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A Response to “The Sustainability Fraud”

| Monday April 25th, 2011 | 1 Comment

Is sustainability a big hoax?  Are folks who frequent websites like TriplePundit being duped by all the sustainability related articles that are posted, day after day?  A recent opinion piece by Daniel McLaughlin from The Post-Journal of Jamestown, NY, suggests that sustainability is a fraud.  While this is only one man’s opinion, the concerns raised by McLaughlin are commonly raised by sustainability skeptics.  This is an open response in support of sustainability.

There is nothing inherently deceptive about sustainability.    At its core, sustainability is about finding better and more efficient ways to utilize scarce resources, not just for today, but also for tomorrow.

Sustainability of our Resources and Planet
There is no hoax with scarce resources.  Scarce resources are fairly obvious.  If we lived in a world of complete abundance, we would not even need to worry about sustainability.  What is not so obvious is how to best utilize these scarce resources.   This is where sustainability comes into play.

Sustainability gives us a frame of reference with respect to scarce resources.  For instance, take William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle.  It is a biomimetic approach to understanding the materials process. Rather than having resources go from cradle to grave, McDonough and Braungart suggest to make better use of materials going cradle to cradle.

Another sustainability example is with Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism, “the conservation of resources through more effective manufacturing processes, the reuse of materials as found in natural systems, a change in values from quantity to quality, and investing in natural capital, or restoring and sustaining natural resources.”

Attack on Politics, Not Sustainability
After a first reading the McLaughlin piece, a susty person may be up in arms with a heightened sense of emotion.  Sustainability is something we deeply care about.  It is something we seek to achieve, influencing our workplaces, and throughout our daily lives.  Anything attacking sustainability will put up our defenses.

However, after a second glance, there may be some insight to glean.  The argument McLaughlin makes against sustainability is not really attacking sustainability itself.  Rather, his argument is against the political and economic connivance in the name of sustainability, “ it [sustainability] is a weapon provided to advanced countries for economic suicide, which our politicians seem eager to engage.”

Speaking broadly in terms of the political spectrum, ranges from heavy government intervention to a free and open market.  This is true not just for sustainability, but for any aspect of providing for the good of humanity.

One side suggests we need the government to decide intervene.  This is what McLaughlin is attacking.  For example, there are calls in government to have energy to come from renewable.  There are are efforts to subsidize clean tech.  McLaughlin states, “because of irresponsible politicians, all taxpayers and electricity consumers are forced to pay the high price of making green millionaires, the wealthy, power-hungry promoters of green culture and sustainability.”

The other side suggests we need a free market or very little government intervention.  Notions of stopping subsidies, both for fossil fuels and clean tech come to mind. This way, politicians are not picking winners and losers.This is because the marketplace (assuming properly enforced property rights) is the best mechanism to discover what is the most efficient and the most sustainable actions to take.

It’s fine and even invigorating to promote sustainability and sustainable action.  As long as folks aren’t aggressing against another individual, they can do as they please.  We want more of this.  But it’s not fine for politicians and corporations colluding together using taxpayer money to get rich in the name of going green.  We want less of this.  In fact,  we probably don’t want this collusion to happen at all.

Beyond Politics
We don’t need political intervention to push sustainability forward.  In fact, I would argue that political intervention in the marketplace of sustainable businesses actually slows or hinders the sustainability movement.  Layers of bureaucracy, combined politicians and corporations colluding does more harm to sustainability than good.

The fraud is not coming from sustainability, so to speak. The fraud is coming from politics’ takeover of the sustainability movement.  The problem is not sustainability, it is the road towards sustainability.  One uses the road to serfdom, the other uses the road towards freedom.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Liam-Odugan/100002366170550 Liam O’dugan

    Mr. McLaughlin should read Jared Diamond. Cradle to cradle is not biomimetic (no one knows what that is). Cradle to cradle is about thinking about everything we make as either a nutrient for a biological system or a technical system. It is about using solar energy, the only input this planet has. It is about being fair to everyone. And we can all agree that sustainability is a horrible, emotionless, uninspiring word.