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Posts Tagged ‘sustainability history’

In my recent Internet meanderings I happened upon an intriguing and rather complex timeline of key people, events, movements, and ideas related to “Sustainability” that will likely be of interest to our readers.[1] Authors Amir Djalali and Piet Vollaard call their project “a subjective attempt to historically map the different ideas around the problem of the relationship between humans and their environment.” Their timeline was published in 2008 in the journal Volume, produced by Archis, “an experimental think tank devoted to the process of real-time spatial and cultural reflexivity and action.”

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I recently received an email from a student in Portland State University’s MBA+ program and the Center for Global Leadership in Sustainability. This student was looking for information to help chronicle the history of sustainability in the northwest. I began writing an email reply and then realized that it would be more informative to the broader community if I posted my response here on the SHP website and then invited this student (and anyone else) to respond.

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In response to the post “Critiquing Sustainability,” Samuel Mann (Assoc. Prof., Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, NZ) wrote this thought-provoking post of his own. Mann provides an historical and philosophical overview of some aspects of sustainability, finding that this idea “is deeper than a Sustainability = Brundtland conception . . . with precursors stretching back decades and centuries.”

I, in turn, responded with the following:

    I appreciate your help in providing context for our current understanding of “sustainability.” In my class, I lecture on the historical development of the concept and provide a very abridged version of what you discuss above. In my interpretation, the deep roots of sustainability that you discuss focus most heavily on valued environmental resources (i.e., trees worthy of harvest) for the economic benefit of relatively few (i.e., the political and military elite), and, whereas there is an inter-generational element to this kind of sustainability, it remains narrowly focused within these limits. Where these early antecedents differ significantly is that the Brundtland Commission was very explicit in correlating the “three pillars” as co-equal elements of sustainability, and the equity/society pillar includes explicit mention of democracy and open-access (in addition to future generations). It seems to me that tracts of forest resources managed by political, military, and scientific elites specifically for the propagation of a limited set of natural resources does not qualify as “sustainability” as the Brundtland Commission would have it. Important precursors, yes, but falling short of contemporary approaches in critical ways.

I’d like to expand and clarify a bit what I wrote in this comment . . .

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