Have you noticed that everything lately has become sustainable? For years we had sustainable agriculture and even sustainable business, but today you can get anything in the "sustainability" variety. I know of a "sustainable" swimming pool company and recently spotted a "sustainability" bumper sticker on a large sports utility vehicle as it rolled a stop sign. Clearly this sustainability thing is hip. I haven't seen one yet, but I'm guessing there is already a "sustainable" Barbie Doll line.
But what does sustainable mean? The definition that gets thrown around most commonly comes from the Brundtland Commission report on sustainable development and suggests that sustainability refers to "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Well that makes sense, but what what is a "need" and how do we even guess at what resources future generations will need to meet their needs? And most importantly... what are we even doing talking about sustaining future generations when we can't seem to figure out how to sustain a full third of our current human population! Someone explain to me how we are going to generate the type of charity necessary to assist the lives of unseen and yet unknown humans that may or may not live here in the future when we can't even share with those in our own communities.
So, I'm not going to give away what I think the answer is to this dilemma just yet (you'll have to visit again tomorrow for that), but let me leave you with a bit of homework. Ask yourself the following question: What does paradise look like and who lives there? If we can answer what we would like to sustain and who we are planning to sustain it for, we might be able to have a conversation about what sustainability is. Until then, I fear at best we are designing a measure that we can't measure and at worst crafting a mantra for an elitist "green party".
Vincent M. Smith