I’m Removing “Sustainability” from My Vocabulary

I’ve seen a few criticisms of the word and concept floating around recently, but this is the passage that’s officially made me put the term to rest:

Then there’s this idea of sustainability. What exactly does sustainable even mean?

In breaking down the word “sustainability” to try to flesh out what it really entails, Toby Hemenway’s lecture How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and The Planet, but not Civilization, illuminates the conversation. What he posits is that sustainability is, in fact, a bit of a misnomer. It’s not really something that relates to a healthy ecology, but rather survival amidst destruction. For example, so-called sustainable logging may not directly affect the logging of other forests outside of designated sustainable logging coup, but it doesn’t help heal any of the destruction that has been, will be, and is currently waged on these forests. So Hemenway places sustainability as a halfway point between what he refers to as degenerative and regenerative practice. The former relates to actions that facilitate the degradation of ecosystems (i.e. everything the dominant culture does), whilst the latter facilitates ecosystem healing (i.e. everything the dominant culture doesn’t do). It’s an interesting point, and in fact helps break down the façade that claims that this buzzword, sustainability, is helping to save the planet. It’s greenwashing again, trying to excuse our destructive lifestyles. So in permaculture, regenerative practice attempts to mimic natural ecological functions that help repair the different types of damage that have been inflicted by civilisation. The message is clear; ceasing civilisation’s damage to the earth and being “sustainable,” will not save the earth. Until you find me a solar panel that doesn’t require mining, the damage is still being done.

From Uncivilizing Permaculture: An Anti-Civilization And Anti-Colonial Critique Of “Sustainable Agriculture”

Realized that I haven’t written an intro post for permaculture yet. I’ll do that soon.

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3 thoughts on “I’m Removing “Sustainability” from My Vocabulary

    • Thank you!

      I think taking words like these for granted can be a dangerous thing and promotes lazy thinking. Sustainability in the world of 1000 years ago? 3000? Yeah, that might actually be much closer to ideal. But right now? It’s frankly a misnomer. :\

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