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I’m reading a lot of stuff lately on the notion and application of sustainability, and keep coming back to an annoyance.  Sustainability, and its beneficiaries: Environment, Economy, and Society, are not things.  They are processes.

We can say things about each of these systems, but the fact remains that the system is made of its parts.  A manager or grand master of all society would believe that the project of the environment or society can be managed to an optimal solution.  The people and things that comprise the environment and society have different opinions about that.  Sometime, the notion that we are being managed for an optimal social solution is enough to make us distrust our managers, and disobey their plans on general principle.

I’m not stating this as amateur of Tea Party rebellion, but as a simple statement of fact.  Each of the things that sustainability attempts to preserve is not a thing so much as a property.  One cannot talk of the economy without marveling at all the chatter about the economy; chatter by people interested in making money in it.  The evolution of the economy in the last decade, century millennium, or 10,000 years is a thing to behold, and all without the management of the single thing called “the economy” by a single master.

To be fair, we have become obsessed with managing the economy as of late, and the Federal Reserve even has a faint ability and aim to manage the broad strokes of it.  But even the fed acknowledges that the best predictor of a good economy is how happy its billions of actors are within it.

Maybe I’m confusing the lazy prose of the sustainability movement with a genuine ignorance of the process involved, but I doubt it.  You still see the Fern-Gully notion in sustainability circles that nature lives in balance, and that a sustainable society should and would emulate it for its eternal edification.

Nature, and the septillions of individuals of millions of species within it, does not live in balance because it needs to or wants to, it lives in balance because it has to.  Everything is struggling hourly to eat other things, and avoid being eaten.  Billions fail this struggle every second.  And every personal tragedy of every bacterium is another hour of nutrition for some protist, until it gets eaten by a veliger, and so on.

Boy this sausage and egg sandwich I’m having for breakfast is delicious.  I’ve probably eaten a whole pigs worth of the things in the last decade.  Each costing me way less than an hour’s pay. Humanity does not live in balance with nature because it does not have to.  We feel that each death is an aberration and a violation of our rights, even though it is our birthright, same as every other living thing for the last 4 billion years.

I believe sustainability is good idea.  I believe that so much that I would like to see it succeed, not founder on the shores of bad ideas and semantics.  Let it be founded on a bedrock of what makes sense, not some romantic fantasy.