Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And so the word “sustainable” dies. Killed by the NY Times magazine.

Climate Progress
"Maybe you thought ’sustainable’ meant something like “capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment.”  How wrong you were.  Apparently, to the Times, ’sustainable’ means being the biggest consumers in the world.  George Orwell would be proud."


  1. joe stiglitz said that "Economic sustainability requires environmental sustainability. The polluter pay principle—making polluters pay for the costs they impose on others—is good both for efficiency and for equity." is a guideline.

  2. Yes, that's a good principle. But principle and implementation are two different matters (or should that be "too" different?). I try to engage the question of enforcement in my analysis. How can we structure institutions and practices such that the principle of polluter pays becomes virtually self-enforcing?

    One component of that implementation strategy is the institution of the "labor commons." Another is a social accounting framework focused on disposable time. The two together -- as vehicle and steering mechanism -- foster a "mentality" that relentlessly pursues the polluter pay principle as one constituent of the broader complex of principles of social and environmental justice.

  3. hapa, Chapter 4 of his book has the Labor Commons explication. I'll take a chance at putting it briefly. It's conservation of labor in a manner similar to the protection of the vital community resources in a commons.

    If, for example, all the trees in the commons are cut faster than they can replenish, there's a windfall followed by a steady decline of output, followed by hardship. Not good. They have to be harvested carefully. It also makes sense to leave some of the very best wood in reserve for dire circumstances, e.g. natural disasters, and to err on the side of prudence for the rest. So too with labor.

  4. The Times article was talking about fiscal sustainability. One of my comments on climateprogress:

    environmentally sustainable and fiscally sustainable are two different things.

    I can imagine an economy that is completely sustainable in environmental terms – based entirely on renewable energy, on recycled resources, and on renewable resources harvested at a sustainable level – while it is not sustainable in fiscal terms, because of constantly increasing levels of debt, because of trade imbalances, or for some other reason.

    The US economy is both – environmentally unsustainable because of our co2 emissions and depletion of resources, and fiscally unsustainable because of our chronic federal budget deficits and trade imbalances. China is also both – environmentally unsustainable because its our co2 emissions and depletion of resources, and fiscally unsustainable because of its excessive savings rate and trade surpluses.