We need to reexamine and move past the concept of sustainability, argues Melinda Harm Benson, associate professor at the University of New Mexico, and Robin Craig, William H. Leary Professor of Law at the University of Utah.
This article originally appeared on Ensia.
The time has come for us to collectively reexamine — and ultimately move past — the concept of sustainability. The continued invocation of sustainability in policy discussions ignores the emerging realities of the Anthropocene, which is creating a world characterized by extreme complexity, radical uncertainty and unprecedented change. From a policy perspective, we must face the impossibility of even defining — let alone pursuing — a goal of “sustainability” in such a world. It’s not that sustainability is abad idea. The question is whether the concept of sustainability is still useful as an environmental governance framework.
In general, “sustainability” refers to the long-term ability to continue to engage in a particular activity. “Sustainable development” reflects a broader goal about how development should proceed — namely, with sufficient consideration of the environment to ensure the continued availability of natural capital. The international community embraced sustainable development at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, incorporating it into both the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21.
The idea of sustainable development developed in an era of emerging concern about climate change. The pursuit of sustainable development goals, however, has not resulted in either sustainability or effective mitigation of climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption patterns have continued to increase. In anticipation of Rio+20, the UN Environment Programme released a report concluding that as human pressures on the planet accelerate, critical global, regional and local thresholds are quickly being approached or, in some cases, have already been exceeded.
Despite this alarming and unpredictable situation, policy discussions remain framed by the goal of sustainability, ignoring the fact that the concept has failed to meaningfully change human behavior.
By definition, sustainability assumes that there are desirable states of being for social-ecological systems, or SESs, that humans can maintain indefinitely. In practice, sustainability goals proved difficult to achieve in many SESs even before climate change impacts became noticeable. With climate change, we face a future in which we have no idea what we can sustain. Therefore, we must begin to formulate environmental governance goals by some metric other than sustainability.
The concept of resilience holds promise as a new way of addressing the challenges ahead. While not inherently incompatible concepts, resilience and sustainability are not the same. The pursuit of sustainability assumes that we a) know what can be sustained and b) have the capacity to maintain stationarity (i.e., keep the system operating within an unchanging envelope of variability). In contrast, resilience thinking acknowledges disequilibrium and nonlinear, continual change — often as a result of crossing a “tipping point” or threshold — and offers a tool for assessing the dynamic relationships between systems, which is a facet of SESs that will become increasingly important given current rates of globalization and increasingly complex socio-ecological challenges. It also has the potential to be more helpful than sustainability when examining social justice and other human development concerns because it requires an assessment of not only what we value but also the extent to which those values are reflected in our policies and approaches.
Shifting the governance focus from sustainability to resilience is not admitting defeat. It re-orients us to focus on coping with change. Research to develop baseline data is still important —not as a guide for what we can “sustain,” but instead to identify tipping points that might provide insight into future systems change and help to identify critical ecological thresholds.
Unfortunately, while the concept of resilience is gaining the attention of natural resource managers and policy makers, it is already in danger of becoming — like sustainability — a rhetorical device with little influence on actual decision making. Adaptive governance and adaptive management offer promise in terms of putting these ideas into practice but, to date, they have not yet been integrated into legal and regulatory frameworks in enforceable ways.
What we need are new policies and institutions that accommodate uncertainty and anticipate nonlinear change, both of which are realities of the Anthropocene. Scientists, policy makers and others must work together to design and implement environmental policies that promote and build adaptive capacity while also providing stronger, more legally enforceable and institutionally supported goals — goals that reflect the adaptation strategies necessary to negotiate our complex and rapidly changing world.
Melinda Harm Benson is an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of New Mexico, focussing on environment and natural resource management challenges.
Robin Craig is the William H. Leary Professor of Law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, where she is also affiliated with the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment.
Photo: docentjoyce via Flickr
Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy
Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.
Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.
Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.
How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:
- They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
- They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
- They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
- They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.
Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.
Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use
The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.
Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.
Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers
Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.
Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.
Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy
Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:
- Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
- Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
- Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.
You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.
How Going Green Can Save Your Business Thousands
Running a company isn’t easy. From reporting wages in an efficient way to meeting deadlines and targets, there’s always something to think about – with green business ideas giving entrepreneurs something extra to ponder. While environmental issues may not be at the forefront of your mind right now, it could save your business thousands, so let’s delve deeper into this issue.
Small waste adds up over time
A computer left on overnight might not seem like the end of the world, right? Sure, it’s a rather minor issue compared to losing a client or being refused a loan – but small waste adds up over time. Conserving energy is an effective money saver, so to hold onto that hard-earned cash, try to:
- Turn all electrical gadgets off at the socket rather than leaving them on standby as the latter can crank up your energy bill without you even realizing.
- Switch all lights off when you exit a room and try switching to halogen incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps or light emitting diodes as these can use up to 80 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent and are therefore more efficient.
- Replace outdated appliances with their greener counterparts. Energy Star appliances have labels which help you to understand their energy requirements over time.
- Draught-proof your premises as sealing up leaks could slash your energy bills by 30 per cent.
Going electronic has significant benefits
If you don’t want to be buried under a mountain of paperwork, why not opt for digital documents instead of printing everything out? Not only will this save a lot of money on paper and ink but it will also conserve energy and help protect the planet. You may even be entitled to one of the many tax breaks and grants issued to organizations committed to achieving their environmental goals. This is particularly good news for start-ups with limited funds as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is keen to support companies opening up their company in a green manner.
Of course, if you’re used to handing out brochures and leaflets at every company meeting or printing out newsletters whenever you get the chance, going electronic may be a challenge – but here are some things you can try:
- Using PowerPoint presentations not printouts
- Communicating via instant messenger apps or email
- Using financial software to manage your books
- Downloading accounting software to keep track of figures
- Arranging digital feedback and review forms
- Making the most of Google Docs
Going green can help you to make money too
Going green and environmental stability is big news at the moment with many companies doing their bit for the environment. While implementing eco-friendly strategies will certainly save you money, reducing your carbon footprint could also make you a few bucks too. How? Well, consumers care about what brands are doing more than ever before, with many deliberately siding with those who are implementing green policies. Essentially, doing your bit for the environment is a PR dream as it allows you to talk about what everyone wants to hear.
Going green can certainly save your money but it should also improve your reputation too and give you a platform to promote your business.