Wednesday, 13 July 2011

New metaphors for sustainability: my sweet pea

In a recent series of seminars on site-based performance and environmental change, our Ashden Directory co-editor Wallace Heim met Alison Parfitt, of the Wildland Research Institute, and writer on conservation. Here, Alison considers her sweet pea as a metaphor in our series New metaphors for sustainability. 

Sustainability. After the Rio Earth Summit 1992, I was impassioned about this challenging aspiration, with head and heart. Many of us struggled over complicated diagrams, wanting to encompass everything. We talked about ecological systems and the need for the sacred and spiritual, the connectedness of all. We explored social and environmental justice and quality and equality – with diversity. Models and metaphors came and went, bees in a beehive.

Now I see this challenge of understanding the potential and power of sustainability in a more intimate way. And I suspect that the full and inspiring notion of sustainability (sometimes understood but often not) is showing a way, a direction for the human species to evolve, if we can.

As I write this there is a sweet pea, picked this morning, beside me. A soft fresh fragrance. This flower is creamy pale with a purple, or even nearing indigo, fine edging on the petals. It looks and feels precise, very clear yet fragile. It moves in the air coming through the door. The flower is here today but gone tomorrow, the plant goes on and I shall gather seed. It is everyday and uniquely precious.

I accept that my sweet pea is not really a helpful metaphor for sustainability but for today, now, it enlightens me and reminds me of my relationship within all else. And how I could be more human. And that’s where my quest to understand has got to. I suspect it will move on again, soon.

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