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Turning Towards a Sustainable Future

By Guadalupe Guajardo, SNJM

My choice is April, still!
By then the old must go,
By then the new must grow;
It causes some commotion,
Yet, calm is not my notion,
But that we have our will.

My choice is April, still,
Because it’s sweeping, storming,
Because it’s smiling, warming,
Because it has resources,
Subverts old winter’s forces,
Gives birth to summer’s thrill!

-Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

When we talk about facing an unsustainable future, it’s important to remember that we have choices. As Sisters of the Holy Names, we choose to look at the economic, social and environmental warning signs that surround us and respond with confident hope.

We are not in denial about the dangerous realities confronting our world. Our dominant economic system - typically described as "capitalism" – certainly has positive dimensions but it has lived out most of its usefulness and its disadvantages are becoming increasingly apparent. This economic system has global impact: it requires raw materials, low taxes, cheap labor and new markets. It determines who gets access to power, land, jobs and resources. There are some winners, but a vast number of losers. News outlets are filled with reports about the 99% who can't make financial ends meet, the disappearance of the middle class, the high rate of homelessness in one of the world’s richest countries.

Just as serious, the health of our planet is at stake. As the climate changes, we have experienced blistering heat in the Southwest, harsh snowstorms on the East Coast, an increase in destructive forest fires on the West Coast and a rising risk of adequate water to grow our food.

As part of our commitment to a hope-filled future as responsible stewards of the earth, the U.S.-Ontario Province has produced an issue of our own publication, Voyage, dedicated to sustainability. We've also supported the production of a primer on sustainability from the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center. These materials point to options for taking effective action to improve environmental and social conditions for all.

There is a degree of faith involved as we go into the future filled with uncertainties. Scriptures remind us, “For we walk by faith not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). As women of faith, we believe in the Pascal Mystery, that we are an Easter People in a Good Friday world, that death does not have the last say.

From chaos theory, we learn about the cycles of order, disorder and reorder in organic systems. Things fall apart when something better wants to happen. Futurists tell us that there are “futures,” not just a future. There are possible, probable and preferable futures. We want the preferred future to reflect our values and charism. We want a country and world that favors the disenfranchised and marginalized.

Some expect our current economic and social systems to begin to collapse within the next few decades. These times call for a commitment to a better vision for our future society, for new and different types of leadership. In our vision, leadership will come from the margins of society where people take unprecedented risks, are bold because they have nothing more to lose and where the greatest creativity exists. We will need fresh language that can only emerge as we become more welcoming, inclusive and affirming of differences working together for a common good. We will need policies that liberate the human spirit rather than attempting to perpetuate “business as usual.”  Human relationships must be at the center of this future society.

Some businesses already have pivoted away from conventional, profit-at-all-costs practices.  In an interview broadcast by NPR, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard shared how the company has reduced the production of new clothing items in favor of repairing items purchased by customers in the past. Manufacturing focuses more on garments that can be worn in multiple seasons and last for years. Patagonia’s work culture includes encouraging employees to enjoy the outdoors and supporting the needs of families with on-site day care. Not surprisingly, the company’s founder is committed to a spiritual practice that includes meditation and has established company values that put people before profits. The goal is to be around for the next 100 years, rather than shooting to the top with financial results.

People yearn for meaning. In his collection of essays, Logical Thinking About a Future Society, author Harvey Jackins wrote, “Don’t appeal to people on narrow, economic or self-serving issues, but enlist people in struggle primarily on the basis of offering them meaningful lives; on the basis that participation in social change and human liberation liberates them from the most destructive effect of the society, that is meaningless.”

Embracing our mission to advance sustainability, we go forth with faith, courage, vision and hope. We must continue building strong relationships that will sustain us through the certainty of challenging times.

Photo credit: Blynda Barnett