“Sustainability” is the buzzword passed around nearly every environmental and social justice circle today. For how often the word is stated, those who use it rarely articulate what it is that they are advocating. And because the term is applied so compulsively, while simultaneously undefined, it renders impossible the ability of our movements to set and actualize goals, let alone assess the strategies and tactics we employ to reach them.
Underneath the surface, sustainability movements have largely become spaces where well-meaning sensibilities are turned into empty gestures and regurgitations of unarticulated ideals out of mere obligation to our identity as “environmentalists” and “activists.” We mention “sustainability” because to not mention it would undermine our legitimacy and work completely. But as destructive as not mentioning the word would be, so too is the lack of defining it.
When we don’t articulate our ideals ourselves we not only allow others to define us but we also give space for destructive premises to continue unchallenged. The veneer of most environmental sustainability movements begins to wither away when we acknowledge that most of its underlying premises essentially mimic the exact forces which we allege opposition.
The dominant culture currently runs on numerous underlying premises – whether it is the belief in infinite growth and progress, the myth of technological prowess and human superiority, or even the notion that this culture is the most successful, advanced and equitable way of life to ever exist.
These premises often combine to form the basis of an ideological belief in infinite substitutability – when a crisis occurs, our human ingenuity and creativity will always be able to save us by substituting our disintegrating resources and systems with new ones.
And by and large, most of us accept this as truth and never question or oppose the introduction of new technologies/resources in our lives. We never question whom these technologies/resources actually benefit or what their material affects may be. Often, we never question why we need new technologies/resources and we never think about what problems they purport to solve or, more accurately, conceal entirely.