To understand the gravity of the challenges that we face, we must come to a true realization of what it means to be "unsustainable." We need to let the meaning of this concept really sink in. Unsustainable means CANNOT CONTINUE. Will not continue. Is certain to end.
For example, when we say that heating homes across the province with fossil fuel heating oil is unsustainable, we are saying that it will not be possible in the future. Our Nova Scotia winters can be unforgiving. We heat our homes with oil, and we know that oil will not last forever. But what happens when the reality of an unsustainable practice hits? What will we do when a system that cannot continue, doesn't continue?
When an unsustainable system breaks down, it doesn't necessarily happen overnight. Little by little, a practice that once was easy and economical becomes more challenging. Perhaps prices skyrocket. In May 2007 heating oil was just under US $2 per gallon, in May 2008 it is just under $4. Perhaps there are shortages where heating oil cannot be obtained at any price. In December 2007 a delayed fuel tanker left some Cape Bretoners perilously close to freezing in an early winter storm.
These are warning signs. If we fail to take action to alter our dependencies, when an unsustainable system breaks down we will find ourselves with no options. We have no Plan B. Dick Cheney once famously said that the American way of life is non-negotiable. Well that's just fine, because Mother Nature does not negotiate. She dictates limits, and if we fail to heed the warning signals, we will hit those limits like a brick wall.
What these challenges call for is a hard-nosed, practical, green realism. Green realism is about building communities and economies that are insulated from unsustainable systems. Politically, green realism is about supporting sustainability innovation in business, technology, education, finance, government, and all elements of our lives. It is about policies that create an environment in which this innovation can thrive. Green realism is based in economic realities, and discards the fantasy that unsustainable practices will support us.
But most of all, green realism is about seeing the possibilities of the future. We are beginning to sense the need to live in cooperation with our world, not in domination over it. This is not simply a sentimental wish to live in harmony with nature, it is a stark economic reality. We can build a green economy. We can create lasting wealth for our communities. But we need to have a realistic understanding of our world, and we need to start this work now.
There is no time to loose. The energy crisis looms dead ahead. The climate crisis is upon us. The food crisis is hitting the poor areas of our world hard. Inaction in the face of these threats will leave us vulnerable in very serious ways. If we rely on unsustainable systems for our economic wellbeing, we are setting ourselves up for disaster, pure and simple.
The inertia of business-as-usual will not address these challenges. We need business-on-fire, and we need political leadership that can join green vision with economic practicality. This is green realism, and we need to start thinking and acting in these terms. For our future and the future of our children, we must discover what it truly means to be sustainable.