A sustainable planet: Seeking our true north

"I have people ask me all the time: George, why in the world are you so interested in sustainability? And I quote Buckminster Fuller: 'If you can’t make the world work with six billion people, then how will you make it work with ten billion people? And, what are you going to do about it?' And then people begin to look at me strangely and say, you know, you’ve got something.

"No one ever thinks about it. It’s amazing. The world is not working today at six billion. You know that and I know that. And, if it can’t work with six billion, how in the hell is it going to work with ten billion people? I tell you, it’s just irresponsible."  —George P. Mitchell


Until the day George P. Mitchell died, he was talking about the future—10, 20, 100 years into the future—and questioning how we can create a better, more sustainable world.

And, he never wavered on his views of sustainability.

He referred to the question of how to make the world work with ten billion people when it doesn’t work with six billion so often it became a piece of Mitchell family lore. He had a life-long passion for science—from astronomy to engineering to geology to sustainability science—and used the insights from these fields to explore the outer reaches of human capability.  

Once he had a vision of what was possible—from cracking rocks to extract new energy resources to establishing new standards for sustainable communities—he was relentless in his drive to see his vision to fruition. He wanted, and expected, more out of human society, scientific knowledge, and institutions because he saw the potential in human endeavor and its ability to solve society’s problems.

Within the realm of sustainability, scientific knowledge informed George that patterns of human development and consumption were not sustainable, and he looked to science for the answers to perennial questions about how to improve human well-being while protecting natural resources.  

Ultimately he looked to the nation’s leading scientific body, the National Academy of Sciences, to help him understand the validity and scientific underpinnings of sustainability.

Led by George’s insatiable quest for understanding, the Academy undertook a comprehensive analysis of the organizing principles of sustainability and developed a new field of endeavor: sustainability science. This rigorous framework became George’s passion in his later years and, after 50 years of exploring the globe’s sustainability threats, provided him a way to mark human progress through the transition to a sustainable society.

Today, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation continues exploring sustainability science through our strategic grantmaking programs and focus on urgent challenges in the state of Texas.

Beginning in the 1960s, George loved to fill his life and home with impassioned discussions about sustainability issues. Today there is a void—a stillness—as those debates have fallen silent. 

In remembrance of George and to continue these dialogues, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation is delighted to launch our first blogging initiative.  A number of renowned sustainability experts have accepted the foundation’s invitation to highlight their own unique perspectives on sustainability. A variety of views and opinions will be included, and we hope to spark lively discourse as we continue to follow George’s lead in exploring the limits of human capacity to create a sustainable society. 


Editor's note: This is the first in a series of posts from the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation's inaugural blogging initiative, "Solutions for a Sustainable Planet." For updates, follow the foundation on Twitter @MitchFound.

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