Big Ideas from Little Things

Hello! Welcome to the first issue of Big Ideas from Little Things, an opinion column on sustainability-themed ideas that spring up in everyday life. Each issue will consider the hidden impacts and potentials of seemingly humdrum objects, thoughts, or common occurrences in the context of some of the biggest challenges to sustainability. Since this is an opinion column, I’ll often write from my own perspective and in my own voice, which is generally a bit sarcastic and usually to the point. However, I am often inspired by conversations with friends and colleagues, as well as scholars and authors, and sometimes my writing will reflect these encounters.

The idea for the column itself came simply from my regular journaling about sustainability-related things coupled with the tentative thought that others might find my inquiries thought-provoking or perhaps even useful. Whether or not that is the case, I hope that writing regularly for an audience wider than my bedside table will help me overcome my unease of public writing. On a more practical note, I find it useful to periodically check in on the progress of the ever-growing field of sustainability studies, seeing as how I am immersed in it. These columns will often explore some of the ideas at the borderlands.

Those who are continuing to develop the broad field of sustainability are leaving few stones unturned. Indeed, there are not many schools of thought or social dilemmas that are systematically organized out of sustainability studies, even if they are not wholeheartedly pursued or endorsed. This amalgamation of theories, practices, and cultural perspectives has led to some ambiguity as to the identity of the field of sustainability itself, as well as some jostling for legitimacy. This is likely to be expected of such an ambitious agenda. After all, accounting for the exceptional complexity of ecological and social systems in and of themselves at various temporal scales and spatial contexts with both explanatory and predictive intent is both a challenge and a mouthful.

But sustainability studies is, at its core, concerned with understanding these systems and all their contained phenomena as part of an interconnected and interdependent web of cause and effect, with meaning-making and moral considerations to boot. All of it is important, though probably not urgent in equal measure. As for me, I spend a lot of time thinking about the meaning we humans can attribute to various objects and activities, and the role that executive function plays in contributing to the sustainability of ourselves and our more immediate environment.

This is why the column is called Big Ideas from Little Things. In truth, I don’t know how big the ideas really are, but the fact that some of them have led me to change some of my behaviors is telling considering how stubborn I can be. In any case, these columns will be about exploring the meaning in many of the everyday choices we make, many of which are subconscious or heavily discounted. In the next issue, I will wriggle as much meaning as I can out of those rubber dots frequently affixed to the inside of kitchen cabinet doors. 

About the Author: Matt Nock is a third-year PhD student in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. His research is at the intersection of sustainability education and public pedagogy, and focuses on the ways in which the dominant discourses of social and environmental oppression are reproduced or challenged through formal and informal learning processes.