Sustainable, Sostenible, and Sustentable

Humanity is currently in the midst of an ecological crisis and everyday the consequences become more apparent. The movement toward reforming our exploitation of the natural world has slowly risen but it may not gain the necessary momentum in time. We hear the word sustainability a lot, especially in today’s news. It’s a word that everyone knows and has a general understanding of within the context of human consumption. Rarely would we need to deliberate the meaning of the word but after reading Sustainability, by Maria Garcia Maldonado, Rosario Garcia Meza, and Emily Yates-Doerr, it seems that it might be a topic for discussion. 

The author recalls the Nutricion para el desarollo sostenible conference in 2015. They describe the moment when a speaker asked if the word sustainable should be translated into Spanish as sostenible or sustentable. Both were valid translations but conveyed different meanings. 

Again, the author notices a similar issue when staying at Dona Marta’s house in Guatemala. Though the effects of recent policy change were apparent, action was no different than before. The new implementations were “english” and therefore Marta was uninfluenced by it. I find it hard to believe any real progress can be made if there isn’t a way to translate and define our problem and its solutions.  Despite the lack of understanding though, Marta clearly worried about the future and so did the others around her. In their own way, each person worked to preserve something. Whether it be their farms, wage labor, or their own lives, all of it was a part of their own definition for sustainability. At the end of the article, the author speaks on defining our terms with ideas that may be too specific. Now is a time where the relationship between humans and the natural world is being redefined so maybe we should account for this in our interpretation of possible solutions. While there are certainly right and wrong ways to manage our natural resources, we should refrain from excluding multiple options. Especially if they ignore or alienate other cultural practices that have been held on to for generations.


After reading the Introduction and Maria Garcia Maldonado, Rosario Garcia Meza, and Emily Yates-Doerrs’ essay, Sustainability, in addition to Jerome Whitington’s Carbon, I couldn’t help but reevaluate where we stand in the grand scope of time.

Admittedly, it is rather difficult not to think of time when thinking about the anthropocene but it surprised me how there were so many “labels” to what we may call the “anthropocene”. I found it very reasonable that Whitington described carbon as a marker of the anthropocene in that excess carbon (and other greenhouse gases) is very much a product of what human actions have done over the recent years. Yes, carbon had always existed well before humans “took over” as the “apex” but his phrase “carbon is a metric of the human” struck a chord with me because it made me stand back and think about what other things could be marked in correlation to the “anthropocene”. Of course, the improvement of technology is a major by-product of humans (and this is obvious) but in the grand scale of things, what could only be measured in today’s time? Or rather, what sustaining effects were solely brought on by humans?

War, money, religion, are three things very foundational to the global society today and almost all three things can be linked to the destruction of our planet. I won’t go into detail into how are connected since that’d make for a long blog post but I think most of us can see how, regardless. It is almost fascinating to see, however, how humans are trying to “correct” their mistakes in “going green” and being more actively aware of the harm we are doing the environment but as the Sustainability essay pointed out, even in languages there are different ideas of what it means to “sustain”. It seems that a huge difference between humans and other creatures of the earth is that humans have the most interpersonal conflict. I read a book over the summer for the Honors class about how humans can’t seem to view things from the same ground for a multitude of reasons including life experiences, religion, what you’ve been taught, etc. which makes it incredibly difficult to tackle our responsibilities towards this planet together. Togetherness is a thing you can see in nature whether it be the birds migrating in the air, or the wolves staying in a pack, or salmon swimming upstream, and it appears that another major trait for this “anthropocene” is “disjunction”.

In the end, it appears that all in all, environmental effects could almost directly be linked to humans. Looking back at history, humans have always been the “forerunners of everything bad” as I like to say, and it’s not that I think all humans are terrible or human life is the “bane of destruction” but rather, for a race so “innovative” and “intelligent”, we’ve done a lot of harm compared to the other animals and beings in the world in a few thousand years and I can’t help but wonder if this is all there is to the “brilliance” of the human mind. We’ve always been told to try and at least understand others who are different from you and I, but it seems that the human heart when push comes to shove, is unwilling to be so kind.