What does it mean to sustain? When you think of sustaining a system or a way of life or an environment, do you ever consider not using it up by not ever using it? Sustaining in order to keep from losing pieces? Is a sustainable source of energy the same as renewable energy? When you sustain a culture, do you wish to keep the culture as it was 50 years ago, 500 years ago, 5000 years ago?

The Romans had water brought in by aqueducts. Should we not now have pipes and pumping stations? The aqueduct system was a great innovation that allowed Rome to grow to be a large city. But it wasn’t the aqueduct that was sustainable; it was the concept of bringing in water. The civilizations in the Central Americas produced amazing cultural artifacts–calendars, industrial practices, farming innovations, architectural wonders. But the culture was not sustained after the arrival of the Spanish. At least that’s what we believe. But it wasn’t the Spanish. Though they took advantage of the fall of those civilizations, they weren’t the cause. The culture became unsustainable when its leaders did less for the community than the community did for its leaders. The new culture adopted the Spanish language and its religion, though the old religion is sometimes incorporated into the Catholicism as a remnant of the indigenous culture.

Do you know how many languages have gone extinct in this century alone? The languages that did not survive could not make the transition to a “smaller world” where you had to be multilingual in order for your culture to exist. Without the ability to converse with your neighbors, trade was not viable, misunderstandings became wars, and help was not available should the environment change. Either the speakers had to learn to communicate in other ways or they would go extinct. I had a friend whose third language was English, his second was Spanish, and his native language was a dialect of ancient Mayan. That dialect was not spoken anywhere in the world outside his village. As the elders of his village died, the younger members learned Spanish rather than the old language. In four generations, only one or two elders spoke the language at all.

Sustainability is the support–mental, physical, and spiritual–that keeps things alive.

In order for a religion to be sustainable, the belief system has to remain intact. It must fulfill a purpose for its members. It needs to continually bring in members, and its principles need to be practiced.

In order for an energy source to be sustainable, it cannot run out. It cannot destroy the materials needed to maintain the source…you cannot cut down more trees than you plant. You cannot expect to kill off the old growth and then kill off the new growth and still have a sustainable source. You are, in effect, removing the support. In order to get old growth trees, you have to let young trees get old. You cannot expend more energy harvesting the source than you get from the source. You cannot destroy one source of materials and resources to create a less efficient source.

In order for your club to survive and be self-sustaining, it needs the support of its members. It has to serve the members’ needs. But letting it stagnate by not bringing in new members, or by inundating it with paperwork or useless regulations will kill it.

In order to sustain a community, you need to consider what is essential to that community. Obviously, the American community favors safety and security, but not at the expense of personal freedom. Where do you draw the line? Perfect security would be guaranteed food for all, guaranteed work for all, guaranteed housing, and guaranteed education. The perfect example of that model is prison. There is no guarantee for safety however. Perfect freedom would be the guaranteed promise that a person could do whatever he/she wanted, when he/wanted, with whom he/she wanted, for as long as they wanted with no interference from anyone. The perfect example of that model would have been my great uncle John and his wife, Colona. They lived in rural Idaho. Their house was 600 feet from a high-power line, and yet, they had no electricity, no phone, no indoor plumbing. Their closest neighbors were about 5 miles away. They had a truck they could drive into town with, but mostly they traveled by horse. Colona cooked on a wood stove that also served as the only source of heat during the winter. The freedom they had was sustainable for them, for a time. The real risk is when they had a weather or climate variation like drought, forest fires, or blizzards that made farming and hunting nearly impossible. There are no safeguards for those contingencies. It’s like the guy that went up to Alaska to live on his own in a bus, got trapped by the rising stream and starved to death. I don’t know how it would work in a larger community. The security model, the prison, is not sustainable. As an inmate, you may be subjected to assault and battery, rape, and theft. It becomes the opposite of security and safety. People try to escape that model. It can become overcrowded and dysfunctional and those guaranteed security measures become less guaranteed.

Sustainability is only possible if the thing you are trying to sustain is flexible and malleable to allow for change, to adjust to circumstances, and to keep “new blood” coming in.

Sustainability revolves around the support given. The support can come from within or without, but whatever is being supported must be cherished and nurtured constantly to maintain its health and sustain its purpose.

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