I have been reading a lot about sustainability lately, trying to pin down what it really means.  I am doing this because I have grown tired of hearing the term bandied about thoughtlessly, used as a marketing slogan in my profession, used as a rallying cry for unthinking do-gooders in the public sphere, and because it is connected with ideas I find fascinating, i.e., the notions that we have to connect us with nature, and the notions we have of nature itself.  Two pieces I looked at are this booklet by a professor in England who’s specialty it is, and this article on ‘carrying capacity‘ by a human geographer at Berkley.

Th images at the head of this post represent the two paths we are told we can follow:  The first is that of bacteria reproducing in a petri dish, the population growing rapidly, then crashing – that’s the path we are supposedly on now; the second is the ‘closed loop’ of eco, bio, sustainable, new age, no growth economics that the prophets seek to bring us to.  The theological/ethical dimensions of the latter view are obvious simply from the array of images presented when you google ‘sustainability’ for images.

Mr. Jackson’s booklet (Prosperity without Growth) goes into great detail about the inequalities, inefficiencies and spiritual dogmas of our present cultural ecology of free enterprise capitalism and consumerism.  He tells that countries with much lower GDPs than the USA or UK have the same, or better!, life expectancies, same or better infant mortality rates, and that new measures of ‘happiness’ show no strong link between materialistic or consumer abundance and satisfaction.  Is this news?  Is this what the Sustainability Program amounts to – a plea to examine the nature of The Good Life, and to act accordingly?  Very old wine in new bottles.

For the record, I largely agree with this philosophic critique of our current social arrangements, but where I part company with the prophets is my belief that our current path IS sustainable, though not preferable (to me).  What these folks are doing is packaging an ethical, philosophical, moral, religious, spiritual and political point of view inside a pseudo-scientific theory.  The logic goes, if we do not change towards a sustainable path, we, human civilization, will crash like those one-celled creatures in the graph at top.  (The intellectual incoherence of this view is dissected in Nathan Sayre’s essay that I have linked to this post.)  Without the Damoclean sword of global meltdown hanging over us, why would anyone do anything to change?  Because society would be more just, more fair, more satisfying, less damaging to the ecological communities we cohabit with on Earth?  There’s too much money to be made to bother with that stuff!

So, what do we end up getting in the absences of a reasoned and organized attack on the status quo?  We get the same old economic system and its injustice and inequality, but we get bike-lanes (I like ’em), ‘green products’, (I hate ’em), tony new-urbanist developments (works for me), hipster eco-esthetic (I like to shop there) carbon footprinting (useless and deceptive) and so on…

11 Responses to Sustainability?

  1. Abandon TV says:

    You might be interested to research the Club of Rome as well as UN’s Agenda 21 (and perhaps ask yourself why you’ve never heard of them before).

    Then have a good long hard look again at the so called environmental movement.

    • Lichanos says:

      Hello, Abandon TV: I never watch it.
      I certainly have heard about the Club of Rome, although I didn’t mention it. Why do you assume I did not know of them?
      I watched part of the youtube video from The CorbettReport. Sorry, but anyone who countenances conspiracy theories in general, and ones about 9/11 is not someone I want to invest time in, no matter how many out-of-context things they say that I happen to agree with.

      • Abandon TV says:

        RE: James Corbett and so called ‘conspiracy theories’.

        I’m not quite sure what you are implying here.

        Do you accept that humans tend to act in their own self interests even (at times, but not always) at the expense of others, and that those in positions of power and wealth are no different to the rest of society in this regard?
        Yes, more or less..[Lichanos]

        Or do you think that being in government, or part of the wealthy establishment, and therefore capable of exerting enormous power (the power to literally change society) somehow makes these people immune from acting in their own selfish interests, and immune from colluding with others of a like mind for their mutual self interest? Surely to automatically dismiss all so called ‘conspiracy theories’ is to take this rather bizarre stance?No, not at all. What I dismiss are bizarre theories that tax my credibility and lack concrete evidence.[Lichanos]

        How do you imagine such people got to their positions of power and wealth in the first place? Do you think is was by being the MOST morally virtuous people in society perhaps?Not at all…[Lichanos]

        Surely to automatically *dismiss* any notion of powerful men colluding (or simply collaborating) for mutual self interest is to be just as irrational, as those who would automatically *assume* a ‘conspiracy’? In both cases one is taking a stance based on a firmly held, preconceived *belief*, rather than evidence and reason.

        Also, anyone with a grasp of the dictionary definition (rather than mass media definition) of ‘conspiracy theory’ will understand that governments are in fact the most guilty when it comes to promoting dangerous and wacky ‘conspiracy theories’.

        For example the THEORY about Saddam Hussein CONSPIRING to amass and hide WMD’s for a possible surprise attack (possibly nuclear according to Rumsfeld) on western nations, perhaps with only a 45 minute warning, is a dictionary definition of a conspiracy theory. This particular conspiracy theory was later proven to be wrong. Over a million civilians lie dead, as well as hundreds of thousands of soldiers as a result of people’s belief in (or peer pressure driven acceptance of) this conspiracy theory. Iraqi society is now totally shattered.Well, I have a simpler notion of what happened. I call it lying, pure and simple. Is this a distinction without a difference?[Lichanos]

        I can’t think of a ‘civilian’ conspiracy theory which has resulted in quite that amount of death and destruction – can you?

        The conspiracy theory about invisible (and now ‘homegrown’) terrorist cells conspiring in secret to blow themselves up in public places anywhere and at any time is another example of a *government* conspiracy theory. This conspiracy theory has led to the dismantling of free society across the western world and its replacement with a high tech militarised, authoritarian police state surveillance control grid society with massively increased government powers and military budgets.

        The government are so obsessed with this particular conspiracy theory, they’ve even spent millions of taxpayers’ money creating an agency devoted to fondling children’s crotches to see if they have hidden bombs inside their spiderman underpants. By any reasonable measure that’s pretty paranoid – especially when you consider that DIY or gardening accidents pose far more of a threat to the American people in terms of deaths per year than international terrorism ever has, statistically speaking. To put this even more in perspective, road traffic accidents and CORRECTLY prescribed legal medications kill hundreds of thousands of Americans *every year*.Clearly our priorities are off, government and the governed are prey to hysteria and self-serving notions. In the broadest possible sense, you can call this a ‘conspiracy’, but then any political or intellectual movement might be so-called.[Lichanos]

        Only when examining ‘conspiracy theory’ in terms of *reason* and *evidence* – rather than emotion (fear) and ‘consensus belief’ (propaganda) – are we led to such shocking conclusions. This tells us a lot about the world we live in right now.

        As a point of fact journalists like James Corbett spend a great deal of their time deconstructing, questioning and challenging these government conspiracy theories with documented evidence, linked back to their sources (Not least where the 9/11 government conspiracy theory is concerned). Remember OBL was never actually formally charge, arrested, put on trial or found guilty of 9/11 in any court of law. (Although Bush and Blair have been found guilty of war crimes under the Geneva Convention during a recent tribunal – a fact generally ignored by the mainstream media). In fact the FBI never indicted OBL for 9/11 at all and publicly stated that this was because they simply did not have the evidence to link him to the crime. OBL’s involvement in 9/11 remains to this day no more than hearsay, or to us the popular term a ‘conspiracy theory’.Seems I recall Osama bin Laden celebrating his success on 9/11. Or was that a fake?[Lichanos]

        When someone examines, questions or challenges the claims of a government endorsed conspiracy theory they are often accused of being ……. ‘conspiracy theorists’ (as you yourself have accused James Corbett of being).

        This is what George Orwell called ‘doublethink’. Sorry, but this is not at all what Orwell called ‘doublethink.’ That notion, defined in the appendix to 1984 called Principles of Newspeak says ‘doublethink’ is the ability to hold two contradictory notions in one’s mind at the same time, believing both are true. This is quite different from what you describe, which is more akin to a sort of unintentional political irony, although I suppose there is a Greek term from ancient rhetoric that describes the tactic exactly.[Lichanos]

        • Abandon TV says:

          “…..Well, I have a simpler notion of what happened. I call it lying, pure and simple. Is this a distinction without a difference?…”

          Yes they were lying, and beneath those lies they already had an agenda (clearly laid out in Project for a New American Century – Rebuilding America’s Defences published in 2000). My point was not that Cheney, Bush et al actually believed their WMD conspiracy theory, but that they promoted it as a way to manipulate the public (as well as the media and the lower level politicians). The same goes for the WoT.

          The oldest trick in the book for rulers is to invent universal standard definitions and then twist language in order to make themselves appear to be exempt from those universal standard definitions.

          ‘Theft’ is to take by force and without consent. A government enforces property rights, while making an exception for itself by inventing a new word ‘taxation’.
          ‘Murder’ is to initiate force against someone until they are dead. A government enforces murder laws, while making an exception for itself by inventing a new terms such as ‘foreign policy’ or ‘enforcing a no fly zone’.
          ‘Conspiracy theory’ is any theory involving secret collusion by two or more parties. And that is why the government promoted it’s conspiracy theory about SH’s WMD program as conspiracy fact. At the same time they helped us to associate the term with wild and wacky conspiracy theories by people on the fringes of society. In doing so we were programmed with the idea that only social outcasts with no friends ever make conspiracy claims us. Then, when people started to inevitably point out that the claims of WMDs was no more than an unfounded conspiracy theory, most people were already too confused about what a ‘conspiracy theory’ actually meant to understand what was actually being said.

          Manipulation of language in this way is something Orwell expressed very well in his book 1984.

          “…. What I dismiss are bizarre theories that tax my credibility and lack concrete evidence….”

          There is nothing bizarre about the rulers using manufactured or exaggerated claims about ‘outside threats’ in order to control public opinion and gain support from them (and power) as you offer you ‘solutions’ to those problems. Have you not studied history? This is perhaps the oldest trick in the book! Whether the threat be wrath from God, wrath from climate change, wrath from international terrorists the solutions are always predictably the same – give us your money and let us increase our power and control over your lives. And often: go and fight a war for us as well.

          As for concrete evidence, both the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘War on CO2’ both LACK evidence to support the original claims. In both cases those who have promoted these ‘threats’ have been caught lying, manipulating information, paying people to lie for them and generally acting like dodgy used car salesmen. Surely you must be aware of this? (or are you still caught up in a load on nonsense to do with so called ‘conspiracy theories’?)

          “….I can’t think of a ‘civilian’ conspiracy theory which has resulted in quite that amount of death and destruction – can you?…” (quote: me)

          So have you come up with one yet?

          “…..Clearly our priorities are off, government and the governed are prey to hysteria and self-serving notions. In the broadest possible sense, you can call this a ‘conspiracy’, but then any political or intellectual movement might be so-called….”

          To be clear, I am merely pointing out where conspiracy theories exist, who is promoting them and what the consequences of people believing (or passively accepting) these conspiracy theories has been. If we are going to examin and question the validity and motive of conspiracy theories in society (as we should) then we can’t miss out government conspiracy theories can we? Government conspiracy theories have always been, historically speaking, the most dangerous and devastating in terms of sheer death and destruction.

          In reality ‘the governed’ have never promoted a conspiracy theory about an outside threat which was not first promoted by to them by their rulers and the controlled mass media. Never in human history has any population whipped themselves up by inventing their own conspiracy theory about an outside threat and then marched on their capital to make demands on a reluctant government that they be sent to war, that more power should be given to their rulers and that more taxes should be taken from them by government in order to pay for it all.

          Instead it requires a sustained, deliberate and ongoing campaign of propaganda to convince the public that fighting wars overseas and giving up their freedoms at home are ever good ideas.

          “..Seems I recall Osama bin Laden celebrating his success on 9/11. Or was that a fake?…”

          I’m sorry, are you suggesting alleged claims or footage of a man allegedly celebrating 9/11 are enough to prove guilt, and that this somehow overrides the FAILED efforts made by the FBI to link him to 9/11 with *proper* evidence?

          Isn’t that exactly the kind of attitude of ‘the mob’ that we might condemn the German population of the 1930’s for succumbing to? Not only is there still no evidence to link OBL to 9/11, there is plenty to suggest an entirely different scenario to that promoted by the official conspiracy theory of 9/11. The Bin Laden’s were family friends and business partners with the Bush’s. Osama’s brother helped George set up his first oil company ‘Arbusto’. The entire Bin Laden family was flown OUT of the US in the days after 9/11 without questioning and while the civilian flight ban was still in place, despite Osama being specifically named as number one suspect exactly 45 seconds after the second tower was hit on the mainstream news. Plus it’s officially admitted that Al Qaeda was created and funded by the CIA, overseen by Brzezinski himself during the Afghan/ Russian conflict and that Osama AKA Tim Osman was a known asset up until 9/11 itself according to Sibel Edmonds.

          Yet you would disregard all of this evidence and choose instead some claim that the man celebrated the events of 9/11. And you would choose this despite the CIA admitting to making fake OBL videos depicting the poor man as gay!

          I mean, come on, dude. Isn’t it time to take off the government conspiracy theory tin foil hat and come and join us out here in the real world 🙂

          “….Sorry, but this is not at all what Orwell called ‘doublethink.’….”

          Stop splitting hairs. You know what I meant.

          freedom is slavery
          war is peace
          ignorance is strength
          genocide and illegal occupation is liberation
          invading sovereign nations is spreading democracy
          paying carbon taxes is saving the planet
          conspiracy theories are crazy and dangerous claims made AGAINST government, but they are never crazy and dangerous claims made BY government

          These are all examples of the manipulation of language to make evil appear to be good and to make rational argument and evidence appear to be nonsense. Such manipulation of language has been used by the ruling establishment for centuries.

          May I suggest you take a crash course in conspiracy theories?

          • Lichanos says:

            Well, I would rather read Noam Chomsky than watch youtube.

            • Abandon TV says:

              “…Well, I would rather read Noam Chomsky than watch youtube…”

              Youtube along with ‘books’ or ‘the internet’ is a medium and not an organisation. To dismiss youtube as unreliable or low quality (which seems to be your implication here) is like saying “I’d never associate with real people in public areas – you can’t trust them”

              Of course this is true. But it misses the whole point of human interaction which is to use your own wits and critical thinking to determine for yourself whether the people you meet in the world are trustworthy or not, and whether they have something of worth to share with you.

              To dismiss youtube (or the internet in general) as untrustworthy or poor quality is to admit that you need to be told who to trust and what to like, because you aren’t capable of determining for yourself – by thinking for yourself, exploring new ideas or verifying source material or entertaining an idea without necessarily accepting it as true etc.

              If it’s not endorsed by the hierarchy we must not look at it! 😉

  2. solutions777 says:

    What is the point? What is the issue? The above is just a rambling mess.

    Censorship is evil.

    Yes, censorship is evil. What is the point? What is the issue. The above is just a rambling mess. Lichanos

  3. pancime says:

    I have seen many utterances by environmentalists confirming your comments. It will be fascinating, but scary, to watch the progression of this movement aspiring to the hegemony of a religion. A conference is to be held soon at a University where I live to discuss how to deal with a recalcitrant population who will not vote in accordance with the moral quest of those who want to ‘save the planet’. Democracy does not get a mention in the flier, but forcing the population into compliance does. Within this movement academics have cast themselves as high priests.

    • Lichanos says:

      Ah, you have hit upon the totalitarian potential in this world view, something I did not mention. Are there any good sci-fi stories that take up this theme?

      As I have said many times, I support the majority of the concrete goals such groups advocate day to day, but…

      And, “save the planet,” or “heal the Earth,” are two phrases that make me choke. As if the Earth, a piece of rock, needs healing. (Even Al Gore admits it’s a purely ‘figurative’ statement, but of what?) If you dig deeply enough with people who use this phrase with sincerity, you usually find one of two ideas: humans are a plague, and we have to voluntarily throttle back our development so that the Earth can return to some pristine, Edenic state; or what actually needs saving is the human species, which is ‘poisoning’ its own well, so to speak. Of course, this latter, entirely species-centric view, is laughably at odds with the New Age sentiments with which it is usually found. Most environmentalists don’t fit into the “deep ecology” mode of the first point of view above: they are more of the second view, even if they only mouth the slogan.

      Just for the record, for any who think I’m a laissez faire world-waster, please read my Golden Rule.

      Nice to hear from you again.

  4. troutsky says:

    Again Kudos for bringing up a topic so fraught with nuance and complexity. The libertarian/political aspect has been demonstrated. The spiritual vs scientistic is also a volume in itself. The notion of Gaia hurling volcanic ash upon herself (when the Yellowstone cauldera blows, for instance) or even MOTHER nature sending us to “time out”…

    What strikes me is how reckless we have become, risk takers willing to bet all. But also willing to blame vast, connected conspiracies for our own behavior.

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