Co-sustainment and Sustainability

Does the Toyota Prius (external link) offer us 'sustainable' motoring?
...probably not, if it encourages us all to travel further
and more often than we did a decade ago...

A world of difference

  • The term 'sustainability' can be traced back to the late 1980's.
  • Before that time many of us talked about "Alternative Technology".
  • 'Alternative' to what?
  • The idea sounds strange to us, nowadays.
  • It was borne out of a divided world that polarised capitalism and socialism.
  • For many, the idea of 'alternative' (e.g. 'Alternative Technology') had positive political and economic overtones.
  • In 1983, the British Ecological Party renamed itself as Green Party and gained an impressive 14.9% of the vote.
  • Everybody wanted to be 'green'.
  • Only after a year or two did some of its members begin to realise how different their respective political views were.

Sustainable Development

  • Similarly, just before the end of the Cold War, the (1987) Brundtland Report popularised the notion of 'sustainability'.
  • Economic development for the poorer nations needed to be squared with Capitalism's vision of endless growth.
  • (...oh yes, and with a concern for the environment.)
  • In this sense 'sustainability' is difficult to separate from the rise of globalisation.
  • After a while we began to use the word in its own though it was clear and simple..

The idea of sustainability

  • Arguably, most things are interdependent and non-linear.
  • It may therefore be dangerous to think of 'sustainability' as a simple idea.
  • When we try to explain something using a basic logic of cause and effect, we may soon find it limited.
  • We may realise that it is better to analyse many different things in relation to one another.

'Sustaining' may mean either integrating or prolonging

  • We are inclined to forget that there is both a temporal and a non-temporal meaning for the verb 'to sustain'.
  • Arguably, we usually assume that sustainability refers to the making permanent of our existing lifestyle and status quo.
  • Yet even this instrumentalist, or technological mode of thinking is insufficient to explain how things work.
  • Often the direction of causation is unclear. What we assume to be cause and effect are usually co-creative.
  • Whereas the syntax of sustainability is linear and causal, ecology itself is emergent and manifold.
  • The verb to 'sustain' is transitive, and implies that there is clear distinction between subject and predicate.
  • What difference is there between 'something that sustains', and 'something that is sustained'?

What sustains what - and for how long?

For example:

  • what is it that sustains our lifestyle?
  • what is it that sustains food, shelter, and health?
  • what is it that sustains our technology?
  • what is it that sustains our capital?
  • what is it that sustains our society?
  • what is it that sustains our culture?
  • what is it that sustains our belief system?
  • what is it that sustains the environment?
  • what is it that sustains Nature…?
  • what is it that sustains God?

Do we sustain Nature?

  • We need to consider what sustains what, and for how long.
  • Do we sustain technology or does technology sustain us?
  • Where is the source of economic exchange?
  • Isn’t money a self-organising system?
  • At a deeper level, aren't we implying that 'green' industries can sustain Nature…?
  • (Surely, Nature sustains us?).

Should sustainability be sustained?

  • Not everything can be sustained.
  • Nor would we expect to sustain time, for example.
  • Birth and death are intrinsically part of a process of flow.
  • We may want to sustain our supply of fresh food, but the freshness itself cannot be sustained.
  • Designers may need to redesign their language to make their thinking more ecological.
  • Consuming means using up, yet the United Nation use the contradictory idea of sustainable consumption.
  • Entrepreneurs use the term 'sustainable business' when they really mean business as usual
  • Arguably co-sustainment? would be a better term than sustainability.

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