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GEORGE: Idea of sustainability is under attack

November 07, 2017 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


With the coinage of ‘sustainable development,’ the defenders of the unsteady state have won a few more years’ moratorium from the painful process of thinking. – Garrett Hardin

Sustainability is serious business. Just ask BMW and their new i series of sustainable vehicles. They are beautifully engineered machines, utilizing the latest in electric vehicle and information technologies, but sustainable? By what definition?

I think the idea of sustainability is under attack, and that it deserves better from all of us.

Sustainability has always been a difficult idea for proponents of a growth economy to grapple with. It is an obvious idea at its core; that people should behave towards our interactions with the material world in such a way as to not have a permanent impact on it. The things we do on a daily basis, like drive, eat, shelter from the elements; none of it is truly sustainable.

A true sustainability can only be approached by ensuring that 100 per cent of non-renewable resources could be recycled; either within the economy or fairly quickly in the greater biosphere. As long as there is waste in the form of non-biologically disposable material, there can't be true sustainability.

So over the past couple of decades we have watched as the idea behind sustainability and the word itself has been slowly and subtly changed by Hardin's "defenders of the unsteady state", those in the corporate and government sectors charged with the maintenance of that unsteady state. An example is the evident shift from the idea of sustainability to the idea of sustainable development.

The standard definition of sustainable development comes to us from the Brundtland Report which was published in 1987. The goal was to identify a sustainable development path for the world as a whole. Banks, electrical utilities, chemical manufacturers; they have all gone out of their way to embrace "sustainable development". Done well, it leaves consumers with a warm, fuzzy feeling, done poorly it is seen simply as green-washing.

It is all lipstick on a pig.

"...development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." - Brundtland Report

As a guiding principle, I can see how a bank could get behind this one. The “needs” thing is very human centric, disregarding the natural world completely. If I was a principled human being, following this to the letter, I would have no trouble justifying the destruction of a large swathe of the planet in pursuit of profit as long as some other large swathe still exists for the next generation to destroy. Doesn't do much for the generation after that, but hey, we were only worried about today’s corporate image, weren't we?

Leave the world better than you found it, take no more than you need, try not to harm life or the environment, make amends if you do. – Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce

Here is a principle that I can get behind. We certainly do have a lot of amends to make. We are already faced with poor choices, forced on us by resource depletion and a collapsing biosphere. We need to make changes that go further than simply using a reusable shopping bag or changing out our light bulbs. The idea of sustainability is needed now more than ever.

As a human being, I worry a lot about my children. I want to leave the world a better place for them. This means more than a big inheritance in a much poorer world. It means living a more sustainable life today. Nothing is sacred, everything needs to be ripped apart and examined and rebuilt, with sustainability in mind. From how we build our shelter, how we grow our food, how we get around in the world, how we make decisions, how we communicate and especially, how we deal with each other.

Perfection, when it comes to sustainability, is a chimera, a useful tool for those who shriek "hypocrisy" whenever anyone with an eye to sustainability criticizes our current arrangements. Advocating for sustainability doesn't mean we must all live like chipmunks, huddled in a hole in a tree. It means thinking a little bit beyond where we are now, and working to make things a little bit better every day.

Infinite growth on a finite planet is simply ridiculous to contemplate. The past 150 years have been an out of control ride up an elevator, fueled by our one time inheritance of fossil energy. If we don’t start thinking about wings soon, I fear that we are in for a rather severe crash.

Will we continue on with business as usual, paying lip service to sustainability, and leaving all of the hard choices to our children and grandchildren?

The idea of sustainability has value, but only if we are willing to elevate its position in how we think about how we think about the world we are creating for those who follow. And that requires being real clear on what sustainability means and what it is going to take to move from our "rip and ship" mentality towards something a little more sustainable.

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
InfoTel News Ltd

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