David Orr on Framing Sustainability: What Would Lincoln Say?

While reading up on David Orr for my recent interview of him, I came across an interesting essay entitled "Framing Sustainability" that is suitable reading for Memorial Day, which began as a ritual of remembrance after the Civil War. Orr writes:

We are now engaged in a worldwide conversation about the issues of human longevity on Earth, but no national leader has yet framed a satisfactory vision of sustainability. It is still commonly regarded as one of many issues on a long and growing list, not as the linchpin that connects all of the other issues. Relative to the large issues of sustainability, we are virtually everywhere roughly where the United States was, say, in the year 1850 on the matter of slavery.... What can be learned from how Lincoln cast the problem of slavery?

First, Lincoln did not equivocate or agonize about the essential nature of slavery. He did not over-think the subject; he regarded slavery as a great wrong and said so plainly and often. "If slavery is not wrong," he wrote in 1864, "nothing is wrong." Moreover, he saw the centrality of the issue to other issues on the national agenda such as the tariff, sectionalism, and national growth.....

From Lincoln's example we might learn, first, to avoid unnecessary complication and contentiousness. The issues of sustainability are primarily ones of fairness and intergenerational rights not ones of technology or economics, as important as these may be. Lincoln regarded slavery as wrong because no human had the right to hold property in another human being period, not because it was economically inefficient.....

Read it all at David W. Orr
More on David Orr:
Hope is an Imperative (Book Review)
An Interview With David W. Orr

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