Sunday, October 03, 2010

The best new thought ...

On "sustainability" I've read all year.
In other WIF news, I moderated a discussion of "the sustainable energy state". I have long thought "sustainable" a term best avoided, though I find it creeping into my head (and my articles) now and then. Few good things are sustainable, it seems to me, and many bad ones (such as economic stagnation) can be sustained quite easily. Honor-bound not to attack the title of my own session, I was pleased that Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute said that very thing--and even more pleased, and surprised, that the point commanded almost universal agreement in a group that represented every shade of opinion on energy policy. Sustainability is the wrong model, he said: we need a new vocabulary that recognizes the need for ceaseless change and innovation. Yes, we do. [More]
Amen.  Not only can't we agree on definition of the word of the decade, the goal itself suggests a "final solution".  As if once in place, a sustainable system should become sacrosanct and off limits for improvement.

Not only do I think most sustainable methodology being batted around - agrarianism, for example - to be critically short of hard evidence of their claims, I am always suspicious of comprehensive solutions to complex problems. Most problems are complex because they constantly change, requiring periodic tweaking to our answers as well. Also by the time comprehensive solutions are worked out the problem has long since moved on.

In fact, as I mentioned on USFR this week, the sustainability of no-till in my area is debatable as either a remarkable string of extreme seasons or possible hint of climate change has left most operators aghast at the conditions of our fields.  Perhaps no-till on heavy, poorly drained soils is still sustainable, but that doesn't seem to be the way most are voting.

1 comment:

buffalobill said...

I have always read 'sustainable' as 'barely adequete'. I have always thought that 'barely adequete' as a poor goal. Like 'gettin' by' is OK in the short run but not a goal to try to achieve.