Co-sustainment and Sustainability
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.
- 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 right...as 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?
- 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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