Amongst the things I’m researching this spring is he financing of sustainability. Small task, I know. I’d like to bang out the draft of the intro here, laying out the ideal and the application of financing.
Sustainability is a big thing made of many parts. The union of society, economy, and the environment is a departure form the merely economic model that sustained us for billions of years. Throughout human history, the economy has evolved from mere subsistence, to monstrous accumulation of wealth in pursuit of civic and national goals, to more democratic distribution of wealth. It was only through the effectiveness of this model – of markets – that sustainability even became an issue. Humanity has become so good at doing and making things, through increasing and distributed use of human ingenuity, that we now threaten the very firmament that our economy rests on. A thousand years ago, humans had to wrest their livings form a landscape in which they were the minority. Now that we are the majority, we have to steward the landscape if we want to keep using it as we have for millennia. All that is a really vague way of saying that the stakes of the game have risen, because we have less room to expand than we once did.
Many implementation plans of a sustainability give short shrift for the social and economic aspects of environmental goals. They tend to think of society and economy as one thing, that should be harnessed to the yoke of sustainability. This belies ignorance about the complexity of these goals and lack of self awareness about their own complexity. There are dozens, if nit hundreds of facets to the environmentalist toolkit of things to address. While the economy has the overarching principle of “value”, and society is concerned with “people”, environmentalism can best muster “nature” as its aim. And there are some examples of nature, like invasive species or air quality, where “nature” is a very subjective term.
Just because environmentalism lacks a strong organizing thread does not mean that it is not worth pursuing, however. But the idea that environmentalism will be best served by total awareness by all the actors of all the threats to “the environment” is quixotic, at best. People and organizations do best at simple tasks with compelling reasons behind them, not every task with compelling reasons behind all of them. As Rick Hall says “the guy with the simple task always wins”. That is not to say that every goal of environmentalism should not be overcome. This is to say the pursuit of those goals needs to be focused. It is not good enough to try to do the right thing in it multifarious applications. We must do the right thing well.
That means identifying how we are going to isolate and pursue the goals of environmentalism, with goals, implementation, metrics, improvements, and financial backing.
Financial backing is either a matter of government disc or the economy, but it will work a lot better and more securely if the economy is behind it. The goals of the environment should also be the goals of the economy. That is a tall order by many understandings of what the environment means, but it is the only way that the environment will be protected long term. If the environment is an duty and an obligation int times of plenty, then it will be negotiable in times of want. As we have seen in the last few decades. The continued and eternal efforts of a dedicated few cannot be the sole impetus for environmental stewardship, as they will eventually tire and fail against the everyday day concerns of millions making their livings any way they can.
Sustainability, and its environmental goals, need to serve economic and social goals if it to succeed. Otherwise it is a relevant, understood, and universal as any religion. Which is not good enough for the mission at hand.
Specifically, sustainability is a human project and prospect. Though we can say we are doing to for the bird, the trees, or the trout, this message of universal love of the cuddly does not travel beyond the four walls of our mind. If we ant sustainability to work, it must increase the weal of more people than the conventional alternative. Air pollution, for example, costs more in reduced quality of life and hospital visits for us all than it pays to those that would burn things ore cheaply. Water pollution might cost more in needs to purify for drinking, or lost fisheries, or lawsuits from downstream. Our dependence on cars for all transportation costs in space, real estate, and health, but does it cost more than it is worth? Those are the sorts of questions sustainability should answer if it is to compete.