Sustainable by Nature

Below is a copy of a short address I gave at the Building Sustainable Communities conference held by the Fresh Outlook Foundation here in Kelowna. Following the address there was a 6 minute slide presentation of my photography. I have included the video at the bottom of this post. I hope you enjoy it. Dont forget to use full screen mode and turn up the volume!

The American writer and activist Muriel Rukeyser wrote: “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” While the physicists in the audience may not entirely agree with this statement, I think it rings true for at least how we perceive the world around us. That is to say, that the narrative of our society influences how we perceive our universe. The value that we place on our planet comes from stories created by us, and from the generations before us. So when we consider Sustainable Communities, it is these narratives that we need to review.

Because of my limited time, I ask to be forgiven for the broad and blunt generalizations I am about to make. These are that we live in a society whose stories are compelled by a model of economics that is outdated and broken. A model that measures prosperity only by the amount that we consume and does not consider what we destroy. A model that does not value anything it does not know how to measure in dollars.

You see, the stories from our European past tell us that this planet is an enormous ball of inexhaustible resources and that continual growth is good for everyone. These stories often ignore the very processes and resources that keep us alive. Things like the natural purification of water; the pollination of plants by insects; plant life that turns carbon dioxide into oxygen so we can breathe; the decomposition of wastes by insects and fungi; the list goes on.

These processes are referred to as Ecosystem Services—stuff nature does for us, for free. Of course, some have tried to put a dollar value on these services and an average figure is approximately $38 Trillion dollars annually. That is, if we had to manually pollinate the fruit trees, replenish the oxygen, break down our wastes, it would cost us $38 Trillion dollars every year. Clearly, this is not a viable option.

But knowing these things is not enough. History is filled with examples where information was available, but the dominant culture would not accept it. Galileo comes to mind. That is why cultural change, changing our narrative, is possibly as important as the science itself.

As a photographer and a student of geography, I realized there was a role I could play in re-telling the narrative. The slide show you are about to see documents some of the amazing things that nature does for us. But, as nature does so well, the intricacies are hidden in the simplicity of the scene. Some of the locations are exotic, like the glaciers of the Rocky Mountains; the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon; the coastal areas of the Olympic Peninsula and Long Beach. Visiting these places has always filled me with awe and wonder at their beauty, but now I add to that wonder the amazing things these landscapes do for us. Some of the locations are not so exotic; indeed, some of the images are from my own back yard. Thankfully, the gifts of nature surround us everywhere.

While I hope you enjoy the aesthetic beauty of the images, I want you to think about how these places make life possible. I have added some text to each image to help with this, but it is not the whole story. Please consider: “to keep these ecosystems intact, what can I do without?” And ask yourself “how does this fit into the narrative of my world?” I hope that these images will also renew in you a feeling of wonder for the amazing place that is planet Earth.

I would like to leave you with one last thought:    The planet is, by nature, sustainable.

Thank you.


  1. Almost poetic, the imagery and music fuse together very well. Lovely story and only emphasizes why our favorite places to go together are these beautiful places in the mountains. Thanks for putting this together Andrew, good memories.

  2. Very fluid presentation that was a joy to view. I am reminded now of the analogue by Eliot Porter where he unites passages from Thoreau with images. This is very accessible to all audiences, and is supported with a welcoming call for us to be aware of our whole relationship with the world that we are living in, and how we are living with it.