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David Macauley on the Sustainable Practice of Walking

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?

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.