Sustainability has become the big buzz word of the 2000s; sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture, sustainable communities, etc. Lately sustainability has been lumped in with the “eco” and “green” movements. It has become associated with using “natural” products and eating “organic” in order to protect the planet. It means donating to “Save the Rainforest” causes and reducing your carbon footprint. Please don’t think I am discrediting all of these things; they are great steps towards creating a better planet, but they do not truly reach to the core of what sustainability means. They are more like Band-Aids to cover a knife wound. They help, but they in no way create a truly different world. Please note that I use the word different. What sustainability accomplishes is not fixing or retroactively diverting problems, it is creating new ways of living, thinking, and relating that truly change the way we operate in the world.
In our first week as interns we spent a good bit of time discussing the values, mission, and purpose of Kalu Yala. Sustainability and what that truly means is one of the first topics we discussed. Like most of the developed world, we had all heard the term sustainability and applied our own connotations to what that really means. Currently there is no universally agreed upon definition of sustainability really is, only millions of different perceptions. It runs the gamut of industry and ideology. It can be environmental, economical, sociological, and capitalistic among others, and it can be used one hundred different ways within each of those categories and beyond.
To truly break it down, to truly return to the root of sustainability is simple. It is that which sustains; it is that which makes the continuance of human life possible. That does not mean we disregard the perpetuation of the natural world to ensure our own survival. There is absolutely no way we can continue to sustain ourselves without protecting and perpetuating all things natural. So what do we perceive to be sustainable at Kalu Yala, and how do we intend to develop a basically untouched valley in the jungle under the mantra of sustainability? The answer is simple. We currently are not actually developing anything. We are researching, we are learning, we are evolving. We are taking the painstaking steps to ensure that what we do ensures the viability of the land we cultivate.
What have we learned? The jungle is a fiery, resilient beast. Three short months after hand clearing (with machetes) a small plot of land for a temporary base camp, any sign that anything foreign had once lived there was gone. Elephant grass had replenished, posts had planted roots, and insects had reinvaded. It was almost as if we had never been there. Yes, that will change as progress continues to be made.
There will be roads, permanent structures, et cetera; however, they will be created and maintained in a way that works in harmony with the natural environment. They will replenish instead of take away, glorify not destroy, and strengthen the quality of life for those that come long after we leave. In the end , Kalu Yala aims to manifest the reality of sustainability and create a different world by changing the way that people perceive and consequently live in the world. We are conservationists, not preservationists, attempting to live in harmony with our environment and create a working model for a better future.