Monday, January 30, 2012

Sustainable Development

Now that I have written an introductory post on loaded words, there are so many I want to devote attention to. But, one day at a time; and today I was triggered when I came across the term “sustainable development” multiple times in the news.

Oh, sustainable development.

I spend much of my day in a location where I am prone to overhearing scientists’ conversations. Sometimes I hear them talking (/pleading) to someone from whom they are trying to score a grant, and in those cases I always hear the words “sustainability,” “local buy-in,” etc. You see, the grant application process is really about throwing together the right combination of buzz words. Form over substance.

And of course, everyone knows that the key to the future is “sustainable development.” But… what does that really mean? In a sense, “sustainable development” means that we continue to accumulate lots of wealth and technology through capitalist relations of production, but without destroying the environment. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds utopian enough to qualify as the next verse in Imagine.

“Sustainable development” is nothing more than a pacifier for those who are whining about global warming. Don’t worry. We can perfect the world with technology. We will figure out a way to save the earth. Don’t question capitalism. Why don’t you go shopping to calm your nerves? We’ll give you a re-usable bag.

“Sustainable development” is an oxymoron because “development” (meaning, as an economic term, economic growth via industrialization and the capitalist mode of production) is inherently unsustainable. It is unsustainable as a system, as its logic embodies a number of contradictions which limit the possibilities for profit and ultimately undermine the entire system. It is also unsustainable in terms of the stress it places on the majority of the human population. It entails exploitation and poverty on a scale never before seen in human history. And, finally, it necessitates a level of consumerism that could never, even with all the technological advances in the world, be reconciled with the health of the environment.

Those who praise “sustainable development” are also the ones who put personal gain before the common (present and future) good. “Sustainable development” is a trendy term, and I never trust trends.

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