Where is sustainable?

The Brundtland Commission of 1987 created the popular definition for sustainability: it means using natural resources now in a way that will not compromise the quality of life of future generations. In essence, today’s actions have future consequences. The actual definition is about development, “which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Sustainability has been applied to various systems.
Sustainability has been applied to various systems.

With this definition in mind, you have to wonder: is anything sustainable? Seven billion people, just by existing and surviving, compromise the planet’s future. With 7 billion people eating, shopping and generally causing pollution, it would seem that the only sustainable activity would be genocide.

The problem with coupling the word “sustainability” with “development” is that it implies continuous growth, much like the classical model of capitalism that assumes the availability of more and more capital. A better term would be “sustainable living,” because life implies death, which is the opposite of development.

Sustainability has been co-opted by the corporate sector and affirmed by the United Nations as a “triple bottom line” of economics, healthy communities, and nature. In today’s world, the former two are gobbling up the latter and digesting it. Can you name one company that does not take more from nature than it gives?

Sustainability does not exist, and perhaps it cannot. Human nature exists, and it compels us to consume, and to take and take and take. We take natural resources. It is not in our nature to give.

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