What does the word “sustainability” mean to you? Does it mean using less resources, by turning off the lights or biking to work? Does it mean using alternative resources, by buying organic & local foods? Or does it mean employing technology to use our resources “smarter”, by using CFLs or buying a hybrid car?
Whatever your definition, sustainability is fundamentally about resources. The basic question is: are we using the resource faster than it regenerates itself? If so, we are eating into the natural “capital” rather than living on “interest”, and it is only a matter of time before the resource runs dry.
Answering these basic questions requires us to understand our resources — where do they come from and how are they produced? Yet in our modern globalized society, answering this most basic question can be surprisingly complex. Do you know where the water in your tap comes from? How about the power that’s running your computer right now? The pathways our food takes from the land where it was grown to our bodies have become so convoluted (and secretive) that we need investigative journalists like Michael Pollan to reveal them to us. The high walls and complex supply chains of modern society obscure our most basic connection to the Earth System: that of our our food, water, and energy.
How can we possibly embrace sustainability of resources when we do not even know what our resources are?
At Inian Islands Institute, our students will develop a lasting ethic of sustainability by living it firsthand. Off-grid and isolated, the Hobbit Hole illustrates, as few remaining places can, the conscientious use of local resources — rainwater, firewood, locally generated power, garden vegetables, deer that roam the island, and crab, halibut, and salmon from the rich surrounding waters. Students will get their hands dirty working to harvest these local resources, interacting with their environment in the most fundamental way — by living off it. For students who have only ever known (like most of us) that food comes from the dining hall, water from the tap, and power from the wall, living and working at the Hobbit Hole will be a truly eye-opening experience.