This semester, I am both teacher and student. I signed up for an online class from UAS titled “Local and Global sustainability.” It makes me view the issues of our times and my own actions from a different angle.

First off we discussed at length how a sustainability approach integrates the five domains of Environment, Economy, Socio-cultural, Policy, and Technology. If you were to change your approach to how to manage a system or community more sustainably, you would have to take all of these areas into consideration. This makes a lot of sense because many of the problems we encounter are caused by plans that look at only one of these areas and forget to take into account how the other areas are affected or what influence they may have on the problem at hand.

For example, if you are managing a fishery it is not sustainable to look at catch rates and price alone (the economical domain) if you don’t take into consideration how the environment affects the production and reproduction rates. Moreover, policy changes in one fishery may affect the catch rates in another. If you have high bycatch of a particular species in one fishery, then another fishery targeting that bycatch species, is affected. You fishermen out there know precisely what I am talking about! That management system is also influenced by factors like price, which in turn may depend on processing and transportation cost, and socio-cultural factors including what fish species are preferred by the buyers and consumers.

The beauty of the sustainability approach is that it can be applied in many different situations, whether you are making a plan for a large business, a community development or want to take a new look at how you run your household and personal life.

This flexibility comes at the price of a somewhat flexible definition for the term sustainability. It can mean different things to different audiences. One person may apply sustainability to the survival of a species or the harvest rate of one species, while others may think about it in economical terms: will my involvement in this fishery sustain a certain desirable income? In the case of cities who have adopted sustainability plans, the recurring factors are energy, buildings and transportation, food security, policies. More complete approaches also takes into consideration public health and happiness.

Yes, happiness.

When was the last time you thought about what makes you happy and how would you advise your city planners to make the place more conducive to your happiness?

Studies show that people who are at the lower end of the income scale see an increase in happiness with an increase of money initially. However, this correlation is not true beyond a certain level where basic needs are met. In other words, once your needs are covered more money does not contribute significantly to your happiness. At the other end of that spectrum there are some people who have no spending limit and have difficulties finding happiness in anything, because they have bought and done all the most amazing things in life and run out of things to strive for.

Last summer, I met a guest who was bored with the show of breaching humpback whales — a sight that inspires a lot of happiness in me. He told me that the whales in Antarctica were better and the icebergs made for a better background. However, he did get just a little interested when I talked about all the invertebrates hidden under the surface of the sea and showed him glimpses of their lifestyles.

When we talk about sustainability we need to find common ground on what we want to sustain, for how long and why. I like to think of myself as an agent of sustaining the diversity of life on this planet. I would like to sustain the opportunity to watch the show of breaching whales for generations to come as well as the tickle of a beach hopper in a child’s hand or the delight of a king salmon on a holiday dinner table, because to me all those are measures of happiness.

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