“How will this affect the seventh generation?” ~ The Haudenosaunee
Have two choices, up or down,
Buddhas only one.
Try as you like you’ll never
Toss a stone out of this world.”
~Anonymous Buddhist poem
Bicycle In The Park Stock Photo By Feelart – Coutersy of Freedigitalphotos.net
In his ‘Seven Wonders” book, John Ryan shares the story of a meeting between the Dalai Lama and economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Dalai Lama, using a koan asked M Galbraith: “What would the world be like if everyone drove a motor car?”
A Buddhist koan, as Ryan explains, is a question that may not have logical answer, but in the way to find this answer or solution, we may be hit with a flash of enlightening.
And how that world would be? Is it desirable, realistic or achievable having everybody driving their own car? Take five minutes and imagine all the things that need to happen for all to have and drive a car, now take another five minutes and imagine the consequences of this, in the implausible reality that this were achieved: imaging the use of energy and raw materials to manufacture the vehicles, the fuel needed to run them, the pollution, the accidents, injuries and deaths, the traffic jams, the amount of soil covered by roads and highways, the amount of stores and workshops to repair and maintain them, the landfills full of debris once they are no longer usable or desirable…imagine the amount of money and effort put on maintaining the roads for them to circulate…
“Business as usual can only proceed if we close our eyes to where it is taking us”
~Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone –
Active Hope or How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy”
A few years ago, I started an internet group named “For a future without cars”. I wasn’t aware of Dalai Lama’s koan, I just felt the weight of all the above, on the top of cars and the culture that supports them being discriminatory, individualistic and terrible inefficient as a way of transportation. I decided not to attempt to drive anymore. Even when sometimes, like today, it may lead to funny, embarrassing or even dangerous situations (I took the wrong bus and ended up in the middle of nowhere, crossing a highway and coming late to an important meeting, a surrealistic experience while it lasted!)
Ryan’s book is a wonder in itself: written in 1999, it mentions seven sustainability wonders that are as current today as they were then and still will be in years to come.
Sustainability wonders are technologies, uses, tools or even beings that have demonstrated to be nice on the Earth, accessible to all, use renewable resources, promote or invite fairness and inclusiveness, make people healthier, happier or more resilient and are fairly easy to build, maintain, learn and use.
These are the seven “wonders” Ryan talks about in his book:
- The bicycle: while only a small percentage of people around the world can buy and drive a car (think outside the North American way of life for a second and even turn to those around you who never drive). It is not just that the poor can’t afford a car: most of us can’t either, unless we become terribly indebted. Cars are discriminatory to children, the elder, people with mental health issues, people with certain physical disabilities and those who don’t want or can’t learn to drive. Cars need paved roads and highways, fuel and maintenance equipment. Cars kill and injure people…Now think about bicycles and with few exceptions, they are inclusive and cheap, easy to maintain and learn, keep you healthy and strong, and can be shared and used by almost everyone!
- The condom: continue growing is not sustainable. Not just that there is no enough livable space, food and water for everybody to live quality life, but the more of us there are, the more we injure the environment with all our demands. Condoms are easy to use; they prevent sexually transmitted illnesses and prevent not planned pregnancies. Their only problem is that they can be used only once, but the material is made from renewable resources and it can biodegrade.
- The ceiling fan: before 1970, most houses and buildings around the world didn’t use air conditioning. The use has increased since then, making the “fan” seem old-fashioned. The fan saves energy and refreshes the air without polluting; it is easy to maintain, build and clean…and has been used for centuries!
- The clothesline: I really love this one. The clothesline uses solar and wind energy to dry your clothes, why to use a dryer when clothes dry by themselves? However, many condos and townhouses, and even entire neighbourhoods ban the use of clothesline like the clothes of your neighbor will hurt your eyes! We humans have gone really far in our ridiculous attempt to become what we are not; no matter how we hurt the only home we have known…
- Pad Thai: this is a very common dish in Asian cuisine. It includes rice noodles, vegetables and a choice of chicken, fish, shrimp or tofu. And why is it a “wonder”? As a symbol, as most Asian countries eat much more balanced diets than westerners do. Meat, if any, is used to sprinkle its flavor and provide some nutrients, but it is not the main dish. Ingredients are local and this type of dish can be achieved in almost any country, using a similar mixture of vegetables, rice or other type of (not processed) grains, some meat (if any) and local spices.
- The public library: what a wonderful invention! Public libraries allow books to be passed to many. They not only promote knowledge and access to information, they also save trees and the environment in general, avoiding waste and overproduction. They are also a great place to meet like-minded people, watch documentaries, and learn other languages among many other things.
- The ladybug: this one, I have to confess, was a surprise to me. A ladybug? Then I read and understood: ladybugs can quickly get rid of aphids and other bugs that attack many crops. They remind us how when we use simple observation, we can plan ahead to allow nature itself to fix and intervene.
Environmental scientist Donella Meadows wrote a blog some years ago about this same book and the Seven Sustainable Wonders. She mentions that she started seeing wonders all around her: the root cellar, the basket, the olive tree, the sari, the compost pile…and invited her readers to continue thinking on other “wonders”. Her blog can be read here: “Seven-plus Wonders of Sustainability”
After the roller-coaster that has been my experience with community groups, gardens, learning, facilitation, people, etc. I can think about some other sustainability wonders:
- The Internet
- Solar energy
- Wind energy
- The guitar
- Cloth totes or bags
- Human languages
- Knitting and sewing
- Emergency preparedness
Do you agree? Do you have others in mind?