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What is Sustainable?

Living the solution, not the problem. All life presents us with problems. It is not possible to continue living as we have in the past. As new problems emerge, solutions are required. And this process means that we are constantly living solutions, and preparing for dealing with the new set of problems that this itself creates. The process, properly thought out, is actually quite unsustainable, and if we hope to live in peace with each other and with the planet that God has bestowed upon us, a fundamental requirement is not that we live sustainably, but actually quite the opposite. If our human condition requires us to live sustainably, to maintain a way of life that we have lived for generation after generation, then we are required to continue to have bombs destroy humans, to have poisoned water kill children, to have food shortages and water shortages cause starvation and thirst. What I believe is that we want the opposite of such things, and every time we invent a medicine, improve a technology, and so on, it is not possible to live as we did before – this is the hallmark of human flourishing and progress, and is definitionally unsustainable.  Just as the word “liberal” has been hijacked to imply precisely the opposite of its true meaning, so too has the word unsustainable. I propose “we” take it back.

7 Responses to “What is Sustainable?”

  1. yamahaeleven says:

    Well said, perhaps you could add “progressive” to the list of terminology that has been subverted over time to mean something completely opposite from its original definition. By definition, your statement is progressive, yet most “progressives” would not buy into its sentiment.

  2. Harry says:

    Perhaps one for your posterity section, WC. I have thought of what you said, but not as you said it. This is one reason I return to the herd blog.

  3. Alex says:

    I think you may be defining what it means to live sustainably (sustainability?) differently than most people think of it. Would you say that living sustainably =

    maintaining a way of life that we have lived for generation after generation.

    I think this is different than

    maintaining a way of live that [can be] lived for generation after generation

    If a past way of life could not continue to be lived (e.g. bombing people), then it is, by this definition, unsustainable.

    • wintercow20 says:

      My (admittedly needing a deeper and longer explanation) point is that your second definition is what I am calling unsustainable, and hence desirable. But that’s not quite right either – without a solid discussion of what “maintaining a way of life” means. I believe that all ways of living are ephemeral and pandering to the idea of sustainable living is dangerously ignorant of that, I believe, fact.

      • Alex says:

        If you had to explain every point to every idiot who didn’t understand, you’d either need to be a really good teacher or to devote a lot of time to explaining…or, in your case, both.

        That said, to the extent I do understand, I still feel like something is off. Maybe it’s the scale? On an individual level, ways of living change and adapt, and are therefore unsustainable (and desirable). Fine. But on a macro level, this dynamicity is itself either sustainable or unsustainable. If people are becoming more and more destructive, that trend is not sustainable. If, however, people can continue to change and flourish, that’s sustainable in the macro sense.

        I’m not convinced that sustainabilites don’t understand this. They advocate solar power and wind technologies, which are technological changes that change the way people live.

        • wintercow20 says:

          This is about right Alex. With regard to the last point, I do not think I disagree, and certainly see the potential benefits in solar and (some) wind. However, it is the reasons for supporting solar and wind that appeal to our current “unsustainable” way of living that is misguided.

          • Harry says:

            Not to take away from your previous point, please let me digress on dusts sustainability.

            The argument begins among philosophers and physisits talking about what will happen a few billion years from now, entropy and all that. In the long run, we run out of everything, or alternatively, the universe expands forever. This is an interesting subject to contemplate, but it is a side argument about the subject of “sustainability” advanced by sustainability movement people.

            The sustainability argument is not about what will happen in a billion years, but rather what will happen in 500 years or so. I pick that number because it may be a few hundred years before we get short of carbon energy. In the sustainable universe, run by commissars, the supply of everything falls off a cliff in the sixth year after the five-year plan, and it does, unless the weather cooperates, which it did not from 1917.

            So, as the price of X rises, we get less of X and we run out of X, right?

            What we need, to avoid shortages of anything, is better planning and scheduling, and wiser decisions about prices to cope with future shortages. Without such wisdom, the future is unsustainable.

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