Sustainability the new tyrantRichard Treadgold | April 11, 2010
The statement from Professor Hunter includes this comment regarding what we actually do about the problem of climate change:
The mitigation measures suggested for climate change (reduced use of carbon-based fuels, more renewable energy sources, carbon capture and storage, less use of nitrogen-based fertilizers) are all part of a portfolio of approaches that are needed to produce a more sustainable world.
See how the problem of climate change morphs at the end into producing “a more sustainable world”? Why does the focus change? What is the connection between climate change and the notion of sustainable practices, which covers an enormous range of activities, from sensible use of water supplies to mining for minerals to best farming practice to how to supply our hospitals?
Surely climate change is involved in only some of the “sustainability” issue?
Or could it be that a new codeword has been introduced? Sustainability is as ill-defined (or remains as undefined) as climate change. So as climate change dissolves as an unquestioned excuse for socialistic interference in our lives and as the mother of all tax justifications, will sustainability take over? Has it already taken over?
But what is sustainability? Is there any difference between sustainability and what used to be called conservatism? Conservative practices are the very essence of conservation. The traditional view, that we ought to take a conservative approach to natural resources, management of people and the processes we adopt, is traditional because it has been practised for a long time.
Conservative it was and still is
Once upon a time, radical, young, modern, self-centred people were advised to take a “conservative” approach to, say, developing a piece of land valued locally for the views it offered or the trees growing there. The conservative mindset was to avoid waste, avoid pollution, avoid losing things of intangible value such as vistas and historical sites and avoid changing customs.
The conservative approach was to make sure you could retain the things you valued; make sure what you did could be sustained; the aim was sustainability, it just went unsaid because it was so very obvious. There is nothing new in our desire for a conservative approach except the word we use to describe it.
The difference now is that calling it sustainability while leaving the concept undefined enables those who would control us to infringe our freedoms, remove opportunities, hold natural resources out of use, prevent us disposing of our property as we see fit and imposing swingeing taxes to prevent reasonable activities.
Wood grows on trees
Some of the ideas criticised under the umbrella of sustainability are truly stupid, such as avoiding the use of paper because it “destroys” trees. Have we forgotten that the notion of things growing on trees is the very perfection of sustainability? We can and do plant new trees every day. Nothing is destroyed in using trees. We should be efficient about doing it, but nothing is wasted either.
Another delusion is to avoid “wasting” water because we don’t have enough of it. Have we forgotten that all we need to do is to collect more water? There’s no shortage of it and never will be. Certain dry places need more management or long pipes or move the people out of there, but let reason guide us.
The more we stop thinking for ourselves about things as simple as what the words mean, the more we will fail to see what is happening around us and the more hard-won freedoms will continue to be lost.
Or am I concerned without cause?