Caring about sustainability
On the 25th of October 2019, I set out on a Mindfulness retreat in a hidden and heavenly oasis in Errachidia, about 275 km south of Ifrane. As an accompanying staff, I assisted a professor who was leading a small group of students there. Once on the spot, it was hard to imagine that we would spend 3 days completely isolated from the rest of Morocco- although we did have Wi-Fi. For three peaceful days, we slowly integrated ourselves in people's life there.
The food that we ate was locally grown just a few metres away. We visited the plantations and helped the people with their daily harvest. Back to the hostel, some of us would help our hosts to serve the food and clean the tables after every meal. A memorable activity for me was the plucking of olives in the yard. I remember thinking how peaceful that was while being gently kissed by the afternoon sun and soft breeze. This simple and sustainable lifestyle was just unbelievable. It was also incredible to know where the olives that I was eating came from! It seemed that we had been stuck in another time. Yet we were not. It was just a sustainable way of living that suited the people there. I would go as far as saying that they had better skin and were healthier than the average people living elsewhere.
Those three days were eye-opening. They made me realize that this lifestyle is not new. Sustainability has become the buzzword in this modern era when in fact, it has existed since the dawn of civilization. Research made by Constanza and his colleagues in 2007 demonstrated that the past has provided various models upon which mankind has depended for many unexpected scenarios such as climate changes, ecological processes, changing socio-environment conditions and the intensity of those impacts. Indeed, man has always engineered his way to adapt to his environment, hence providing him with enough food and means. However, in this highly interconnected global system, we have become engulfed into a consumeristic lifestyle. We were tempted to cater to our selfish needs and we thus have learned to dissociate ourselves with our natural environment.
The reason is mainly due to the Industrial Revolution which occurred about 250 years ago in Great Britain. While technological advancements led to globalization and medical discoveries saved millions of lives, this phenomenal global force has had a double-edged sword effect on our planet. We have created a hole in the ozone layer, allowing harmful UV rays to reach the earth. There has been a massive extraction of fossil fuels to meet the excessive human needs. Our ever-increasing human activities, including the careless disposal of plastics, led to global warming. Adding to this snowball effect, the increasing temperature has been melting ice caps hence threatening low lying islands. The list goes on and on.
Scientists have estimated that 200 species become extinct every-day. According to geologists, we have now entered a new human epoch called the Anthropocene. This geological epoch reveals that mankind is dominating the earth with its activities and hence changing the earth faster than all the natural processes combined. Shouldn’t this be alarming? I would argue that we are aware of it, but we choose to turn a blind eye on it or we are simply oblivious of the actions to take.
Nevertheless, this has been made clear recently. A huge mass of young people in many parts of the world went on strike during the Climate Action Week. People nowadays are supporting the "Greta Effect", which was kindled by young 16-year-old Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg. She was able to conjure this sense of emergency from world leaders through her emotional speech at the Climate Action Summit in New York. Sweden is, in fact, the first country to pass an environment protection act in 1972. Their wake-up call was simply the strange apparition of dead birds in the country. At that time, Sweden employed a lot of mercury compounds in farming and in the pulp industry which eventually affected the food chain. From then on, considerable efforts have been made to protect the environment in various ways. It is no wonder that they learned their lesson at that time since Sweden is now the leading country in sustainability measures.
However, we would be fools to imagine that all countries would take such measures. Changes in environmental policies take time. Moreover, the damage that we caused as human beings is too colossal to ensure a smooth reversal process. There is also no need to employ drastic measures if one was used to a certain lifestyle. For instance, becoming a vegetarian at this very minute because you would like to reduce the impact of excessive farming industries would be a bit excessive. Getting rid of all your plastic materials would be again, superfluous. Nonetheless, there is a need to redefine the human-environment relationship. People need to be re-educated in understanding what is sustainability and how it changes with time. Quoting Constanza’s research, I would ask you this question; "What can we learn from integrating the history of humans and the rest of nature?"
The easiest and most accessible way of doing so is to be acquainted with the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Those are blueprints made easy to understand the current world issues and act on those problematics. Sustainability should be viewed as multifaceted. Gaia Education, an international NGO founded in the UK, provides people from different backgrounds with the knowledge and skills required to design a sustainable and thriving society. Along with the UNESCO Global Action Programme, they designed special SDG flashcards for education on sustainable development.
This is how we, at the Leadership Development Institute (LDI), intend to form the next generation of sustainability leaders. We have recently used those special SDG flashcards for a workshop on the SDGs. The goal of the workshop was to create a dialogue and ownership of the SDGs and make our students engage in active participation by implementing the SDGs in their project. By the end of November, we will be delivering another workshop on the SDGs at the Faculty of Letters and Humanities in Fez.
There is always more to be done, however, promoting awareness of the goals, one community at a time, is a good start.
Gabriella ML M
Human Development Manager
Leadership Development Institute
Costanza, R, Graumlich, L, Steffen, W, Crumley, C, Dearing, J, Hibbard, K, Leemans, R, Charles Redman, and Schimel, D (2007). Sustainability or Collapse: What Can We Learn from Integrating the History of Humans and the Rest of Nature? DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1579/0044-7447(2007)36[522:SOCWCW]2.0.CO;2
GaiaEducation Design For Sustainability. (2019). Retrieved from GaiaEducation: https://www.gaiaeducation.org/
Global Climate Change Week 2019. (1999-2019). Retrieved from International Institute for Sustainable Development: https://sdg.iisd.org/events/global-climate-change-week-2019/
Johnson, S. (2019, October 1). The ‘Greta effect’: Can Thunberg’s activism actually change policy? Retrieved from Big Think: https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/greta-effect?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1
Let's Save the Planet. (2019, October 16). Retrieved from Sweden Sverige: https://sweden.se/climate/
Pharand-Deschênes, F. (2012). Welcome to Anthropocene. Retrieved from Welcome to Anthropocene: http://www.anthropocene.info/
Vidal, J. (2011, May 17). UN Environment Programme: 200 Species Extinct Every Day, Unlike Anything Since Dinosaurs Disappeared 65 Million Years Ago. Retrieved from Huffpost: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/un-environment-programme-_n_684562
Wikepedia. (2019, November 18). Industrial Revolution. Retrieved from Wikepedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution