SustainabiliMe

(Photo of me courtesy of Dave Hochanadel)

Today I turn 25 years old. In more epochal terms, that’s a quarter of a century. On this occasion, I would like to embark on a project that will hopefully carry through the rest of my life. (Could my expectations be any more grandiose?)

We’ve all heard about “sustainable living” or “sustainable development” in terms of adjusting one’s consumption of resources so as to maintain an Aristotelian mean of existence with potentially indefinite longevity. I’d like to integrate this environmentally conscious outlook into my own life – directly. More specifically, as we traditionally view “sustainable living” in terms of human impact on the environment, I want to focus on the human impact on the physical human being.

What does this mean, exactly? As we can view the environment as a separate entity that requires careful stewardship and care, it is sometimes difficult to turn the magnifying glass back around on ourselves. Human beings are, after all, physically nothing more than extensions of the natural world. And so while out cultural, psychological, emotional, and intellectual ‘care and feeding’ exists in a world of its own, the physical human body requires a very concrete approach to sustainability.

What makes the challenge exceptionally difficult (and interesting) is the fact that we Americans live perhaps the least sustainable lives in terms of our physical well being. We consume to excess. We have access to the most advanced medical knowledge and preventative care in the world, yet we squander it by eating excessively and relying on diets. Exercise is undertaken when we find ourselves overweight, out of shape, or with a medical condition that requires immediate action to prevent catastrophic health consequences.

I would like to try to adopt a lifestyle that takes a sustainable health approach. In other words, I want to start living in a manner that should not require drastic changes later in life to stave off an inevitable heart attack, stroke, diabetes, or other medical catastrophe. I could live a typical American lifestyle with little regard for the long term, reacting (often too late) and being forced into triage mode for the remainder of my life. I’ve seen what that looks like. And that is not something I want to burden myself with during my twilight years.

An important set of factors that must be in place to accomplish this goal is my family history and genetic disposition towards different health issues. Not everyone’s “sustainable lifestyle” is the same. Those at risk for heart attack, for example, have to take more steps to maintain cardiovascular health than those at risk of diabetes (although there is certainly overlap between the two risks). My first task will be to assess my current health and establish a baseline for improvement towards a sustainable lifestyle.

To emphasize, the goal of this project is not to simply “be healthy.” That goal is vague and at the mercy of the latest medial study or health fad. My goal with “SustainabiliMe” is to be as Promethean as possible by taking a strictly long-term view towards “health.” The opportunity costs of such a lifestyle are significant, to say the least. To accomplish my goal, I will need to forgo many of the first-order preferences I cherish in order to adopt the second-order preferences that will allow me to maintain a SustainabiliMe.

An analogy to Earth’s ecosystems might be an apt comparison to use here. Environmentally-conscious individuals try not to over-harvest or develop too much land as to cripple an environment or wipe out certain species. Once human activity exceeds the carrying capacity of a certain ecosystem, the inevitable collapse can only be postponed by emergency measures – and only reversed by adjusting the load one places on the environment.

To put that in terms of the human body, I can exceed the “carrying capacity” of my body by eating copious amounts of processed sugars and fatty foods. I’m not going to die tomorrow because I ate five cheeseburgers in one day (which I’ve never actually done). But when we extend the perspective of “tomorrow” to later in life, the prognosis doesn’t look too good. Anything over a sustainable diet or exercise regimen is exceeding the “carrying capacity” of my body, which itself is constrained by genetic dispositions.

So I would like to dedicate the next few posts for this blog to establishing some groundwork for a SustainabiliMe. This project could flop, of course, but let’s hope I can overcome my myopic and Epimethean shortsightedness to realize a lifestyle change that could someday literally save my life. Are there many other personal goals less worthwhile?

And just for the heck of it, let me explicitly claim a copyright over the term “SustainabiliMe.”

Until next time, bonnes pensées.

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