Front Porch Blog

Sustainability: What it Means and How to Achieve it.

By Erin Burks
Red, White and Water intern, Summer 2012

On Monday I had the opportunity to hear Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute Amory Lovins speak at the campus of Appalachian State University. The lecture took place in the midst of the Appalachian Energy Summit, presented by Sustain Appalachia. If you missed the speech in person, you can check out the TED talk version of it.

“Sustain Appalachia,” I cannot think of a better name for the university’s mission.

Our organization, working with citizens nationwide, strives to sustain Appalachia everyday. Our goals include working to end the destruction of our land from mountaintop removal mining and protecting our air and water from the burning of coal and the resulting waste it produces. We are working to clear the way for a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Perhaps it means protecting the health of people and the environment today. Maybe it means ensuring that businesses can continue generating products and customers into the future, or maybe it means transitioning to an energy source that won’t run out. Sustainability is all of these things and more.

Business, national security, the economy, health, technology and the environment should all benefit from a sustainable solution for the future.

Lovins presented an encouraging and optimistic lecture on the technology, tools and the methods that we already have to create a more sustainable society.

Lovins argued that by converting dirty, finite energy sources to renewable sources such as biomass, hydroelectric, solar and wind, while still using natural gas, could save 5 trillion dollars on energy costs for businesses and consumers.

Yet even after such a compelling lecture, I’m still left with some confusion and doubt.
If transitioning to sustainable energy sources would be more profitable for businesses, why are they not already doing it?

One can only make their best guess at how to solve our nation’s addiction to dirty fuel sources; and solving the issue is a complicated matter. If there were one easy strategy or solution, we would have already accomplished it, and we would be on the road to healthier communities and environment.

Throughout the course of my summer internship with Appalachian Voices, I’ve learned to widen my gaze and see that the problem of dirty, polluting fuels powering our economy is expansive. Moving beyond dirty fuels like coal is a difficult problem because their supporters encompass every level of society. Just like the layers of coal and natural rock found in the mountain when coal is mined, it is naturally layered among our society as well.

Dirty fuel supporters are found in every layer. They are in super PACs that donate money to political leaders who enforce industry-friendly legislation, the congressional members that succumb to the monetary incentives, greediness of big business, governmental subsidies for fossil fuels, energy companies that resort to astroturfing in order to gain support, coal miners who have depended on the need for coal in order to maintain a job, and folks who got paid to wear a pro-coal T-shirt at an EPA hearing (link to Sierra Club blog post).

“4/5 of the world’s energy each year comes from burning four cubic miles of the rotted remains from primeval swamp goo (oil and coal),” said Lovins. This sounds gross, and it’s the truth. Fossil fuels are dirty, decomposed, organic matter. When we burn them, it’s no wonder that it does nothing good for our health or the environment.

What I do know is that those who are concerned about a sustainable future need to address the issues of dirty fuel sources from all angles. Even though the environmental and public health angle are so important, the business angle cannot be ignored in the process to a more sustainable future.
The business angle offers us hope for the future, but grassroots efforts efforts provides a way for everyone to get involved. Citizens in this nation have the right to make their voices heard. We need citizens to make their voices heard to our public officials, because while dirty energy industries may fade over time, they are doing damage to our air and water right now.

One way to make your voice heard is to join our Red, White and Water campaign. If you are already a part of our campaign, tell your friends. Do your part to make sustainability a reality.


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