New Clear Vision

constructive commentary for the chronically farsighted

Living and Learning Sustainability

August 05, 2011 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Ecology, Economy, Tina Lynn Evans

A New Series for New Clear Vision

by Tina Lynn Evans

(Editor’s Note: In this monthly series for NCV, Tina Evans explores some of the most pressing challenges of our time. She proposes ways of comprehending these challenges and taking positive actions, and offers a voice of reason and empathy amidst the cacophony of blame triggered by converging crises in areas such as the economy, energy, climate, and more. Evans helps us consider more sustainable and socially just analyses of and answers to our problems than those offered by the prominent players of the blame game. Along with her students, her community, and her readers, she aims to help create empowering alternatives that can benefit people and the places they call home…)

It’s so easy to be lured into the blame game. We don’t have to learn much to join in, and our participation provides an immediate outlet for our anger and frustration. And yes, many of us should be angry as we chart our futures on a playing field that is too often tilted — and not in our favor. In the U.S., many of us feel the American Dream slipping right through our fingertips despite our best intentions, our intelligence, our training, and our willingness to work endless hours. We’re left to wonder what went wrong, and there are many easy answers offered.

But is it really immigrants stealing our jobs that’s the problem?  Or is it big government that’s soaking up and wasting the wealth of the people? Is the real problem bad teachers who make our children uncompetitive in the global job marketplace? Is it a self-centered culture of entitlement that’s rotting what’s good and entrepreneurial in our populace? Perhaps it’s too much environmental regulation that stifling businesses? Or perhaps it’s diversity and political correctness that are weakening our national identity and making us vulnerable to outside influences? Maybe it’s all those lazy and stupid people living off the welfare state?

As is typical in times of economic strife, so many people are easily united against others. Channeling this form of unity was and remains the key strategy of fascists who would manipulate the people in order to consolidate and increase their own power. The blame game is a palliative for those who are losing their grip on their dreams. They feel a sense of relative power as they blame other victims of the corrupt and bankrupt world-system that systematically — and by design — concentrates wealth and power in the hands of an increasingly select few, while sending untold millions into poverty and wreaking environmental and social destruction worldwide.

As a sustainability-oriented educator, my greatest fear is that, as we wade into the rising waters of climate change and ride the roller coaster down the fossil fuel depletion curve,  people will not be able to unite around ideas that can truly empower them and their communities by creating resilience for the tough times unfolding today and tomorrow. I fear that they will, instead, focus their energies on blaming other victims in their midst and leave the immensely creative and life enhancing project of sustainable community building largely untouched.

I don’t like to be motivated by fear, though, and I am encouraged by the rapid rise in individual, family, and community sustainability work that is taking place in my household, my local community, and worldwide.

But is it enough? Will enough people understand that what they’re truly up against is not their neighbor — who is suffering, too, in similar, perhaps worse, circumstances that are largely not of his or her making? Or will they lash out at those around them in anger only to be left in their time of greatest need in communities with less trust, fewer healthy relationships, and less willingness to help one another?

We need to understand a bigger picture of what is driving our current economic, social, and ecological crises, a picture even bigger than that visible on our large screen TVs where political commentators and talk show hosts offer us scratch-the-surface interpretations often entirely devoid of historical, cultural, and ecological context. In response to this need, I’ve spent a good deal of my time as an educator engaging with college students to weave together a tapestry of knowledge and interpretation of how we got where we are today. Each time I engage with a new group of students in my sustainability-focused classes, I know the journey we’ll share will be long and complex.

And that’s a big part of the problem: to develop an understanding of the challenges we face collectively that goes deeper than simple blaming of readily available targets in the form of other victims, one must devote time and concentration to the effort. One must read, think, and discuss with intellectual vigor and emotional engagement. One must be genuinely curious, and one must develop empathy on a broad scale, empathy both for other people and the earth. All this must be done precisely in a time when we are struggling financially, struggling with our own self-confidence, and losing belief in a materially sound, if not better, future for ourselves and our children.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, nor do I claim to be holier than thou in my day to day life, but I’m trying. And so are my students. So are many people that I know in my town, and so are many others in their own places. We have to start somewhere, and that’s usually wherever we are at present. We need to make the right changes now.

In this series on living and learning sustainability, I’ll explore what I see as some of the most pressing challenges of our time. I’ll propose some ways of comprehending these challenges and taking positive actions that any of us should be able to engage in at one level or another. I’ll be looking for more sustainable and socially just analysis and answers to our problems than those proposed by the puppet masters of the blame game. I want to help create a new game that all of us can play to our mutual benefit and to the benefit of the places we call home.

Tina Lynn Evans, Ph.D., teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on energy systems and socio-ecological sustainability at Prescott College and Fort Lewis College, and is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision. She earned her doctorate in Sustainability Education at Prescott College, and currently resides with her husband and cat in the town of Durango, Colorado, where she grows and gathers a good deal of her own food and teaches and writes on sustainability issues and ideas.

0 Comments to “Living and Learning Sustainability”

  1. Thank you for this insightful post. I agree with you that gaining an understanding of how what we see right in front of us is connected to the big picture is so critical. I also am troubled about how to get this message across without blaming. I just read Drew Westen’s The Political Brain and he talks a lot about how naming the villain is critical in getting political messages across. And there are villains out there. I hope you will write more about this.

    • Kate Niles says:

      Hi sister-in-law Mirele! Thank you for commenting and all your good work with hydrofracking etc. Keep reading Tina’s column and writing your own stuff – -so very very important. Lately, in my own work, I am struck by how many mentall “unbalanced” people have been deeply hurt and disturbed by what is happening to the Earth, and I think their mental health and these facts are not unrelated. Connecting the Big Picture to the small IS crucial, as is not blaming…one of my little tricks is to really listen, and meet people where they are at. I think that opens dialogue a lot quicker than talking political shop.

  2. Yes, very well written and right on the mark. How do we strive for abundance when we are surrounded by negative information.
    As Sustainability Coordinator in our region trying to get folks to make even small behavioral changes is difficult. But doing things together – as community members, neighbors, fellow Earthlings – can be fun and far more rewarding than just trying to get ahead as individuals. I look forward to more!

    • Tina Evans says:

      Hello, Kris. Good to hear from you.

      Yes, there is really a lot of good analysis happening all of the time regarding our current situation (that is honestly quite desperate on many fronts). There seems to be mountains of it. It’s certainly important that we remain awake and aware of the many important (and often disturbing) things happening in our world, and I hope that some of the great analysis out there is helping to wake more folks up to the need for change.

      Still, I can’t help feeling that much of the analysis that I read only further validates a narrative that I’ve been aware of for some time. The continual analysis can become overwhelming. So … how do we find a balance between remaining awake and aware (also open enough to be truly empathetic to others) without becoming overwhelmed? That’s certainly a question for us all.

      Thanks again for your message.


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