One of my friends and readers recently confessed sheepishly that he doesn’t know what I mean by “sustainability.” I, in turn, felt a little sheepish for casually batting around what has been widely acknowledged as a leading buzz word without a clear definition.

For the record, I’ve been using the term very loosely as a catchall for efforts to create a livable future for our planet and its inhabitants. Living sustainably is the opposite of gobbling up resources without thinking about what’s going to happen to the next generation and the ones after that. For that matter, some would argue that decades of unsustainable fossil fuel consumption have already doomed us to face dire consequences within many of our lifetimes.

peak oil = the end of suburbia?
(photo by yelahneb)

Wikipedia, as usual, offers a nice write-up with plenty of links for further reading. For a nitty-gritty analysis that also addresses academic debate over the term, check out Brian Kermath’s What is Sustainability? Yeah, I couldn’t read the whole thing either, but I liked this part:

In the present context, sustainability represents an idealized societal state where people live long, dignified, comfortable, and productive lives, satisfying their needs in environmentally sound and socially just ways so as to not compromise the ability of other human beings from doing the same now and into the distant future. It is, in effect, an attempt to merge development and nature conservation efforts in a mutually beneficial way for the common good of the planet’s present and future generations alike. In practice, achieving sustainability occurs through the process of sustainable development — discovering, adopting, implementing, establishing, and adjusting appropriate institutions, policies, strategies, and technologies to produce a just transition that moves society toward the envisioned idealized state of existence. Democracy is often viewed in the same way, as a process of working toward the ideal.

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