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Is sustainability still possible?

Is-sustainability-still-posThe Worldwatch Institute‘s 2013 State of the World report considers the question “Is Sustainability Still Possible?”, how it should be defined and measured, and what might happen if we fail to achieve it.

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State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? addresses the question of whether transforming our society into one guided by sustainability is even possible, with contributions from experts at the Worldwatch Institute as well as from environmental thought leader David Orr, freshwater expert Sandra Postel, ecological economics pioneer Herman Daly, The Story of Stuff author Annie Leonard, science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, and many others.

State of the World 2013 is divided into three sections that address how the term “sustainability” should be measured, how we can attain it, and how we can prepare for the possibility of falling short. In The Sustainability Metric, authors offer ways to track global progress to sustainable living. In Getting to True Sustainability, chapters examine policies and perspectives that could build a truly sustainable society if implemented. And in Open in Case of Emergency, authors tackle whether and how to prepare for a disruptive global environmental transition that looks increasingly likely.

Sustainable or sustainababble?

In his opening chapter, Worldwatch Institute president Robert Engelman argues that the word “sustainable” has become practically meaningless in today’s society, with most sustainable products just a step less bad than conventional alternatives. Engleman suggests that the science of sustainability is now clearer than ever, while the word “sustainable” is becoming more and more vague and abused through increasingly frequent vernacular use and corporate greenwashing. He warns of the power of “sustainababble” to enable the world to ignore the rich spectrum of political, cultural, and technological changes that would set us on the path to a truly sustainable future.

Engelman describes the scale of the changes needed to ensure a truly sustainable future:

“Simply doing ‘better’ environmentally will not stop the unraveling of ecological relationships that we depend on for food and health. Vastly larger changes are needed than we have seen so far. It is essential that we take stock, soberly and in scientifically measureable ways, of where we are headed. The information detailed in State of the World 2013 does that.”

Achieving sustainability of falling short?

State of the World 2013 aims to cut through the rhetoric surrounding sustainability, offering a broad and realistic look at how close we are to fulfilling it today and which practices and policies will steer us in the right direction. The contributing authors – including scientists, policy experts, and thought leaders – set out to define clear sustainability metrics and examine various policies and perspectives, including geoengineering, corporate transformation, and changes in agricultural policy, that could put us on the path to prosperity without diminishing the well-being of future generations. If these approaches fall short, the final chapters explore ways to prepare for drastic environmental change and resource depletion, such as strengthening democracy and societal resilience, protecting cultural heritage, and dealing with increased conflict and migration flows.

Worldwatch Senior Fellow and State of the World 2013 co-director Erik Assadourian argues that a radically different approach is needed:

“Environmentalism, first and foremost, continues to be a game of defense—working to reduce overall carbon emissions, chemical releases, and forest loss — rather than a battle to transform the dominant growth-centric economic and cultural paradigm into an ecocentric one that respects planetary boundaries. The environmental movement will require a dramatic reboot if it is going to reverse Earth’s rapid transformation and help create a truly sustainable future.”


User comments

  1. John Mathias says:

    I agree with Erik Assadourian and have long esposed the need for human scale ecology to be the basis of any sustainability models.

    However, the majority of people including many so called sustainability practitioners look at me as if I have got two heads when I dare to say that the exisiting economic and materialistic systems are fundamentally broken and cannot be fixed. Asides such as shale gas fail to address the principle issue that the use of energy to produce goods as part of a system that requires continual growth to survive is not one that can ever be sustainable.

    The ecological constraints of the planet are what bounds our existence, the human race is already well in excess of the carrying capacity of the planetary support mechanisms and it is only a matter of time before a catastrophic collapse occurs.

    If we continue to disturb the natural regulatory systems of the planet then the very means to support ourselve will be undermined.

    It is all very well promoting the idea of a circular economy but we need to go further and decide just what it is we need to enable us to live a sustainable existence and then eliminate what we don’t need. That way we can assess our material requirements in relation to the available resources and their natural cycles of regeneration and govern our production accordingly.

    Firstly, our basic needs; clean water, food, shelter, warmth, clothing, medicines need to be provisioned fairly and globally – then energy and the technological requirements needed to provide us all with our basic needs. Only after this can other consumer items be considered.

    The current systems and economics only manage to exist by depleating the ecosystems of others to satisfy the greed for consumerist lifestyles and products of an over indulgant minority. Unfortunately the have nots are being influenced by the haves to desire more and more, it is not sustainable and sooner or later the doos are going to hit the fan big time.

    We need to start to change locally and holistically manage our resources and reject politicians who do not support a radical change but continue to promote more of the same. Lets stop being sheep and start being human beings!

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