We need an ethical compass

By Lone Belling, chairman of the Kulturprinsens board - published in Fyens Stiftstidende on 27.11.2018

When I say 'sustainability', you might think deprivation. All the things you can't and mustn't do. You're thinking that you want your freedom to do what you want and need, and no one should come here and point at other people's needs, people or nature. Just as we championed our right to smoke anywhere and anytime - until it wasn't cool at all anymore - and most of us discovered that smoking laws and restrictions made us healthier and faster on the bike as well as saving us both money on tobacco and time hanging clothes to air out after a night on the town.

Many dreams are of time, slowness, togetherness and intimacy - after which we rush off to make more money, go online to book flights, queue at security, get sick stomachs, jet lag, sunburn or just city bumps. Of course it's great to have a holiday, to get away from it all, but what if the path to happiness and the good life with those we love, those we laugh with, those we appreciate, is less and not more, here and not there?

Perhaps 'sustainability' is the creative leg up that makes us stop and reflect on how we create the good life - both here and now and for the future our choices create for our children and grandchildren. Maybe it will make us consider whether what I am buying now is really necessary. Whether it makes me happier. Not as a short-lived rush, but as something that will last tomorrow, next month, next year.

A third of Danes' climate footprint is 'stuff' - not housing, food, transport and the like, but things that we in the long tentacles of algorithms on the web think we can't do without. Has the bombardment of advertising diverted our pursuit of happiness away from communities, creativity and experiences of nature? What if sustainable living is the key to rediscovering the joy of what we can and do together - both in formal community life and when we turn fallen apples into apple juice together? To rediscovering the relaxing effect of train rides and the health benefits of bike rides? To the enjoyment of the locally grown potato rather than imported CO2 polluting rice and the succulent organic chicken that after a good life can stretch to a larger family because it has the fullness and taste of when grandma invited for Sunday dinner.

Some can be managed by gently nudging us in the right direction, nudging us to choose the bike because it's easier than sitting in a car queue, or when the salad is first in the canteen so there's only room for a small piece of meat as we approach the checkout. Others need legislation, such as the smoking law, which has since been supplemented by regulations in companies and institutions. Difficult for some, but beneficial for most and for the economy. But both nudging and regulation require someone pushing towards sustainability. And someone don't seem to be our politicians thinking more about the next election than the next generation.

It therefore requires citizens to make demands and show politicians what steps we are prepared to take. This can be difficult after decades of believing that the market, growth and technology would do it for us. Where we have been busy becoming something instead of becoming someone. Where it has been about skills, while education as the direction for our lives with each other has been pushed to the back of our minds.

If we are to succeed in coping with humanity's massive footprint on the planet of climate crisis, species extinction and resource scarcity, we need education as an ethical compass - not in the slightly debased version where you can converse about national treasures and history, but an education fit for the times. An education that responds to the basic existential conditions and challenges of our time - sustainable formation - as a natural part of our journey in education, but which is certainly also for adults. A contemporary education necessarily includes a scientific perspective with both concrete knowledge of and love for nature, but also an education of the heart. For when the heart listens and knows what is the right thing to do, it needs neither regulation nor nudging. Then it follows its ethical compass.