Trevor Blake, in his never ending contrarian quest to dismiss anything he deems “PC” (and therefore oppressive) has turned his attention toward sustainability. First, he cites Wikipedia’s definition:
The ability to maintain balance of a certain process or state in any system. It is now most frequently used in connection with biological and human systems. In an ecological context, sustainability can be defined as the ability of an ecosystem to maintain ecological processes, functions, biodiversity and productivity into the future.
He concludes: “It is prudent to make decisions today with a cautious eye toward the future. But sustainability has nothing to do with that.”
Uhh… has nothing to do with that says who? With nary a citation, could it be that the esteemed Mr. Blake is creating a straw man? Actually, “Making prudent decisions today with a cautious eye towards the future” is a pretty good English translation of the Wikipedia definition of sustainability.
“Many small corrections along the way will do more good than making One Right Choice now and forever.”
Trevor: what is the “One Right Choice” sustainability promotes? “Sustainability” is a problematic word. The Wikipedia article Trevor cites dedicates considerable space to the debate of the word itself.
As a concept “sustainability” and the related “green movement” is associated with people ranging from the marketing staff at BP to John Zerzan, and stops by Al Gore, Alex Steffen, and Rob Hopkins along the way. Hell, you can throw Bjørn Lomborg somewhere in there too.
So some “sustainability” advocates obviously have unified theories – megacorporations say we should just buy different products. Primitivists say we should go back to a bronze age way of life. But even here things get fuzzy. Which products, for instance? I’m sure the Kaczynski-Klub or whatever has plenty of internal disagreements.
As for the “mainstream” sustainability movement – those situated between Al Gore and Alex Steffen on the sustainability scale, let’s say – about the most you can say is that there’s an agreement that the use of carbon should be reduced. Other than that, there’s a pretty healthy debate going on everything from food miles to geoengineering.
I’d also like to unpack a couple other things in Trevor’s post. “Is science so advanced that the current knowledge of processes and systems is sufficient to freeze them into stasis without the possibility for great harm?”
This is a misunderstanding of sustainability writ large. If you can’t parse the definition of sustainability that you quoted in your opening, then I’m not sure I can help you.
“And nature is nothing if not change and indifference to that bit of nature that is humanity.” Change is the one unifying theme across the spectrum of sustainability. But there are a few fundamental human needs that have not changed (the need for food and water, etc). Is it foolish to try to preserve our sources for such needs? According to Trevor, our actions should only strive to “correct error in the very near future.” How very near? Tomorrow? Next week? A month?
So we should never worry ourselves with thoughts of the medium to long term? Certainly it’s harder to predict the medium and long term. Which is all the more reason to be more conservative about how we expend resources, and more proactive at finding new ones.