MONDAY, OCT 5, 2016

Schools of Sustainability

The feel-good of sustainability



TUCSON (A-P) — “Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." —Brundtland Commission, 1987 UN report, Our Common Future. This is ground-zero, the oft cited definition of "sustainability" favored by sustainability theorists and educators.

"The three main pillars of sustainable development include economic growth, environmental protection, and social equality.... Economic Growth is the pillar that most groups focus on when attempting to attain more sustainable efforts and development." (Wikipedia). So "sustainability" is good for growth and vice versa. Given that "Equity" is the third pillar, the Brundtland Commission has been credited with reducing the number of people living on $1/day in half. Actually it was the exponential growth of the mostly coal-powered Chinese and Indian extractive economies beginning in the 1990's that reduced the number, not the fine words of the Commission. It may be that "sustainable development" is the incoherent oxymoron, feel-good buzzword, Orwellian doublethink, and pillar of corporate eco-speak it appears to be.

Is sustainability a science? If so, what sort of science is it? PNAS Evolution and structure of sustainability science, Bettencourt and Kaur: "Therefore, an important question is whether sustainability science has indeed become a field of science." Science is certainly being done, sustainability scientists are being paid, and research published. An exponentially growing number of PhDs in the field are being granted, but parapsychology is alive and well and success doesn't make questions go away.

I'm an enthusiastic supporter, however, of sustainable development, but "sustainable development" as "sustainable growth" is biophysically impossible, so no need to agonize over that, and as we appear to be in overshoot, we need to transition to degrowth, so forget the nasty old "qualitative growth" meme as no one believes it that anymore, instead speak of "qualitative development" that can grow asymptotically towards perfection without limit forever and ever. Development as "change" is a given, and if we avoid species extinction, sustainable development as "sustainable evolution" is possible.

"Sustainability is improving human well-being and ensuring social equity for present and future generations while safeguarding the planet’s life-supporting ecosystems." —fine words of Dean Chris Boone, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University founded 2006 (consider: educational background of 30 AEU tenured and tenure-track faculty). Note the definition of "Sustainability" is merely a rewording of the Brundtland Commission's "sustainable development" narrative.

"improving human well-being” = “economic growth”
“ensuring social equity for present and future generations” = “social equality”
“safeguarding the planet’s life-supporting ecosystems" = ”environmental protection”

Meanwhile, "The pace of planetary destruction has not slowed." —David Suzuki, 2016. The pace hasn't slowed, not just because Suzuki says so, but because the proverbial mountain of data says so. I've been paying attention since the late 1960s and the pace has been and continues to increase. The rate of species extinction has not peaked, but is plotting out as an exponential growth curve, perhaps related to continued growth of human population and per capita consumption. And that should be enough to call into question the academic field of 'sustainability' underlying all the Schools of Sustainability, textbooks, and degrees granted to create the men and women of words needed to serve the SYSTEM's growth narrative. That they have a long list of feel-good projects they are working on is irrelevant compared to the planetary destruction they are enabling by offering distractions, by performing slight of mind tricks, and not effectively dealing with the core issue (it's the growth economy, ...).

Basically the environmental movement (started 1962) ended (peaked) in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (whose fine words were strongly influenced by the Brundtland Commission) when the UN put every environmentalist's deeply held fine words in writing, taking the wind out of their rhetorical sails to put on paper, and signed while broadly grinning at their accomplishment. By mutually agreeable co-opting of the language of the environmental movement the movement effectively faded away, to be replaced by the sustainability/transition movement that had already been co-opted, rhetorically making way for the merely eloquent men and women of words to speak in relentlessly feel-good terms about sustainability issues whose solution (growing the sustainability economy of products and services) happens to be consilient with every Left leaning feel-good political agenda. Every progressive university now offers "green degrees" in sustainability (or environmental studies), including PhDs, as someone has to teach the new and popular academic field.

For the Right leaning, those with Sustainable MBAs are in demand. "Students graduating with this degree learn how to keep business competitive and profitable via sustainable strategies....An MBA in Sustainability degree program therefore emphasizes the Triple Bottom Line (abbreviated TBL or 3BL): , People, Planet and Profit." The oringial 3Ps were "Productivity, Profit, and Power" (and still are, but don't tell anyone). When all else fails, emphatic rhetorical emphasis is good enough. Greenwashing is a bipartisan growth industry (celebrated academic supported & opposed fraud).

I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of....the environmental movement, or any other movement or party. I don't believe in political solutions (it's a mountain of evidence thing). For a sense of the "what-is" I study science—what's in front of my face. For fine words, I read poetry. To the legions of students paying to study "sustainability" in Schools of Sustainability, buying textbooks with "sustainability" in the title.... What are you thinking?

There really are environmental and sustainability issues/concerns/crises. Scientists sometimes endeavor to play messenger. Some humans, typically the "better" educated faction of the intelligentsia, get a garbled version they parse into their political speak to enthusiastically support favored political solutions, especially if those solutions also support their enthusiasm for social justice, human rights, fairness and equity issues (or freedom, liberty, patriotism, free market, globalism....). Not surprisingly, sustainability "solutions" do support other causes/movements.

We should consider justice, fairness, compassion, equity, equality, rights..., but humans who have dominated the industrial society of the past 200 years, now global, have been so anthropocentric that the case for human justice, human fairness, compassion for humans, human equality, and human rights has been so over stated by the Empire's intelligentsia, by several orders of magnitude, that to correct the injustice, let us exclude humans from such concerns until the imbalance has been redressed. Indeed, in the end, given that humans are not exceptional, there should be no need to single them out. I share half my genes with Brother Cabbage. If you want to talk about social justice, first question is 'how does justice for eusocial species differ?' I have yet to meet a human who could think about justice, fairness, equity, rights.... without reference to humans. Perhaps I have known too few humans.

The intelligensia's problem is to reconcile economic growth interests, the core meme of the Euro-Sino Empire, with other citizen's interest in beloved environmental/sustainability rhetoric and "solutions." Easy—a group of international wordsmiths spend five years (1983-1987) coming up with a vision that could be committee approved in writing (politics=compromise). The Earth Summit, Earth Summit II, and Paris Agreement followed the pattern, with more broad grinning, no doubt, to come. To support the message (the SYSTEM's narrative), ever more and better trained wordsmiths are needed. Departments of environmental and (more recently) sustainability studies arose to be funded. Of those often idealistic young attracted to environmental and sustainability studies, zero percent will spend their lives working for the destruction of the industrial society. Zero, hence the growth SYSTEM's interests are served. Bottom line message: environmental/sustainability activists/professionals are working to serve the SYSTEM, not save the world.

Universities were once known to endeavor to produce scholars (learning machines) not unlike the Marine Corps endeavors (still successfully) to make marines by taking the willing young, tearing them down, and rebuilding them into fighting machines. Students once had their most deeply held beliefs challenged, every assumption questioned, all values reevaluated without being told what to think, but with emphasis on how to think, and with the expectation that they come to think better than their professors. Some departments (typically heavy on science) are still old school, but universities prospered by making happy alumni, by having winning sport teams, and by giving what paying students want — teaching them what they want to learn and to believe in. It really is a marketplace and consumers come first. Universities were once anything but 'safe spaces' for young minds.

I'm a man of science, not a wordsmith, and as a man of science I wouldn't say the above. I'm trying to translate reality-based messages (as messager) into the political-speak others talk. The above rhetoric is merely an attempt to hit wordsmiths in training (students) upside their heads with a rhetorical 2x4 to get their attention before they have been subsumed by the SYSTEM. Start with Al Bartlett's Arithmetic, Population & Energy, think it through, see the ramifications, and firmly believe, if you must believe anything, in the ignorance of experts. Go ahead, correct Bartlett's narrative (the ecolate message), give it your best shot, then change your major or transform your field of study towards real solutions. And don't neglect to consider Cassandra's Curse which looks at how The Limits to Growth study was demonized.

For extra credit, ask one or more of your professors why the Limits to Growth study was discounted and at what point they realized that the possibly feebleminded professors behind the study were Chicken Littles with a computer. Testable conjecture: sustainability faculty (with a few exceptions), virtually anyone numbered among the intelligentsia, will agree 1) that the Limits to Growth study made predictions, 2) the predictions proved to be false, and 3) therefore the premise of the study has been discredited. 1) Read the book, 2) read Limits to Growth the 30 Year Update (2004), 3) climax, per 1972 scenarios (not predictions), likely 2030 to 2070, so reports of the study being discredited are premature, have been greatly exaggerated. "People would rather believe than know." —E. O. Wilson. Our primate brains tend to believe what feels good, though obviously false, and disbelieve what is obviously true but unpleasant.


Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. — Mark Twain

Review of Enough is Enough: Building a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources by Rob Dietz & Dan O'Neill, 2013.

Review of World on the Edge: How to prevent environmental and economic collapse by Lester Brown, 2011

It is quite possible to graduate from Stanford—arguably one of the best universities in the world—without knowing anything of significance about the impacts of population growth, the second law of thermodynamics, ecosystem services, total fertility rates, how the climate works, externalities, exponential growth, the food system, the biology of race, nuclear winter, the limits to growth, Federalism, the history of fascism, or many other topics of critical importance to modern citizens. —Paul & Anne Ehrlich

It is also quite possible to ignore the implications of the exponential function and leave unanswered criticism such as (from Wikipedia): "One critic has argued that the Brundtland Report promoted nothing but a business as usual strategy for world development, with the ambiguous and insubstantial concept of 'sustainable development' attached as a public relations slogan: The report was largely the result of a political bargaining process involving many special interest groups, all put together to create a common appeal of political acceptability across borders. After World War II, the notion of 'development' had been established in the West to imply the projection of the American model of society onto the rest of the world. In the 1970s and 1980s, this notion was broadened somewhat to also imply human rights, basic human needs and finally, ecological issues. The emphasis of the report was on helping poor nations out of poverty and meeting the basic needs of their growing populations — as usual. This issue demanded more economic growth [Brundtland called for 5% growth meaning doubling growth/consumption/waste every 14 years], also in the rich countries, who would then import more goods from the poor countries to help them out — as usual. When the discussion switched to global ecological limits to growth, the obvious dilemma was left aside by calling for economic growth with improved resource efficiency, or what was termed 'a change in the quality of growth'. However, most countries in the West had experienced such improved resource efficiency since the early 20th century already and as usual; only, this improvement had been more than offset by continuing industrial expansion, to the effect that world resource consumption was now higher than ever before [emphasis added] — and these two historical trends were completely ignored in the report. Taken together, the policy of perpetual economic growth for the entire planet remained virtually intact. Since the publication of the Brundtland Report, the ambiguous and insubstantial slogan of 'sustainable development' has marched on worldwide, the critic concludes." [see chapter Growth: A Discussion of the Margins of Economic and Ecological Thought (especially p. 95) from book: Transgovernance for details. Sustainability students note: author is research fellow at Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Potsdam.] Information is not subject to conservation laws, so humans have a potentially unlimited capacity to ignore/deny what is demonstrably true but unpleasant.

Are all sustainability students required to read Demystifying Sustainability: Towards Real Solutions, 2015, by Dr Haydn Washington? If not yet assigned, read it, or at least a review that includes the Foreword by Dr. William Rees, originator and co-developer of the 'Ecological Footprint' concept and the Introduction. All libraries, and students of sustainability, should have a copy.

Are all sustainability students required to understand the exponential function and population issues? Al Bartlett is a start. For population concerns with reference to the sustainability debate, consider Discussing why population growth is still ignored or denied by Helen Kopnina & Haydn Washington , 2016. Population is no longer the elephant in the living room. The floor is collapsing and its legs extend into the basement. It grows. The roof is detaching from the walls and is supported only by the elephant's back, yet academics can still sit on the porch and talk about the failure of Malthus, the Limits to Growth 'prediction' failures, and the underlying racism, anti-developing countries elitism, overt misanthropy, and naked antihuman values of those who deign to point to the elephant. There really are limits, even to denialism. The merely eloquent, at some point, will not be able to believe even their own prattle. Listen to Nature, the nature of things, and not to fellow travelers—Right, Left, or Middle.

Cuba, serving Soviet interests, was the most developed nation-state in Latin America prior to collapse of Soviet Union (1991). With Soviet collapse, the economic rug (and energy imports) was pulled out and average Cuban may have lost 9 kg (20 lbs) body weight, but they transitioned to prosperity without a die-off. Cuba may fail, like all other nation-states, to actually manage their system sustainably. Those to the left merely have that potential without wide-spread undevelopment (degrowth) assuming population limits (reduction) and equitable per capita consumption of limited planetary resources. The per capita American footprint (less than 5% of global population consuming a quarter of planetary resources) is highest, the least sustainable. If humans want to live like Americans, figure depopulating to a global population of maybe 200 million. Note that carrying capacity will be reduced by further degradation of environment secondary to ongoing growth/development. Any assumption that a 0.8 or higher level of consumption (development index considering humans only) is needed to live the "good" life is highly questionable. The 2.1 hectares per person is also questionable, as perhaps humans should not consume all available environmental productivity of planetary life-support system, but "leave room for nature." Something closer to 0.4 hectares per capita claimed for human use along with lower population may be considered. The Kogi, if they were shown, would be far lower left — a realistic, non-self-delusional goal having the potential to actually be sustainable while leaving room for Nature (Aluna).

Many are the professors of philosophies of order and government in the world today. Each school regards itself as having found the best... Regulation by law, distinction by ranks and titles, verification by comparing evidences and reaching a decision after due investigation... these are means (of administration) by which officials carry out their duties in order. To start out with the business of daily living, whose principal occupations are food and clothing, to grow and multiply and save, so that the old and the young and the widow and the orphan shall be well provided for—these are the fundamental needs of the people.

(Now) the world is in universal chaos. The ways of the wise... are not understood.... Many philosophers emphasize one particular aspect and hold on to it. It is like a person whose senses function properly each in its own field, but do not co-operate with one another, or again like the artisans of different trades who are good each in his own line and are often needed. However, without an adequate comprehension of the whole, these are but one-alley scholars. In their appreciation of the beauty of the universe, their analysis of the principles of the creation, and in their study of the entirety of the ancient's thoughts, they seldom comprehend adequately the beauty of the universe and the ways of the spirit. Hence the principles of the authorities of thought and of government are hidden in the dark and find no proper expression. Each man thinks what he likes and creates his own system. Alas, gone astray are the various schools of thought, without being able to find their way back. They shall never find the truth. The scholars of posterity, unfortunately, shall not be able to see the original simplicity of the universe and the main foundation of thought of the ancients. Philosophy is thus cut up and falls apart. — Chuangtse, Prolegomena, third century BCE, "The Main Currents of Thought" in China. Then is now.

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