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Archive for the ‘Critiques of Sustainability’ Category

[This post was written by Sara Scott, Sarah Griswold, and Jamie Price, and complements previous students’ analysis of the question What is Sustainability?]

Environmentalism and sustainability is a very polarizing topic. There is no shortage of literature and media supporting sustainability. That being said, one has to dig a little deeper to discover literature, or other forms of media, that argue against it. In this day and age, it seems very ‘politically incorrect,’ and even risqué, to voice opinions arguing against sustainability. Today, we will discuss two articles that critique our societal concepts of sustainability and environmentalism. The articles that we will discuss are, “Roots of Sustainability” by Glenn M. Ricketts and “Is Sustainability Sustainable?” by Daniel Bonevac.[1]

Ricketts’ article is an historical perspective of how environmentalism and sustainability grew in American culture. Daniel Bonevac’s article is a philosophical attempt to define sustainability based on our society’s various definitions. Both articles critique the concept of sustainability from two very different approaches.

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[This post was written by Megan Rice and Angelina Peters and complements previous students’ analysis of the question What is Sustainability?]

This title of this post is not in reference to a toddler being told to go to bed for the hundredth time. Rather, we assert that the title should be the cry among many university and college students. When did our higher learning institutions become the 1984 versions of Big Brother? With the criticism and failure of No Child Left Behind or President Obama’s Race to the Top, why are our universities and colleges abandoning academics for activism?

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[Post written by – Noah Sharpsteen, John Stephenson, Nigel Peltier, Daniel Gray]

Works Under Discussion:

The overarching discussion consists in the critique of the history and general concept of sustainability. Ricketts critiques sustainability by connecting it with radical movements in the 1960s and 1970s, comparing its general motivating influences to ‘catastrophe’ literature, recognizing the overly broad nature of the issues subsumed under the label ‘sustainability’ – stating that its inter-connected approach is “trivially true if true at all,” and ultimately locates its rationale in the sphere of a ‘religious’ dogmatism.[1] Bonevac critiques of a number of the definitions of sustainability used in contemporary practice.[2] The critiques range from stating that the definitions are too stringent and thus impossible to too weak and thus easily satisfied – even by the system in place today. The critique is sharp and insightful and provides a baseline both for further research into the definition (or purpose of a definition) of sustainability and also a model of critical approaches to sustainability in general. Rather than discuss the critical merits of Ricketts’ work, a work we feel to be awfully shallow, we believe that a discussion of Bonevac’s criticisms of the definition(s) of sustainability will prove more fruitful for developing an understanding and substantial critiques of sustainability in use today.

Bonevac established that the current definitions of sustainability are not theoretically possible to satisfy in an absolute sense. This notion of being absolutely possible to be satisfied is an important part of many of his criticisms. His idea of the definitions given are “all-or-none.” What is important to note, in our opinion, is that the definitions he gives – the ones actually given in the recent literature on sustainability – do demand the unsatisfiable criteria that Bonevac describes. We feel that his criticisms are important to understand, but they focus sharply on an issue that Bonevac misunderstands – namely, the apparently stringent criteria given by the definitions are focused on a different point. The motivation behind giving such definitions is not to set up absolute criteria, but to set up a framework for development, research, and improvement of the network of practices that have been labeled ‘sustainable.’ We believe that his criticisms stand as they are, but that has not ultimately stalled ‘sustainable’ practices and the efforts to further understand this concept and specify its ideological boundaries. This raises both an important question and important point. The question is, “What is the point of such a definition?” The point is that there is no common agreement that a definition of sustainability should have an idea of an ‘end-state’ or an eventual ultimate goal.

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The proposed Oregon Sustainability Center (OSC) will be to the Living Building Challenge™ guidelines, “which would qualify it among the most sustainable buildings ever designed and constructed.” When it is built, it will be “home to Oregon’s leaders in sustainable business, government, and education. It will act as a laboratory for green technology regionally and globally, designed to be the greenest high-rise ever built—sourcing its materials locally, creating its own energy, and collecting and treating its water on-site” (Source).

The OSC will be built “on the eastern edge of Portland State University campus in downtown Portland, Oregon. It will form the nucleus of the Portland State University Ecodistrict, a neighborhood strategy to develop and integrate smart buildings, infrastructure, transportation, and community connectivity along sustainable lines” (Source).

Some people wonder if this project is worth the cost. (more…)

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[The post below was written by students Ian C. and Brian H., with notes by James V. Hillegas]

This week we looked at two articles that are critical of sustainability, “The Roots of Sustainability” by Glenn M. Ricketts, and “Is Sustainability Sustainable?” by Daniel Bonevac.[1] Both authors take strong anti-sustainability stances.

Ricketts mostly criticizes sustainability as a political movement. He accuses sustainability proponents of being dogmatic, and spreading their beliefs in an evangelical manner, calling it a secular religion. According to Ricketts, a culture exist within academia that is hostile to any critique of sustainability. Though he does little in the way of actually offering critiques of the principles of sustainability themselves, except to point out that the more dire predictions of previous decades have not yet come to pass. He focuses on presenting a sinister-sounding narrative about the people and social trends supporting sustainability rather than engaging with the ideas behind it.

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This post supplements On Sustainability, Summer 2010 (pt. 2 of 2) and provides reflections from two of my students this quarter on one particular article in this special issue of the journal Academic Questions. Ashley Thorne’s comment to the post Critiquing Sustainability alerted us to the publication of this special journal issue. I plan to post on other articles in this issue of the journal, but the present post will focus on Daniel Bonevac’s “Is Sustainability Sustainable?”[1]

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In comments to a previous SHP post (Critiquing Sustainability), Ashley Thorne brought our attention to a special issue of the journal Academic Questions devoted to “sustainability” (vol. 23, no. 1 (March 2010)). This journal is produced by the National Association of Scholars (NAS).

The NAS is “an independent membership association of academics working to foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges and universities.” The NAS was founded in 1987, “soon after Allan Bloom’s surprise best-seller, The Closing of the American Mind, alerted Americans to the ravages wrought by illiberal ideologies on campus. The founders of NAS summoned faculty members from across the political spectrum to help defend the core values of liberal education.”[1] The NAS considers itself to be “higher education’s most vigilant watchdog” on issues pertaining to “intellectual integrity in the curriculum, in the classroom, and across the campus.” The NAS “oppose racial, gender, and other group preferences” while upholding “the principle of individual merit.” Further, they consider “the Western intellectual heritage” to be “the indispensable foundation of American higher education.”

In poking around the Internet, I happened upon another source affiliated with the NAS: A weekly digest of sustainability-related news pertaining to institutions of higher education fittingly called Sustainability News. This digest is composed of “10-20 links to sustainability news stories” that will enable those interested to “keep a finger on the pulse of this movement in its manifestations in higher education.”

Ashley Thorne, as NAS Director of Communications, oversees production of Sustainability News. She also produces the NAS’ online Encyclopedia of Sustainability.

(Soon I will be publishing a post with student responses to one of the articles in the Academic Questions issue cited above.)

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[1] Allan Bloom, the controversy surrounding his book The Closing of the American Mind, and subsequent discussions of this book, are too complex to discuss in this post; see links for places to begin further research on this matter.

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