I've been reading E.O. Wilson's Biophilia, in which he makes the argument for conservation of habitat in humanistic terms. In other words we need to save wilderness in order to save our souls, so to speak. A love for living things is written into our blood and bones, our instincts and emotions. This seems completely obvious to me, living the kind of life that I do, but I know that there are many people (supposedly 90% of people live in cities) who do not have much contact with the non-human living world on a daily basis (except that they eat biologically-derived substances everyday.) Wilson reminds us that sustainability is not just a technical problem. It is also an ethical challenge. We must alter our values system so that we can recognize systems that are in balance. We have trained ourselves to value and create systems that are not in balance. That is the essence of profitability. And, ultimately - let's be honest - profitable is the opposite of sustainable.
People often say we must invest in education. We must teach our children science and math, because we are being left behind by other countries. I agree that they should learn more science and math. The best investment that we can make, however, is to teach them to be all around citizens of a living world. Science and math will help us to create a less unsustainable civilization, but these analytical skills will need to be combined with a love of living beauty, a drive towards creating living environments, and instinct for balance that draws on our creatureliness as much as our analytical skills. Organizational and leadership skills are as important as technical skills if we are to create the flexible, decentralized and yet interconnected systems that will increase resilience. We need to be able to envision a world in which we are not burning through our resources at breakneak pace, and teach ourselves to be the inhabitants of that world. We must use science and math to get there but they must be yoked to common desire for a living world.