Dr. David Macauley (Penn State)

Thursday, March 24th 2011

“Everyday Environmental Ethics: Walking as a Sustainable Practice”

How can we begin to tackle the difficult and pressing problems raised by the discipline of Sustainability Ethics, which focuses on the moral issues resulting from the fact that we live in a threefold relation with contemporary others, future generations, and nature? Might the answer be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other?

At the recent Sustainability Ethics Conference at Penn State University Park, David Macauley suggested that walking may provide a fruitful and effective way for approaching the topic of sustainability. The problem, as Macauley suggested, is that the practice of walking is viewed as rather “pedestrian” in both senses of the word. In fact, walking is so pedestrian that we commonly overlook the ways in which the practice brings us into relation with the world around us and, as a result, we also overlook the ways in which walking might be encouraged as a part of a sustainable lifestyle.

The most obvious connection between walking and sustainability is that encouraging walking as a regular mode of transportation could result in the decreased use of fossil fuels and a reduction of carbon emissions on the individual level. In addition to the immediate environmental benefits of walking, Macauley urged his audience to consider the ways in which walking can transform our relationship to the world around us, for example, by bringing us closer to the social, economic, and aesthetic dimensions of our communities.

Choosing this “low and slow” method of commuting, Macauley suggests, will help us gain a new perspective on our communities by immersing ourselves more deeply in our environment. Walking brings us face to face with the people and animals that we pass by as well as into direct contact with the way in which our communities are connected and organized through roads, sidewalks, bike paths, and cross walks.

To learn more about the walkability of your community, try entering your address at this site.

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One Response to David Macauley on the Sustainable Practice of Walking

  1. Andy Lau says:

    Macauley’s advocacy of walking as a sustainable practice rings true to me. It reminds me of a conversation I had over 30 years ago with a colleague. He posed that (from some unknown source) that the more time we spend in cars the more car-like we become. One can extend this to the idea that more time we spend separated from nature in its human scale, the more un-natural we become. I think this goes to the heart of what it means to live sustainably – to once again be a part of nature and to fully realize what that means. That is also why I love authors such as David Abram, author of “The Spell of the Sensuous” and recently “Becoming Animal.”

    In practical terms, it can start with walking for awhile each day.

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