, ignoring me in dismissal, instead of tending!
When you make your relationship with me, earth, invisible, you may fail to see the consequences of your actions to their full end.
And, of course, trash is only a single example as you can look at any number of daily experiences and un-earth the ways in which language and ritual work to sever the consciousness of your relationships with me the earth.
Perhaps you need a retreat in my Earthly nature
to learn to treat me more culturally wise
You are not simply “in the world” but “of the world”

Leave a Reply