Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sustainability again. . .

I'm getting a bit of "sustainability" fatigue.

One hears so much about "sustainability" ideas today and there are so many voices out there trumping amazing new ideas and technologies and visions--I briefly visited the "Sustainability" fair in Hilo a while back as well. All in all I was struck at the characteristic that all new "Sustainability" tech seems to share. Which is, that it isn't sustainable. When you look at the issue at all, with any sort of critical eye, it all becomes very apparent. An electric car is an expensive consumer device--and is very poor way and inefficient way to burn coal. Photo voltaic systems are expensive consumer devices--but aren't sustainable until you have solar stripmining, solar transportation, and solar factories that make panels. Without subsidies, either. Sir McCartney is all out of breath flying around the world advocating vegitarianism to save greenhouse gasses. . .you would laugh at this kind of bullshit if the situation wasn't so grim. What the sustainability movement is all about, really--is trying to sustain with gimmickry a lifestyle of consumption that isn't sustainable. And frequently to earn a good enough wage selling this crap that one can keep up with the once a year eco-vacation in Bali.

I get told--Jay, you're far too negative about this sort of thing. Ease up! People say that they understand that we're not really sustainable yet, but hybrid cars are a "step in the right direction," right? Actually, I reply, no they are not! They may be smaller steps in the wrong direction than others may be--but they are still steps in the wrong direction.

If we imagine our situation in terms of dallying near a precipice, we get a better and more complete metaphor and get a better sense of our reprecussions. In a very real way we are indeed standing on a brink of climate change and wholesale collapses of ecosystems. If we were aware of the danger of the brink, and were sensible enough to stay a goodly bit away, an occasional mis-step in the wrong direction might be forgivable. At this point we are teetering on the very edge, at the slightest mistep may have dire consequences. We've made some very big misteps in the name of "sustainability"--bio-fuels would be the big one, which at this point is the single largest deforestation industry in the world. The biofuels industry was a massive step in the wrong direction, and getting worse all the time. I'm entitled, I think, to be more than a little skeptical and negative, as I'm going to get shoved over cliff with all the rest.

Someone said to me not so long ago, "Jay, you just need to realize you have a different definition of sustainability than other people." Ease up! Actually, while apparently and sadly this seems to be true to some degree--there's only one definition of sustainability, which is, to be sustainable. Everything else is unsustainable. Sustainability isn't an attitude, or a philosophy, it is a practical emperical concept. There may be a bit of fudge in the way to define it, depending on what you're trying to argue for, but what is incontestable is that there are only barely 3 acres per person on this planet, at this moment, at this level of population. It would seem to me that the only just way to quantify sustainability is to hold these 3 acres as a conceptual common trust. If you are consuming more than 3 acres worth, you are living unsustainably, and not only that, you are necesitating some one elses deprivation. World GDP divided by population is barely 3000 US dollars a year: if you are living on more than that, you are living on more than your fair share of the sum output of the world's economy. And a share of an unsustainable economy at that, mind you.

So what to do? Unfortunately except for a handful of conscious and conscientious, people what passes for ecologically sensitive is a lifestyle typically consuming between 1 and 2 orders of magnitude more than what the planet can really bear. If this is the highest level of integrity we progressive can muster, one may as well prep for a swan dive into the abyss. As far as I can see, especially since the global economic collapse with dominate all issues for the forseeable future, meaning years--a major collapse of the biosphere and a massive extinction event is at this point all but inevitable. . .

So, where to go from here?

From my perspective, again, the lifestyle that I should be living out of a concern for the ecology as well as care for humanity in general--one of strict anti-consumerism, is the one that most effectively will prepare me for the now inevitable future--as the future will be one of strict anti-consumerism by necessity. It may be cute to talk "green" in gassy terms today, but in the same way the high flying financiers have been brought low, soon enough I expect the "Trust-fund-afarian" lifestyle will be coming to an end. There will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth as well. Times of affluence and ease tend to sloppy living and sloppy thinking--and we can see the results. I imagine that once the critical and attention grabbing task of feeding oneself comes to dominate one's life--there will be a great more attention to paid to real sustainability than there is at the moment. And rightly so. Living unsustainably may well mean not living at all.


Anonymous said...

The sky isn't falling... but the market sure is!

I feel really sorry for those that depend so much upon capitalistic shit.

Now if I could only stomach poi I'd be set!

3brainer said...

Of course, you are absolutely correct about this, Jay! It isn't negative it is real. The thing I strive to remember is that we must change our thinking first and on a mass scale. Without right thinking nothing else is possible. So some of these "wrong steps" may at least serve to mainstream certain ideas which feed trains of thought that will carry us to right action. Kids are growing up with an idea of what is before them, which is more than I can say for myself. They have at least heard the word sustainable, and ultimately it is the children who will lead the way.

Is it too late? Guess we will find out.

And people need to slow down on the breeding too.

jbs said...

Probably the ONLY real long-term answer is to drop the human population to maybe a billion--- maybe less. Interesting in that this is a TOTALLY achievable goal (biologicaly/ecologically)-- and by definition can happen within 1 reproductive generation (say 30 years)-- The question is, do we have the WILL to do it (and will we stand up to the religious forces that will oppose this with all their collective venom??)