Three Words Worth Understanding
Brian Luedtke
The meaning of words like sustainability and diversity are limited when their definitions are different between two people. How can we be sustainable if we do not understand and agree upon what sustainability really is?

Sustainability in its simplest form is the preparedness to endure. Sustain means to preserve, remain, stand fast, hold position, or maintain current conditions. So really, sustainability is the ability to self-maintain. From that perspective, sustainability cannot stand alone—it must describe something else.

Proponents of sustainability have established that society, at present, is not sustainable, insisting that instead of being conquerors we should be caretakers. As conquerors of Earth, humans will perish; but as caretakers of Earth, the human species can continue into the future.

To be a caretaker we must first be sustainable. What that actually entails is often overlooked.

Sustainable measures may include the buying up of forest and prime croplands in Central and South America and Africa for production of bioenergy crops. This annually displaces thousands of indigenous peoples, who lose their homes and ways of life to profit-seeking foreign investors, while seemingly decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels.

Is this a good thing? Is the benefit of cheap, mass-produced, bioengineered energy crops worth more than the destruction of self-sustaining communities?

Compare that sustainability quagmire with this one. Often, people decide to ride their bike or walk places when they could have taken their automobile. What they do not realize is that because they are using their automobile less, it incurs less wear and tear and uses less gas than normal.

This pulls money and jobs out of the community as less money is spent and fewer workers are needed to satisfy demand. Of course, by not driving that automobile, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, as well as vehicle related expenses and doctor office visits.
While global, local, social and environmental sustainability are benefited, global and local economic sustainability are negatively affected. Even if the decision to walk or bike instead of drive improves one’s economic sustainability, that decision affects more than just the individual making it. Thus, it is paramount to understand the context when discussing or making decisions about the sustainability of anything, anywhere or anyone.

Diversity, like Will Ferrell says in the movie Anchorman, may have been an "Old, old wooden ship." But the word and concept likely came from elsewhere. Diversity is often used in the field of ecology, where it is a measure of both evenness (the distribution of populations in relation to each other—for example, for five apples and seven oranges, apples make up 42 percent of the total population and oranges 58 percent, therefore the evenness is fairly uniform), and richness (the total number of players. In the apple-orange scenario, the richness would be two).

The term diversity is also used in business. Just like in nature, the greater the diversity of investments the more sustainable these are. Take for example the placement of eggs— the more eggs in different baskets, the less likely all the eggs will be destroyed by the collapse of one basket.

Permaculture is a word less widely known and understood than sustainability or diversity. The word is a compound of the words permanent and agriculture, which is basically what it means—constant and sustainable agricultural production.
One should view permaculture as a system with minimum inputs and non-degrading outputs, a system that assimilates and recycles wastes to serve multiple purposes. This system does not require intensive (cost and labor) up-keep or continuous improvement. Permaculture is a business model and a way of life. In permaculture, the system does the work while one simply enjoys the benefits. Permaculture is attainable at any size and scale.

Three Words
Separately these words sustainability, diversity and permaculture are all concepts. When put together, used properly and integrated into our daily lives, they mean a whole lot more. Sustainability means taking care of our environment through sound social and economical practices. Diversity means bolstering a wide array of distributed yet sustainable populations, ideas and practices. Permaculture is sustainable agriculture which utilizes diversity to produce food, fuel and fiber for the inhabitants of tomorrow. These words, when rightly applied, transform us from conquerors of Earth to caretakers of our planet.

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