Sustainable philosophy – Rachel Carson and others

A symbol of sustainable living… from one of Ankara’s first settlements. Evidence that people lived there permanently 4,000 years ago.

Sustainability (the ability to be sustainable) is probably our greatest challenge – and always has been. Whole cities, even civilisations have collapsed because their people pushed things beyond natural limits, often not realising that they had done so until it was too late. It’s not surprising that this issue of sustainability became a preoccupation of philosophers and every culture has come to have it’s Zarathustra, Buddha, Confucius, or Rumı.

Diogenes of Sinope, John the Baptist, Henry Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi and Bediuzzaman Said Nursî are some of the more colourful characters to promote simpler, more sustainable lifestyles. They chose to live without luxury and to be as self-sufficient as possible. But this attitude sometimes got them into trouble. They seldom saw eye-to-eye with urban elites, bureaucrats or occupiers, but they inspired generations of people with their stoicism and belief that we are citizens of the world and happiness is not dependent on materialism.

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” – Rachel Carson.

Others like Rachel Carson, were just as contentious. Her book Silent Spring, 1962, questioned the need for us to dominate nature and abuse it with pollution and pesticides like DDT. Rachel was fiercely attacked by some of the most powerful men in America but their efforts backfired. Public opinion eventually forced the banning of DDT in the United States in 1972.

Rachel’s legacy was also to inspire a generation of environmental activism and the emergence of organisations such as greenpeace.

5 minute challenge:

  1. Go to a lovely site about Rachel Carson and look at the slides about her life and work. 
  2. Now, imagine you could talk to Rachel. What would you ask her? Type your question in the reply/comment box below.

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