William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

What Does “Sustainability” Really Mean?

Who is happier to be in this picture?

Who is happier to be in this picture?

I had originally titled today’s article as “The Theology of Sustainability“, which has a certain ring to it. But I admit the title chosen by the Crisis editors probably results in more curiosity, and thus more clicks.

That’s what you’ll have to do if you want to read about what sustainability really means. Click.

Besides vague environmental pieties, I could not discover any rigorous definition of the word. So I had to figure one out, and did so. And then worked out how sustainability, as touted by progressives, the UN, politicians, and even the Pontifical Academy for Science, fit, if at all, into a Catholic theological scheme.

It doesn’t. Environmentalists don’t like people, and God does. To see why this is so, head on over to Crisis (from where I swiped today’s picture).

Update A link I discovered too late and apropos to not being able to “afford” children:

Italian women would “like to have more [children], but the conditions just aren’t good enough,”laments one new mother as CBS News reports, official figures show that in 2014 there were fewer babies born in Italy than at any time since 1861. “Nowadays people don’t want to raise their child in poverty,” but Pope Francis had a different opinion, as The Guardian reported, “a society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society.”

30 Comments

  1. The last sentence of your essay is the key. It also explains the obsessive search for extra-terrestrial life.

  2. I noted the extreme dislike of humanity by environmentalists in my Earth Day post on my blog. My special pet-peeve is non-GMO. I cancelled almost all my seed catalogues because these sellers have gone non-GMO. They did not care that a genetically modified e-coli bacteria keeps millions of diabetics alive—using the term “non-GMO” sold more seeds (their words, not mine). Mercenary all the way. Add to that the push to stop raising livestock (the only other source of insulin) and you effectively kill millions. Yet few of these crusaders care in the least about the effects of their campaigns and who dies as a result.

    It’s genetic modification that made insulin production sustainable, but that’s irrelevent. It’s not about sustainable, it seems. It’s about Mother Nature and how she’s so perfect and humans are so bad.

  3. I always thought sustainability was a kind of usufruct. We are entitled to use the Earth’s resources, but we are expected to leave the Earth and its resources in no worse condition than we found them.

  4. Sheri,

    I did not know that about e-coli! It sure sounds like those environmentalists are anti-science.

  5. I find that replacing ‘sustainable’ with ‘suppressed’, when used as a qualifier of ‘development’, allows me to make easier sense of a great deal of writing in this area , beset as it is with obfuscation and sinister (as in ‘left’) agendas.

  6. “What Does “Sustainability” Really Mean?”

    As used by the eco-freaks? Nothing.

  7. Sheri, I don’t understand the opposition to GMOs. All DNA has been modified. Why should we prefer a natural (i.e. random) mutation, introduced into the wild with no regard for safety (e.g. the cone snail), to one that has been specifically designed, and thoroughly tested, to be of benefit to humanity?

  8. Shack Toms: My best guess, and it’s just that, is these people watch too much science fiction and fear we are creating a monster with GMO (GMO in agriculture means less pesticides, but that doesn’t matter to these people). As for natural versus human created, said individuals view nature as benevolent and pure, humans as evil and tainted.

  9. The scare against GMO likely is how GMO is presented to the average person much like the presentation of DHMO which led to many signing a petition to ban it. Don’t blame the seed companies for allowing the market to decide.

  10. I like sustainable equals suppressed!

    Whenever an eco-solicitor comes to my door asking for a donation, I ask them about their organizations policy toward GMOs. Invariably, they’re against it. Then I tell them about the campaign against GMO golden rice and the resultant blindness that could have been prevented if not for groups like theirs. They look surprised and then suffer cognitive dissonance and walk away.

    I do what I can.

  11. DAV: I blame the seed companies for adopting a “caring” position, not for allowing the market to decide. There is an unstated premise in all of this that people who are anti-GMO and buy/sell organic, etc, are morally superior to those who do not. I suppose it’s no more dishonest than most marketing is, but in this case, it can cause damage if people buy too far into this non-GMO ideology. Ignorance can kill in this case. I sincerely hope that people would object to stopping the genetic modification of e-coli to produce insulin, but sometimes I really don’t know if that would happen or not. As Yawrate says, look at what the anti-GMO crowd did with Golden Rice.

  12. This pope illustrates how much the catholic church has lost it way. The pope is so stupid that he aligns himself with the very people that are trying to destroy his church. The left has infiltrated everything, God help us!

  13. Life on earth is unsustainable. One day the sun will go nova and we become crispy critters. I recommend that environmentalists who wish to avoid this unhappy fate should off themselves now.

  14. Sander van der Wal

    May 12, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    @Ray

    No it won’t go nova. Just a boring Red Giant. Which won’t kill of people because by that time Earth will have been uninhabitable for 4 billion years, give or take the odd couple of 100 million years.

  15. In the 70s during the “great” environmental cancer scare (99% of all cancers are environmentally caused) a book was published that is still extremely relevant but, judging from the cites for it I’ve seen, I must be the only person who ever read it.
    The lessons I learned from that book have played true in every subsequent environmental “catastrophe that requires action now!” (as they all do). The book is The Apocalyptics by Edith Efron. If you can find it read it and become wise.

  16. Noblesse Oblige

    May 12, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    “Sustainability” has given me an effective easy-to-apply pre-filter to be used in deciding whether to read an opinion piece. If a word search picks up more than two entries for “sustain,” move on. It works every time.

  17. What is the Pope’s position on asteroids?

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/05/11/dinosaur-killer-asteroid-near-miss-this-thursday/

    If it hit would that mean that God doesn’t like us anymore? Would it mean the rapture?

  18. Scotian,

    It was predicted (according to one interpretation) about 1900 years ago:

    The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. Rev 8:8-9

    God loves us; it’s just at some point He will end the shenanigans.

  19. Sustainability means something that doesn’t run out or harm other things. There. I explained that deeply complex concept for you.

    JMJ

  20. Scotian: That’s a big IF. Both the asteroid hitting and us still being here at the time.

    JMJ: That would mean that nothing on this planet is sustainable other than water, dirt and sky. All living things are not sustainable using your definition.

  21. The question posed by this article is what does sustainability mean to progressive and environmental types. E.g., how are they transmogrifying the meaning of that word? It’s not asking for the dictionary definition, although if you were especially dim witted, this would perhaps not be obvious.

  22. Briggs

    May 13, 2015 at 6:46 am

    JMJ,

    Now, now. It’s best to read before commenting. How do you know that something won’t “run out”? I answer that.

    I’m fascinated by your addition not “harm other things.” This is an impossibility—as in impossibility. You, JMJ, must kill to live. If you did not kill, you could not live. Thus, you are engaging in unsustainable activities by eating anything, including just vegetables.

  23. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2293074

    Another example of where environmental concerns trump the health of people.

  24. Noblesse Oblige

    May 13, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga is another example of Latin American Jesuit Marxists. They raise them like corn.

  25. Hasn’t the Catholic Church frequently been susceptible to religious syncretism? Whether that’s animistic practices, liberation theology, or something else, it seems to be a habit (heh). Why should “sustainability” not be next in line? Maybe the rationale is to consume and change, but as they used to say “you are what you eat.”

  26. The generation of non-recyclable waste is also an environmental sustainability issue as landfills fill up and finding new locations to dump waste is getting increasingly controversial and difficult. So any process that generates non-recyclable rubbish is not sustainable, so that would be a lot of what we do in normal day to day living.

  27. Sustainability is non sustainable. I was looking over a sustainable home construction website and besides the fact that all the impressive designs would be extremely expensive to heat or even keep cool (large voids, high ceilings, filled with glass walls), and even assuming they were made from recycled wood, rather quickly you will run out of wood to recycle in my part of the world, given the housing demand.

  28. The landfill problem is more political and psychological than actual lack of space. People just do not want to deal with the effects of their throw-away lifestyles. In the past, milk came in glass bottles that were reused. Before the Tylenol killer, everything wasn’t shrink-wrapped and sealed, to be returned to the store if the seal is broken. People never thought twice about products and their seals. As for landfills, the city of Casper spent a fortune to “brand” itself to make it look more appealing to businesses. Meanwhile, for around two years now, the city trash baler has been broken. No one can decide who should pay to repair or replace it. This means residents of the county and those city dwellers who have extra trash, plush the trash trucks themselves, are treated to driving out to a muddy, sea gull filled mess to dispose of trash. When the baler worked, you just drove up on concrete and dumped the trash in the baler pit and it was baled, then stacked and buried. The city apparently thinks a new brand is more important than dealing with trash—which blows everywhere due to our high winds and I’m sure is very appealing to businesses thinking of locating here. This is the type of insanity that seems so prevelent today. It’s hard to get people to care about trash disposal, sustainability or anything reasonable when the people in charge ignore problems and slap pretty names on their towns hoping to lure in unsuspecting businesses. Maybe first we need a sustainable attention span for dealing with real problems…..

  29. The article does a good job of showing that the concept is an example of a “glittering generality”, something that my high school english teacher red circled if one appeared in an essay.

    For an alternate climate encyclical, I imagined Aristotle’s view of the climate
    https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/an-alternate-climate-encyclical/

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