Why should people care whether an endangered snail goes extinct, or that another forest disappeared from earth today?
Sustainability has been called the most important idea of the 21st century. It means, in the simplest terms possible, that any resource, or dynamic system, designed in nature, is taken in ways that allow earth to replenish those resources, or continue that system.
A sustainable forest is a forest managed in such a way that trees get replanted, and will be there for the ecosystems that need them for life. A sustainable food crop is one that feeds many, and is still able to be planted again without major destruction to soils, bio-diversity and people. A sustainable economy is one that is more balanced toward ending waste. It adds shared value to everyone, and not to just the elite.
Historically, rich and powerful beings will be the very individuals who grab for riches, power and resource control. That is who they are. A powerful king, priest, or even corporate media leader, is going to be someone who seeks not sustainability, but profit. Such elites can only thrive in an environment of constant competition and destructive consumption. Sustaining only a few people however, sacrifices both resources and an exploited underclass. In an overcrowded region of finite resources, this is unsustainable without conflict.
The question of failed Communism and/or socialism is often thrown down as a defense for unsustainable systems. It is true that Communism and Socialism are flawed systems, but so is unsustainable Capitalism. Note that all fail, not because of the idea of sharing, but because of non-equality implementation. The only “system” that works is a system that is both communally fair, and market competitive in ways that support, enrich and benefit all the organisms in a system.
Therefore, to maintain any resource, from a pine cone to an economy, requires vigilance on the part of those people who are completely dependent upon a sustainable system in order to “make a living,” that is, to continue living on a planet with finite resources.
There is also an extremely important psychological aspect of sustainability. Human beings evolved in complete inter-dependence with other organisms. Other organisms and systems allow all life and bio-diversity to flourish.
The most vital reason for humanity to care about sustainability then, is that without it, life is greatly impoverished, polluted, scarce and even annihilated. Socially, psychologically, and environmentally, those who do not belong to a cooperative system suffer loss, pain, alienation, degradation, guilt, and an insane need for more, more, more, to fill the collective hole in the collective soul. A system of sustainability drives cooperation and belonging. A system of conflict, scarcity and extinction drives loss, war, famine, disease and death.
It is obvious that human beings need nature, food, water, soil, and air quality to be sustainable. Yet, psychologically, there are those who do not recognize our very deep emotional, mental, and spiritual connection to planet earth. It has been lost somewhere in the Industrial revolution which moved us indoors. All improvements and developments were described in ways that elevated humanity over earth. It is as if when presented with a free choice in the Garden of Eden, man chose a condo with a smart phone over paradise.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Man could then define himself as the brightest one, with the most innovation, mechanical aptitude, language and sacred divinity. The problem of course, is that man denied He needs nature. All organisms need belonging, cooperation, and an understanding of attractions in systems. Much like the soil needs the sun and rain, animals, like humans, need to appreciate what gives life and supports it. Yet, our connection of Psychology was further obscured by a very dualistic perspective of earth that called for religions and the powerful, to cast human beings as masters, or conquerors of the planet, rather than kin to our world.
Simply put humans need to care about sustainability because any quality of life on the planet, for all living things in bio-diversity, requires belonging is sustainable systems. One does not have to give up the condo or smart phone, but use it to be grateful for the resources that provided it.