With that in mind, I want to draw your attention to Volume #18 which tackles the issue of sustainability, examining its philosophical and linguistic grounds with a mind to ask some hard questions about the difference between the green movement as a fantasy and the green movement as a pragmatic political reality. It is in the fantasy of the future that the concept achieves its own phenomenal ground.
Sustainability is the catch word of the year, even getting indirectly worked into President Obama's inaugural address. Climate change and environmental issues are being framed as the the next great challenge for humankind. And they are. According to Obama, we will be mobilizing our economy in a way that will tackle these issues head on, as a country and perhaps modeled after a war effort. But...
From After Zero, by Arjen Oosterman
Indeed, a clear differentiation between making a future and the possible making of the future is important. Architecture is called to arms to rescue the world from extinction, or rather humankind from perdition. Architecture is expected to vanquish a giant with many names, to free the way to the 'future.' What this future should be is rarely discussed. Nor has the true nature of this opponent been recognized. and this is remarkable since every soldier knows it is essential to know your enemy.
What kind of future are we wanting to create? It would be possible right now to reduce an incredible amount of carbon and waste production by merely reducing individual consumption. But the economy is consumer driven and reduced consumption would add additional pressure on the already depressed economy.
Expect that whatever environmental solution the government proposes, it will be a consumer compatible movement, modifying consumption to reduce its impact while keeping it profitable. What profit is there in buying and consuming less? We need a global vision of where we are headed, and when that is not provided by the government, we need to ask the long term questions of what new policies will create over time.
From Beyond Zero, by John E. Fernandez
If civilization is to progress a growth culture will have to change into a culture of descent [...]
The idea of sustainable economic growth clashes with the second law of thermodynamics [...] Our approach thus far continues to be incremental improvement because any change more significant than 'incremental' is not currently valued. Yet even accepting these hefty assumptions, there is a growing awareness that all is not well with the concept of beyond zero, not to mention the idea of reaching zero itself.
First there is physics. Anyone familiar with the primary arguments against the idea of sustainable economic growth has already been reminded of the second law of thermodynamics. While it is obvious that society itself constitutes the counter-entropy ordered assembly of energy and materials, our financial value system has failed to account for the real costs of this push against the second law. Ecological Economics has grown in stature and established the framework for an economics that acknowledges and internalizes the second law--thus accounting for effects that used to be known as externalities. However, we are very far away from a governmental and economic framework that even begins to acknowledge, much less work on the principles of the second law.
To put it bluntly, we have discovered that continued growth in consumption cannot be sustained on this planet. It will eventually kill us all. We are now discovering that continued economic growth might not also be possible, since our current economic models require an increased consumption to fuel the economic expansion. The laws of physics trump economic theory. And if we cannot plan on increased economic growth, then what do we plan on?
What future do we envision if we cannot see more riches for ourselves and our children? And how do we meet the current economic crises knowing that the past solutions which ultimately resulted in restoring rising levels of consumption to fuel the economy might now no longer be physically viable?
In the same way that shareholders' demand increasing returns on their investments, do we continue to hold out for a return to economic growth as we have through every downturn since the Great Depression? Or do we recognize the need to contract, both physically and economically, beginning a generation of descent, of modesty and localization -- a conscious retraction from the excesses of the past centuries? There will be real economic consequences to any long term solution. Perhaps this will be part of the price of responsibility.
Any solution that does not address at its core the dependence of the world economy on rising levels of consumption will fail to address the environmental problems that come with it. We cannot simultaneously grow economically and consume less. So the logic would be to make consumption cleaner, thereby keeping the profitability of the system intact. Given the exponential population growth that we expect over the next century, this is only a very short term solution that will result in serious long term problems.