Chapter 2 of ‘A Big Fix:Radical Solutions for Australia’s Environmental Crisis’ by Ian Lowe (Black Inc 2005) is titled ‘Defining Sustainability: What does it Mean?’.
As I began reading the chapter I thought of Michael Crichton (author of Jurassic Park and other best sellers) and his irreverent definition of sustainability:
“Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.
There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.”
Lowe’s definition of sustainability is somewhat different, he quotes Victoria’s Environment Minister John Thwaites and adds some:
“It means never having to say ‘sorry’ to our grand-children. So there are some obvious criteria to test whether the way we live can be sustained. Are we likely to run short of critical resources? If we are, our society will not be sustainable. Are we doing serious damage to the natural systems that support us? If we are destroying the capacity of natural systems to produce basic needs such as air, water and food our society will not be sustainable …”
Lowe goes on to suggest that economist really don’t know what they are talking about. He writes,
“The entire notion of economic planning has been abandoned in favour of a naive faith in the magic of the market.” (pg 34)
Instead of markets, Lowe suggests:
1. We need to ensure that the total scale of human activity is ecologically sustainable,
2. We should distribute resources and property fairly,
3. We should allocate resources as efficiently as possible.
“So there is a role for markets in ensuring efficient allocation of resources, but first, science must determine the scale of resource allocation we can responsibly allow and society needs to work out the principles of fairness within which markets can operate.” (pg 35)
In ‘The Republic’ by Plato, the ideal ruler has the virtue and wisdom of a philosopher. Perhaps Lowe is suggesting a society where scientists will be the philosopher kings?
This is part 2 of ‘As Lowe as it Gets’.
Part 1 is here http://www.jennifermarohasy.com/blog/archives/000853.html .