Sustainability- First Things First Series- 6

© 2013 by Dan Nowman Niswander

“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”—Buckminster Fuller. 1970


Photo courtesy of Brixton Pound (alternative currency) and David Bowie

To begin with, there really is a tremendous need for all humans to get real about the problems that our world already faces and the potential for so many more whether it is ecological or otherwise.  It is imperative to find solutions that are ‘sustainable’ because much behavior that we see and read about now all around the planet is clearly unsustainable.

Critical thinkers can no longer deny reality. As we consider the already existing facts of how humans often think and act, we quickly begin to see how problems can seem to be insurmountable and solving them overwhelming. It starts in the mind as I have covered to some extent in this series already and the consequences of doing little or nothing to address any problem is potentially an even bigger problem.

In this installment of the first things first series, I will begin a brief overview of sustainability, a term that is usually associated with climate issues, but it can also pertain to economics, social issues, politics, cultures, and as I am finding in my research, even more.

SUSTAINABILITY, according to © Wikipedia, is defined as the potential for long-term maintenance of well -being, which has ecological, economic, political and cultural dimensions. Sustainability requires the reconciliation of environmental, social equity and economic demands. 1

In simple terms, sustainability is the action of ongoing maintenance and sustenance of life… essentially…and it is action that must continue indefinitely.  The mechanisms and manifestations of sustainability are unlimited.

There is so much to discuss and continued research yet to conduct so I will start with basic definitions of important terms and give some very general examples of what is already being done as well as what is possible when more and more individuals become aware.

Let’s start with the commons.  What do we have in common? What are the commons?

The Commons are unlimited not only as manifestations of ideas in form but also as sustainable ways of understanding how solutions to problems and ways of living can be discussed, created, and then implemented by various groups operating through numerous democratic processes.  Even as new resources are created, there are also the already existing resources that we automatically share such as the sun, air, water, land, and other aspects of the natural world.  Even intellectual and social forms such as educational materials and recreational spaces, the broadcasting airwaves through television and radio, and the Internet must be included.  The world wide web clearly shows us that we ALL have access to what would be called invisible airwaves… to view and also to create content.   All of this together makes up the Commons.

More simply…..

THE COMMONS is an ancient to modern concept that is defined by economist James Quilligan as inherited or created gifts that we organize, use and steward during our lifetimes through informal practices and rules which we pass on to future generations.” 2

The commons are identified in environmental, economic, social, political, cultural, and all parts of societies and life in general. This ongoing discussion includes intellectual details as well as simple basic terms that anyone can understand.

That being said, this is a very basic overview of what is an extensive amount of topics on the subject of sustainability.  All kinds of social connections around the globe are already happening and leading to implementations of numerous designs to actions agreed upon in democratic consensuses.

But real progress is just in the very beginning evolutionary phases.

What are some of the problems that must be addressed? What are some sustainable solutions?

Permaculture according to Wikipedia © is a branch of ecological designecological engineering, and environmental design that develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.  3

We have heard so much about the pollution of air and water from nuclear disasters, oil spills and fracturing, and non-organic behaviors and practices such as the use of pesticides and chemicals used in agribusiness, to just name a few problems in the eco-systems alone.  We can no longer ignore the effects of the destruction and how it affects the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, and the water that we drink.


Aquaponics system- Courtesy of Clark Davis and The Syndicate in Venice, California

Some neighborhoods are already engaging in environmental sustainability through the implementation of all kinds of ecological projects such as community gardens, eco-villages and other types of home and food co-ops where people live together as well as produce and share resources, and also commercial and residential landscape designing for the purpose of growing food or reducing  water consumption. Aquaponic and hydroponic systems are just a couple examples of permacultural design for growing food.


Part of the community garden at Los Angeles Eco-Village

Economically, worker owned co-ops have existed for decades.  In more recent years, B Corporations have been established with B Corp Certifications given on the basis of effective and proven community and environmental responsibility.

Bartering has actually been very common, but the societal behavior hasn’t always been identified with that word.

There are alternatives to bartering such as hybrids of economic models that are already functional in local to international time bank systems. In a time bank system beginning with an online personal profile, hours are exchanged as time dollars through numerous creative events and exchanges.

Bitcoins are a recognized form of digital currency.  Community paper currency has been successful in certain communities for decades such as in Ithaca, New York and London, England.


Ithaca (New York) Dollars

In Bristol, England, a concept called Transition Town was created and is focused upon developing new green models of municipalities… neighborhoods in cities and towns transitioning to a whole new way of building community.  The Transition Movement is beginning to create communities based more on cooperation than competition and is more focused on building businesses centered around the town, city or village rather than focusing on massive multi-national corporations that often have less, little, or no responsibility or loyalty to the communities where they do business.

The Internet used with careful discernment is a valuable tool and source of information. It opens up a lot of opportunities to explore the building of sustainable communities. This can begin with groups in social settings that meet up to discuss the possibilities for creating practical entrepreneurial projects and individual and collective partnerships.

The growth in the awareness and practice of these methods are already beginning to make massive changes in our whole social, political and cultural local to global landscape.  We have the abilities and the resources to end poverty, redefine productivity and consumption without also destroying the very environments we live in, establish a real social and economic balance, bring peace to the forefront like never before, and even create a new cultural and educational renaissance!


Sustainability is a process that is always in a state of revision and re-invention. It can help us find real solutions to the actual problems that must be solved if humans are serious about how important it is to be fully engaged at this time of history.

Hope exists when the ideas are real prospects for real progress!

And…. There are unlimited ways to be creative and have fun doing it!

Get educated!

SO in simple terms, it is time to get off of one’s duff and get busy. It’s time to engage in sustainable behavior and living…. NOW!


Dan Nowman Niswander


1. and  3. Source:  Wikipedia

2.  Source: James Quilligan and Occupy Wall Street

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Categories: Activism, Commons, Economics, Edutainment, Local Communities, Movement Building, Permaculture, Social Innovation, Sustainability, Thinking Together, UK, United States


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