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Archive for the ‘What is 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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[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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[This post was written by Megan Foster, Grant Russ, and Tina Xiong, and complements previous students’ analysis of the question What is Sustainability?]

Among the various subjects embedded in the Brundtland Commission report concerning sustainable development, one of exceptional importance is the subject of what precisely should be developed. Those subjects with potential for development were discussed by both developed and developing countries and so can be stated as universally important. The development of essential human needs such as economic growth, equity of resources, equal opportunities, and education stands beside the sustainability of nature, resources, and communities. Social development, and more specifically social justice, can ensure development and sustainability of equity and equality for all persons. The goals which should correlate with these concepts include the elimination of poverty and an equal quality of life.

The challenge becomes one of not only properly implementing social justice but meeting social needs in general while still upholding values of environmental sustainability. (more…)

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Earlier in the quarter, students wondered where sustainability falls within the framework of the standard right-left American political dynamic. Is sustainability inherently a conservative or liberal notion? Might it sometimes contain aspects of both sides of this spectrum? Or perhaps sustainability is not reducible to this familiar dichotomy?

A sampling of Internet sources shows that there is quite a range of opinions regarding these questions. This post will provide some food for thought and, in so doing, draw on a sampling of sources that can serve as a starting point in addressing these questions.

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The SHP post “On the history of sustainability in the Pac NW” provides a useful way to think about the regional history of the thing we call “sustainability.” I wrote this post in the hopes that the student who contacted me with that question would engage us in a discussion on this topic for all of our benefit—but, unfortunately, this has not yet happened.

However, a student in this quarter’s Capstone class recently forwarded me an email with information about Steven Reed Johnson’s work, and this information does help shed some light on the topic. There are also some other sources that provide insight as well.

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A student recently asked:

    How do we promote sustainable practices amongst people who don’t care about sustainability? Is it within our rights to force sustainable practices/actions on people who don’t care? Why do people who don’t care not care? Can they be changed? Should they be changed? (or is that infringe on their freedoms? Should we have that freedom?)

My response was that if we think of sustainability in terms of requiring democratic participation, forcing people to comply would run counter to this goal and be, therefore, unsustainable. However, has it ever been the case that 100% of the American population has gotten behind any initiative? The modern American democratic process regularly makes decisions that are supported by slim majorities of voters, and just five out of nine Supreme Court Justices can decide a case that will have repercussions for decades to come. Both of these outcomes take place within the American democratic process, but such majority decisions often results in a situation where quite a large number of people are put in a position of forced compliance with a policy or decision that they may not agree with. How does our working definition of sustainability account for this conundrum? Is it sufficient to our working definition to ensure that a process is in place that facilitates democratic participation, even if the outcome results in the dissatisfaction of a large minority of citizens (a minority that could potentially represent 49.9% of the population)?

Complexities abound as we probe these questions more deeply. If we attempt to specify these questions within a particular place, time, and situation, perhaps we might be able to discern some patterns about what causes people not to care about an issue someone else considers essential for sustainability. For example, do those who claim not to care have insufficient information about the topic? Are they being kept in the dark or being actively lied to? Do they have some kind of investment in or commitment to the status quo that they don’t want disturbed? Do they have an alternate definition of “sustainability” that isn’t being considered to their satisfaction?

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[Post written by: Teddy Gautier & T. Smith]

It is important to remember that the need for sustainability arose from fears relating to present and future living standards, namely, but not limited to, depletion of vital natural resources, poverty, negative impacts on the environment, an anthropocentric view, and a general lack of understanding in terms of complex biospheric interactions. All of these fears or threats arise from human actions and interactions with and within their environment. As a result, any definition of sustainability should include the social requirements that need to be met as the core idea, and the environmental and economic aspects would be then be able to be accounted for. Also, that definition should let people know about the different steps that need to be followed in order to implement sustainable practices. The idea is not to propose a definition that is an absolute, thus making it near impossible to achieve, but rather to create a statement that is more practical and applicable to real life situations. Sustainability should be a conceptual framework that allows for amendments or changes to satisfy particular problems. The definition of sustainability that we are proposing will feature social sustainability as the primary focus, yet without understating the importance of the economic and environmental pillars.

Sustainability, as defined the Brundtland Commission and ubiquitously quoted, is: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Following that definition is the key concept of “needs,” specifically the needs of the world’s poor and marginalized. When poverty is eradicated it should follow that the level of education throughout the world will grow immensely. It is very important that the value of education should not be understated. Positive democratic discourse and human well-being are direct corollaries of education and awareness. Education also provides means, solutions, upward mobility, and opportunity. When poverty is removed and social equity is established then economic and environmental challenges, in terms of sustainability, can be assessed and redressed with much greater ease.

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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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