Sustainable Missoula: This Earth Day, consider simple, non-techno solutions for ‘livability’

MUD’s annual Earth Day celebration is this Saturday, and will help launch the group’s new focus on education. (MUD)

As the new executive director at the Missoula Urban Demonstration (MUD) Project, Earth Day has had me thinking a lot about “sustainability” and what concrete steps we need to take within our homes and communities to make a livable future possible.

Until I had a daughter, debates about sustainability seemed arcane. Now, the whole issue has taken on a new urgency and dimension, as I have watched my 7-year-old develop an appreciation for life.

Some have argued that the notion of “sustainability” is obsolete. Indeed, the 1960s are a half century removed, and the youthful, hippie, alternative model seems quaint within the modern-day context of social media, technology, global crises (like climate change) and the economic challenges faced by people competing within overwhelming corporate capitalist markets.

And yet, the more we abandon simple solutions, the more we are swept up in reasoning that undermines any possibility of progress.  The tendency toward technocratic solutions (whether that involves bureaucracy, technology, experts or a mentality that has to fit within a regulatory structure) is complicating life and adding layers of consumption upon consumption.

Technology is one of the greatest culprits.  We hope technology can bail us out of our crises, but technology itself is becoming an enormous menace.  It creates vast amounts of toxic, non-biodegradable waste. It uses huge amounts of energy and it alienates us in ways that prove debilitating to real solutions that could improve our lives. For every minute we spend staring at a screen, we have lost a minute where solutions could be adopted naturally and socially to heal our relationships with nature. Technology is more counter-revolutionary than it is progressive.  It feeds unsustainability more than perhaps any other factor in our lives.

So is “sustainability” really obsolete?  Perhaps we really need to think more in terms of “livability” for our kids, lest we get bogged down in abstract debates about the only permanent thing in the world being change.  What do our kids (and their kids) need and deserve?  Their quality of life will be measured in basic, simple terms: clean air, clean water, good earth, some existential space to listen to the quietness of nature, a sense of wonder at other life forms, healthy social bonds, access to health care and safe shelter.  These needs are fundamentally human.

At our big Earth Day celebration this year, the MUD Project will encourage discussion about specific solutions we plan to implement in the coming years.  These will largely focus on non-traditional education that challenges mainstream thinking, undermining the sense of inevitability surrounding technocratic and capitalist thinking.  Our ideas include:

—Holiday season family programs focused on resurrecting the tradition of giving, gift making and togetherness (including projects like book making, toy making, wreath making, etc.).

—Family classes teaching the basics of how various kinds of homes are constructed, encouraging critical thinking about what a living environment requires (or doesn’t require) to provide for a quality of life, how different cultures and economic groups organize their lived environments and what resources, skills and tools are needed to create them.

Family classes focusing on the idea of Reduce & Reuse (decluttering workshops, repurposing ideas, ideas for reducing plastic consumption, ideas for finding alternatives to common consumer solutions, etc.).

—A resurrection of our “MUD Mingle” tradition, offering a safe, community-based discussion forum to voice challenges and problems, share solution ideas and connect people needing help with each other and with sustainable service providers.

MUD’s unique contribution is providing (1) a different lens through which to measure success and wellbeing (2) the skills and knowledge that offer greater independence and self-sufficiency (3) the tools to solve everyday problems and mitigate the debilitating effect of powerlessness (4) and linking people into a social network that promotes economic and environmental resiliency.

Children who grow up in an urban environment are often brought up in a matrix of dependency and powerlessness because (1) mainstream thinking fosters specialization, (2) status is associated with the ability to pay for services, (3) municipal regulations often limit creative self-help solutions to mundane problems, (4) modern industry, technology and retail business rely on planned obsolescence and goods that often seem like solutions but actually introduce complexity, frustration, helplessness and problems, (5) urban living solutions typically isolate and remove residents from those basic things upon which wellbeing depends and (6) urban living increases dependency.

Our hope will be found in our children: their creativity, courage, wisdom, care and conviction.  We need them to reject deceiving technological or consumer solutions in favor of nature.  With that in mind, our Earth Day 2019 celebration will focus on kids and will launch MUD’s efforts to move our organization toward an educational focus.  We hope you will join us on Saturday, April 20 (noon-4 p.m.) at 1527 Wyoming for our big kid-friendly celebration featuring wild animals, Missoula’s nonprofits and lots of educational fun.

Filip Panusz is Executive Director of Missoula Urban Demonstration Project.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoulaand Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

April 19. International Wildlife Film Festival.Closing night!

April 20. Clark Fork Coalition’s Annual River Clean Up. Starts at Caras Park at 9:30am

April 20. Missoula’s Inaugural Fixit Clinic. Home ReSource Community Room, 1515 Wyoming St, 11am-3pm

April 20. MUD’s Annual Earth Day Celebration.MUD, 1527 Wyoming St, 12-4pm

April 25. ZERO by FIFTY Community Series: Plastic.UM FLAT, 533 S 6th St E. 5-7pm

View more climate and energy events via Climate Smart Missoula’s Calendar.

There are many more EARTH MONTH and conservation events for 2019 HERE.

View more climate and energy events via Climate Smart Missoula’s Calendar.

There are many more EARTH MONTH and conservation events for 2019 HERE.