The Marketplace radio program has featured a series on sustainability all week. This is my favorite piece.
Our emerging national conversation about sustainability has a decidedly “eat your spinach” tone. We’re steeling ourselves to enter the realm of sacrifice and penance. But as I’ve explored ethics and meaning in American life these past few years, I’ve been struck by the heightened sense of delight and beauty in lives and communities pursuing a new alignment with the natural world.
Innovation and sustainability often begins, I’ve found, with people defining what they cherish as much as diagnosing what is wrong. I think of Majora Carter. The cutting-edge program she founded, Sustainable South Bronx, began when she and that people of that borough began to reclaim their riverfront for refreshment and play.
I think also of the author Barbara Kingsolver, who found in a year of sustainable eating that when it comes to food, the ethical choice is also the pleasurable choice. And she says that as we face the grand ecological crisis of our time, one of our most important renewable resources is hope. We simply have to put it on with our shoes every morning.
Recently, we visited the Rural Studio at Auburn University in Alabama. There, architectural students build elegant homes and public spaces in poor communities. Long before sustainability was fashionable, the rural studio was innovating zero-maintenance design. This architectural philosophy shelters the body while honoring the environment and human dignity.
The writer Frederick Beuchner has said that “vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I’d like to propose the work of sustainability ahead of us as an unfolding vocation — not merely a response to problems, but an invitation to possibility and a way to strengthen moral resources, such as delight, dignity, elegance and hope.
Marketplace: Deep gladness meets deep need