Simple Question of Attaining “Sustainability”

When thinking of the issues we face environmentally, and the recent links to climate change, we often speak about issues on a global level without considering the local issues/ impact of those discussions.  A condition I think about often as the discussions around climate change and environmental protection continue to be hobbled by issues of ecology vs. economy.

On a recent trip through the Yangtze though I saw things that really highlighted the long term difficulties that we face in building a “balanced” society.  Two of which are perhaps best illustrated by the pictures below.

In the first pictures, taken near an area that had seen a lot of construction in the last few years, you have the mountain which is been quarried, reduced to rubble that will be refined into different sizes, for different uses, which will then be loaded into one of the boats you see in the bottom of the picture.  This “new material” will wind up on a construction site in China to support a the growth of one of their many populations / cities/ economies.

The second is a hillside between Yichang and Wuhan in a particularly stunning part of the gorges, and highlights a completely different issue.  People gotta eat!  This hilltop is populated, and in order to sustain themselves, they have removed all the natural foliage and replaced it with crops.

Which leads me to ask a very simple question about two very real threats to our ideas of “sustainability”, and the goals that we have for “sustainability”:

Can we truly find a balance when we have already put ourselves in the position that we have to literally shave down and remove the most solid foundations that our planet provides?

What are the limits that we are unwilling to cross, what will be the consequences if our lines are beyond those of the environment, and who should be paying the consequences of failing to respect some fundamental laws of the environment?

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