aspen-treetopsDecember 13, 2012

I’m something of a pessimist these days. From my perspective, fresh off four years ensconced in a PhD program focused on Environmental Management and sustainability, I see that sustainability is difficult to teach and to incorporate into programs because so many in both the academic world and the business world have taken the word and the concept proposed by Brundtland and turned it into whatever suited their purposes. This makes it a moving target, by design.  But maybe that’s only because it really is such a hard thing to define, as no one can seem to agree on the metrics with which sustainability would be measured. So everyone is just making it up as they go along. With each discipline deciding what their version of sustainability is, it’s hard to figure out how one would get the concept truly integrated into all classes and into our culture. Maybe the real term we should use is continuous improvement. All disciplines can wrap their heads around that and find metrics to prove that this is happening. Sustainability is aspirational, just like the wording in first sections of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are aspirational. Sustainability, just like the words in those laws, is an idea that can never be fully realized with such an overpopulated planet bent on using technology to try to buy its way out of a train wreck. We’ve gotten to the point where we can’t do without so much of our technology, but it’s that very technology (machines, cars, genetically engineered seed stock that is wiping out the diversity of our crops, asphalt, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, industrialized meat production) that is causing so many systemic problems like climate change and the shifting health profile of the human population. And even with all the brilliance within the human population, our thoughts and our inventions cannot move fast enough to head some of these problems off at the pass. It does seem funny that many of the fixes people have come up with of late boil down to a devolution of human endeavor. Industrial to local/organic foods; engineered seeds to heirloom seed stock; car to bicycle. Big home to small cozy cottage. In my current frame of mind, it seems very late in the game to back pedal.  But it is certainly worth a try.