Today we have a guest post from Snigdha Nautiyal as she reflects on her first days at the School of Sustainability.
have now formally been a student of sustainability for less than twenty days. In this brief time, I have already heard the word ‘sustainability’ thousands of times from dozens of people within the School of Sustainability family of which I am now a part. And yet, one of the first concerns that I have had since before I got here has been: how do you explain to an outsider what sustainability really is?
Long before I travelled to the sun-soaked city of Phoenix, friends and family back home asked me this very question. All I knew then was that I wanted to do something to satisfy an indescribable inner urge to learn and contribute, to understand and know, to collaborate and facilitate.
Perhaps, sustainability is for me a feeling, a longing, an insatiable desire to do something-anything
Is Studying Sustainability Selfish?
In a way I believe, sustainability is a rather selfish aim to have. I am looking at what I will get out of it; satisfaction, a sense of fulfilment and perhaps one of belonging. But along the way, something transformative will start to happen inside me. I will be looking at the world through an ever-broadening lens, I will be pondering questions of global or national or local importance through a multi-dimensional, all-inclusive perspective.
I know I’m fresh. I know I’m young. And I know I may look back after a couple of decades and tell myself, well, for a two year graduate program, that was too tall an order anyway.
A Quest Begun
But the reason I feel hopeful, for now at least, is because the School of Sustainability seems like a wonderful place to start a journey. A journey that may be too bogged down by expectations and ethics before it has even truly kicked off. But a journey that will expand my horizons and feed my curiosity.
The unique stand of SoS that I believe could make this possible is that every single person I have interacted with or heard from in the school so far, has been uncompromisingly critical of his or her own stand on the term sustainability.
I think this humbleness comes from the nature of interaction offered within SoS. People here have come together from diverse backgrounds. They have made a conscious decision to read literature from across the entire breadth of scientific disciplines and then to talk through it together. Archaeology, sociology, economics, politics, natural sciences, biology, physics, chemistry, history, philosophy and policy- you name it and in two weeks of class we have already touched on aspects of all the disciplines I could possibly think of listing without help from Google.
But is Sustainability a Discipline?
This brings me to an interesting discussion from one of my classes just a few days ago: is sustainability a discipline? My instructors for the course seemed to think that it isn’t one. But then, is that such a bad thing? I’m beginning to think it is not.
The path ahead may be murky and turbulent, but it’s all part of the game. A game against the odds of non-existence, to live better and longer lives and allow those who have no say, whether they are human or non-human, born or unborn, to do the same.
And to Come Full Circle
So I return to the question with which I began: what is sustainability?
The answer, I quite frankly believe, is anything you may want it to be. It could be an academic pursuit, a frightening notion, an abstract umbrella concept, a fulfilling activity, a spiritual discovery.
And that is just as beautiful as it is terrifying.