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Archive for the ‘What is Sustainability?’ Category

Lauren Wheeler wrote an interesting reflection on historian William Cronon‘s plenary talk at the 2011 American Society for Environmental History conference in Phoenix a few weeks ago. Wheeler’s reflection is titled “Reflection on Sustainability: Cronon’s 2011 ASEH Plenary Address,” and Cronon’s talk was titled “Sustainability: A Short History for the Future.”

Among other things, Wheeler has the following to say: (more…)

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I attended the 2011 American Society for Environmental History conference in Phoenix a few days ago. One of the sessions I attended was an interdisciplinary round table discussion, titled “Sustainability and its Discontents.” Political science professor Thomas Princen brought up a number of thought-provoking points that are relevant to our work here with the SHP.

Princen works in the arena of formulating and applying social science frameworks that are future-oriented and normative, so as to devise solutions that will help society avoid catastrophe. He sees “sustainability” as an important, if contentious, concept, on the same level as “peace,” “freedom,” “progress,” and “democracy.” Critics may claim that “sustainability” is meaningless because it can be so vague, but Princen argues that the concept, nevertheless, is essential because it helps frame a constellation of topics and issues that are essential to present and future generations. The concept of sustainability has three key elements, in Princen’s view:

    1) Provides a long-term outlook

    2) Encourages consideration of systems approach that reflects more accurately the complex interactions between nature and society

    3) Is a scalable concept that can be applied from the household level to the global level, and at all points in-between

Princen provided a clear and concise rule-of-thumb that he applies when people bring up “sustainability.” He asks: “sustaining what, for how long, and for whom?”

Princen’s final point involved asking a “dream team” of historians to provide examples to shed light on five areas he finds critical to implementing sustainability measures in the present and future. These are:
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[This post was written by Megan Foster, Grant Russ, and Tina Xiong, and complements previous students’ analysis of the question What is Sustainability?]

An elevated level of equity would be ideal through the aspect of civil society as the center piece placed in between the economy, the state, and environment. From this perspective, each neighboring sphere to civil society is still necessary to keep sustainability in balance. Appropriately, though, the state, operated by the means of democratic governance, would garner the most attention since it in turn largely manages equity to civil society. As civil society becomes more of the focal point by the democratic institution it would allow such equity of access and discourse on a large body of thought and literature for the civil body to express its interest and mediation on the path towards sustainability.

Democratic institutions also allow advantages for a larger portion of civil society to take part in political freedoms and participation, which is also needed during this long enduring trek towards sustainability. Sustainability itself nearly focuses on the following three similar dimensions as of civil society: the social, the environment and the economy. Equity would naturally gravitate to this central core of dimensions and thus produce a more dynamic, growing and accessible opportunities for civil society, and sustainability.

As Gary L. Larsen puts it (more…)

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

In covering the first three readings, our group decided to combine all three articles and brainstorm on what the general themes they share that pertain to sustainability.[1]

Many people think of sustainability as strictly an environmental issue. After reading the three articles, we came to the conclusion that sustainability is multi-faceted on a global level. Sustainability is not only limited to issues of the environment, but of society and economics as well. Our current working definition of sustainability is to leave resources for future generations with a minimal impact on the environment. According to Kates, et al., the Board on Sustainable Development’s goal of sustainability is to “provide energy, materials and information to feed, nurture, house, educate and employ the people in 2050 … and to reduce hunger, poverty … and preserve the basic life support systems of the planet.”[2]

All the authors in our readings discussed the common theme of “trade-offs.” When mentioning “trade-offs” in terms of sustainability, (more…)

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

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! A common mantra most people have heard before, but what does that mean and is that what sustainability is? The meaning of sustainability ranges from the formulated academic definition based on the Brundtland Commission report to an individual’s personal definition. The focus of this entry is not to dissect the many facets of what sustainability is but to discuss what it is not. The “three pillars” of sustainability are: environment (i.e, natural resources), economy (i.e., monetary value), and equity (i.e., social considerations). At a glance, some of the pillars are self-explanatory, once again, either using a personal or academic definition.

When focusing on what sustainability is not we will discuss measurability, openness to dialog, intergenerational needs, and “greenwashing.”

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