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Your turn on sustainability and cynicism

Sustainable: Of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

That's what Merriam-Webster has to say. So it's not quite that we don't understand what the word means. More likely we're hearing the word so much — I can't count the number of "sustainability" meetings I've been to since the election — that it's become background noise, instead of the call to creativity and action we need it to be.

Our Jan. 3 column suggested that we welcome Mayor Stromberg to office with some crisp and personally meaningful ideas for making Ashland the town that models sustainability. One response centered on what holds us back generally from energized, creative thinking about sustainability, and practically anything else: cynicism. Quoting screenwriter John Patrick Shanley ("Moonstruck," "Doubt"), it said "Cynicism is a form of blindness and entrenchment and a kind of defensive belief system that convinces you you don't have to do anything." I think [that has] exhausted itself and has swung as far as it can in one direction and that we are now on the cusp of great change in our society and our world.

Which prompted another reader to quote author Lillian Hellman. "Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth." You can choose whether that says more about the nature of A) Lillian Hellman or B) the truth (hint: neither choice is provable, but "A" feels better). Then, for a whiff of cynicism in practice, there was I'm going to cancel my ADT subscription. It clearly is not sustainable. Or is that sarcasm? I confuse the two.

None of which, you say, has much to do with sustainability? A fourth reader got us there: How about a focus on the word "restore" which is what sustainability, reduce, reuse and recycle seem to be all about? First, "remember," then focus mindfulness, and activity upon outcomes that heal, repair, revive. What if this direction is applied to activity around consumption of resources, environmental impact, purchasing, packaging, transportation, even relationships? It presents us each a chance to, in a small way, make a difference.

Another reader said it's time to make all of our parks financially and ecologically sustainable... Take alternative transportation seriously (and relieve strain on parking) and provide a lane through downtown (N. Main) just for alternatives to cars! Provide for community gardens with walking distance of all residents, or nearby for those who live in woodsy, shaded areas.

At the end of a thread was yet another rationale — and if you have a different read on this, let me know — for not doing much of anything: When (not if) the rotten to the core U.S. financial system comes tumbling down and there are massive defaults on unpayable obligations, we will all have a much fresher start from scratch to develop innovation than most any of you think. That could be true. But whenever I hear people talking cheerfully about national and global collapse, I make a guess they either haven't thoroughly thought this through, or don't belong to the unbuffered lower-middle class of people who get crushed when big systems crash. And if his prediction is accurate, isn't that more reason to get cracking here in Ashland, and to harness the energy of everyone who doesn't need to see total collapse before they change?

So let's take another crack at bringing substance to sustainability. If other words ring truer to you, fine. I've heard "living within our means." I've heard "using less stuff." With whatever words, we're talking about every big crisis on our plate. The credit crunch, the wave of foreclosures, the staggering credit card balances and personal bankruptcies, the vaporization of pensions, crippling budget and trade deficits, the gutting of the middle class job base, the chaos of climate, the chemical saturation of food, the beginning hints of new pandemics, the addiction to oil, are all verses of the same song. The chorus is about learning to live sustainably, "so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged."

How do we do that? Pick one act of adaptation that you can begin Monday morning. Pick another you'd like to see us do together as a community, and let Mayor Stromberg know what it is, either with a comment here, a letter to the editor, or direct email to john@council.ashland.or.us. Big ideas are welcome. So are small. More important, as we start our engines, is specific.

Jeff Golden is the author of "As If We Were Grownups," "Forest Blood" and the new novel "Unafraid" (with excerpts at www.unafraidthebook.com).