Maybe it’s because it’s raining this morning – the past couple of weeks have been sunny and warm – but my thoughts seem a bit darker today. I’ve been thinking about sustainability again, and what meaning this nebulous and confusing term should have in the current environmental community.
The thing is, and I may have said this before, when the word “sustainable” is tacked on to other concepts, two things happen: the first is that it makes us feel better about what we are doing, even if what we are really doing is using up the Earth faster than it can recover. We may not like the timber industry, for example, but we are fine with “sustainable forestry.” We might have a problem with declining fish runs and starving orca, but “sustainable fisheries” make us feel better about it all in the end. And the overarching oxymoron that we don’t even notice most of the time, simply because it is so ubiquitous, the completely nonsensical “sustainable development,” is everywhere. Not only an assault on the English language, that one, it is the permission we crave to continue our decidedly unsustainable levels of consumption. Which leads to…
The second effect that this particular word has on the zeitgeist is that it serves to cement the relationship that we imagine we have with the natural world, as somehow being apart from it, rather than being an integral cog in the larger organic machine. We seek to “sustain” our lifestyles and most importantly, the convenience and ease that we are entitled to, we just say that we want to do it in a more “eco-friendly” way. It’s quite possible that we don’t even see that by saying that our electric car or our rooftop solar array are steps toward “sustainability,” we don’t have to examine the underlying reality that all of what we do and have, including the newest and greenest of our modern accoutrements, are all propped up with fossil fuel and based on the idea that growth is imperative and convenience is paramount.
Just thinking, mostly. There is more here to pick at, more to clarify, and it’s hard not to see that we are running out of time. Everyone seems to agree about that.