Drum roll, please: I completed Coursera’s Intro to Sustainability! It’s safe to say I’m pretty pleased with myself, especially considering that I didn’t have to take the course, and most definitely didn’t have to finish it. Sure, doing a little weekly summary here on the blog added a level of accountability to the whole thing, but considering the majority of my “readers” are people I don’t personally know, I could have easily just dropped out and never mentioned the course again. Oh, and I started doing better and better on the quizzes as the course went on – whether this was because I stopped caring how well I did, or whether I did better as cumulative knowledge grew…who knows! But I am glad for what I learned in the process.
Anyway, the final week was all about how to measure sustainability. This included the ever popular concepts of food miles and carbon footprint, footprinting in general, sustainability metrics, heuristics, ecosystem services and intrinsic value. While the term “food miles” is fairly commonplace at this point, it interested me to learn that eating local was not always the answer; that it certain cases it’s actually more sustainable to get your food shipped from another continent than to try to grow/raise it in your own backyard! That, in fact, driving to the store to pick up bananas may equal a larger footprint than the actual transportation those bananas took to get to the store themselves. This is definitely different from what I had been led to this point to believe, but it doesn’t diminish the importance of eating local, if only for building good local economies, relations and resilience.
It could be said that strong communities have not only economic value, but intrinsic value as well. Intrinsic value is essentially measuring the worth of something simply for what it is. In local value, that means it’s better for the community to be, well, a better community. In terms of the environment, that means a tree is important because it’s a tree. Unfortunately, while I (and many others) agree with that idea completely, the society we live in values money above all else. If clearing forestland will make room to plant a monoculture of money-making crops, so be it! In actuality, the environment benefits society as a whole in innumerable ways (including monetarily!) – those numbers just haven’t been taken into account thus far when big business makes big decisions. But hopefully that will be changing in the near future; to ensure a long future for all of us, in every small community, and in the larger community that we call earth!