Sustainability the new tyrant

Royal Society web site banner

The statement from Professor Hunter includes this comment regarding what we actually do about the problem of climate change:

The mitigation measures suggested for climate change (reduced use of carbon-based fuels, more renewable energy sources, carbon capture and storage, less use of nitrogen-based fertilizers) are all part of a portfolio of approaches that are needed to produce a more sustainable world.

See how the problem of climate change morphs at the end into producing “a more sustainable world”? Why does the focus change? What is the connection between climate change and the notion of sustainable practices, which covers an enormous range of activities, from sensible use of water supplies to mining for minerals to best farming practice to how to supply our hospitals?

Surely climate change is involved in only some of the “sustainability” issue?

Or could it be that a new codeword has been introduced? Sustainability is as ill-defined (or remains as undefined) as climate change. So as climate change dissolves as an unquestioned excuse for socialistic interference in our lives and as the mother of all tax justifications, will sustainability take over? Has it already taken over?

But what is sustainability? Is there any difference between sustainability and what used to be called conservatism? Conservative practices are the very essence of conservation. The traditional view, that we ought to take a conservative approach to natural resources, management of people and the processes we adopt, is traditional because it has been practised for a long time.

Conservative it was and still is

Once upon a time, radical, young, modern, self-centred people were advised to take a “conservative” approach to, say, developing a piece of land valued locally for the views it offered or the trees growing there. The conservative mindset was to avoid waste, avoid pollution, avoid losing things of intangible value such as vistas and historical sites and avoid changing customs.

The conservative approach was to make sure you could retain the things you valued; make sure what you did could be sustained; the aim was sustainability, it just went unsaid because it was so very obvious. There is nothing new in our desire for a conservative approach except the word we use to describe it.

The difference now is that calling it sustainability while leaving the concept undefined enables those who would control us to infringe our freedoms, remove opportunities, hold natural resources out of use, prevent us disposing of our property as we see fit and imposing swingeing taxes to prevent reasonable activities.

Wood grows on trees

Some of the ideas criticised under the umbrella of sustainability are truly stupid, such as avoiding the use of paper because it “destroys” trees. Have we forgotten that the notion of things growing on trees is the very perfection of sustainability? We can and do plant new trees every day. Nothing is destroyed in using trees. We should be efficient about doing it, but nothing is wasted either.

Another delusion is to avoid “wasting” water because we don’t have enough of it. Have we forgotten that all we need to do is to collect more water? There’s no shortage of it and never will be. Certain dry places need more management or long pipes or move the people out of there, but let reason guide us.

The more we stop thinking for ourselves about things as simple as what the words mean, the more we will fail to see what is happening around us and the more hard-won freedoms will continue to be lost.

Or am I concerned without cause?

Views: 20

2 Thoughts on “Sustainability the new tyrant

  1. Clarence on 11/04/2010 at 8:09 pm said:

    The WHO announced this week that global life expectancy has increased by 21 years over the past half-century. This was a direct result of improved average incomes, and an indirect result of cheap and readily-available energy.

    Those statistics are much better than a “sustained” result – they represent major progress and forward momentum towards an ever-better world. And they reflect the phenomenal achievements of the scientists of yester-year.

    What has happened to public science today? We are forever hearing what we can’t do, rather than what we might aspire to do. Why we should abandon ambition, and settle back to a grey and unchanging world, that is no worse than the one we inherited. Doomsaying and malthusian pessimism are the order of the day.

    But there is hope. In country after country, opinion polls confirm that this defeatism is unacceptable. The human spirit will remain undaunted and, if public science can deliver nothing but nannying, resources will move to private sector science – which is still pushing out the frontiers of knowledge and productive capacity.

    • Thank you, Clarence.

      What a fabulous testimonial to our modern way of life. For all its faults, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to turn the clock back even just a hundred years. And it’s getting better still.

      You expose a facet of “sustainability” I hadn’t grasped: that it can directly limit the possibilities open to us. Yes, let us aim at improvement, greater performance, fuller satisfaction. There is hope, let us embrace it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation