Click images for more details



Recent comments
Recent posts
Currently discussing

A few sites I've stumbled across recently....

Powered by Squarespace

Discussion > SUSTAINABILITY What does it mean?

I love the way that this has been inveigled into every government department without anyone ever explaining 'why?' The UN and the EU love to use words or phrases in 'common usage' to describe their policies, it persuades Joe Public that the policy is acceptable without ever telling him what is really at stake and the subject can be discussed in the open.
Joe Public agrees that food and energy are vital to his survival, so if someone tells him that continued supply is not sustainable then it certainly resonates.
Obviously this has all been heard before from Malthus and dismissed by the scientists of the day so why is it back again?
To answer the original question; it means different things to different people and that suits the UN perfectly. Within the UN 'climate change' is part of Sustainability now. The Hydra; cut of its head and two more will take its place. We have been fighting Climate Change for years but always suspected Sustainability would replace it at some point.

To the UN, Sustainability seems to be a way to achieve world government status. Perhaps the UN believes that if it can get the world to join together in action against a global threat then world government is just around the corner.

Oct 29, 2015 at 12:59 PM | Registered CommenterDung

I think Sustainability is one of those concepts/words which started out as a noble idea.

Who would disagree with conserving resources, re-using resources and making sure we consume less of those resources for which we have no way to renew the supply.

These are common sense.

Unfortunately the word has been purloined by greenies to mean extensive government control of just about anything they don't like.

Oct 29, 2015 at 1:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

"Sustainability" is merely a slogan, and usually means very little once you scratch the surface. It can mean whatever the author wants.

Some examples: The sun will run out of hydrogen in a few billion years. It is not sustainable, but many would take the line that it will continue for so long that we can assume it is.
On a daily basis, some would say that solar power is "sustainable". I would say that it is sustainable until sunset.

Our use of fossil fuels is described by some as not sustainable. I would say that what they mean is that it will run out soon, or sooner than the sun at least. It's the peak-oil argument. We may well be consuming fossil fuels faster than they are being replenished, but some consider new techniques to be making currently extractable reserves larger.

Some proponents of geothermal energy appear to believe it is sustainable but it is only as sustainable as the nuclear decays of radioactive elements in the earth. This heat is only produced slowly. Geothermal projects are extracting heat that built up over geological time scales, just like fossil fuels formed over geological time scales. Where extracted, this heat is being consumed faster than it is replenished, just like fossil fuels. It is not sustainable.

Oct 29, 2015 at 1:37 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

We have to be careful of not abandoning the good intention behind these things because of the current-day ham-fisted implementation of them. It's easy in the middle of the debate to start rubbishing the very idea of sustainability, renewable energy, etc. as if they were permanently discredited concepts. They are not.

It is prudent and ethical to avoid being profligate with the finite resources we have, just because it's a damn good idea.

At some point in the future we will have the technology to create whatever we want out of the pure (virtually) infinite sources of atomic energy, but we're some way away from that at the moment, so while we still reply on chemical energy it's wise to be careful with it.

Just because they're stupid doesn't mean the clock isn't right twice a day. The sign of a superior argument is the ability to concede the small truths there are in the opposing argument.

Oct 30, 2015 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Oh dear hehe

We do have pretty much infinite resources, food production is still expanding and mature, stable societies in Africa would result in global population falling so food is not a problem and neither is space.
Other resources are always underestimated because we only consider the Earth's crust and not the Mantle. BYJ you should be reminding us that matter and energy can not be destroyed they can only be 'changed'.
All of the energy we use ultimately comes from the Sun (or other suns) so as long as it survives there will be energy.
The one resource above all others that needs to be sustainable is mankind and idiots like Deben seek to shrink our population massively.

Oct 30, 2015 at 12:35 PM | Registered CommenterDung

We don't have infinite resources... yet. but as the need arises we will exploit new ways of generating resources or using existing resources in a better way, So yes, I'm in agreement with the general thesis that in the long term we don't have to worry too much about resources because we are a resourceful species and will find ways of overcoming any hurdles.


in the short/medium term, we will run up against shortages of things as supply outstrips current technology. Whilst these shortages are in one way useful and necessary to provoke technological advances to ameliorate them, there is a bit of lag in the system when such shortages can cause economic hardship. Whilst we are developing technologies to move away from chemical energy sources, it makes sense to use what we have sensibly.

Oct 30, 2015 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

I'm one of those old fashioned people who think that the price mechanism of (relatively) free markets is the best way to match supply and demand, produce innovation, and plan for the future. It is sudden shocks to the system, such as that experienced in the 1970's due to OPEC's oil embargo as a result of war between Israel and Arab nations, that cause economic dislocation. Gradually declining fossil fuel reserves is manageable without state intervention. (Other than to prevent industry cartels and price fixing. But existing anti-trust laws were put in place to do just that).

By contrast, the green approach is dirigiste. They think money is not a good enough measure of anything (though they certainly seem to like it flowing into their bank accounts just as much as anybody else). They proclaim they have a better calculus. This usually involves everybody giving up free choice and doing as they are told by environmentalists who claim to know better but, curiously, generally didn't want to study science, mathematics or economics at school or beyond.

It reminds me of my fathers business trips to Russia when I was a child. He came back with a tale that car owners in Moscow removed their wind-screen wipers and took them into their buildings/homes when they parked their cars. The reason given being that bureaucratic calculations decided that every car made needed only one set of windscreen wipers. So someone who needed replacements would have to steal them from a parked car. That is the world the greens would drag us towards.

Oct 30, 2015 at 2:13 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Sustainable means an activity is able to generate at least the same or equivalent resources over a stated time period.

Therefore, Coal Mining which generates enough wealth to explore and develop new coal fields is sustainable for the time period when it can do that.

But Ballet, which can't generate the revenue to put on shows or develop dancers, needs constant external inputs and so is not sustainable.

Sustainability is a simple concept. It's only confusing because people keep leaving the time period unspecified and then talking complete bafflegab.

Oct 30, 2015 at 2:31 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Good question!

There is a long essay about this at our new blog, by Danny Weston. "Our New Normal – the cult of Sustainability takes over Higher Education". There is a section discussing what it means, followed by a look at how the 'cult' is taking over universities.

Comments welcome over there.

Oct 30, 2015 at 3:07 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

M Courtney

You are using a dictionary definition of sustainable not the definition used by the environmentalists. Your definition makes more sense ^.^

Oct 30, 2015 at 3:08 PM | Registered CommenterDung


I went over and read about 75% of the essay, I thought I knew a lot about this but my eyes just got opened wide. This stuff is truly frightening for me, I checked UK universities and so far I only found Cambridge that did not have sustainability courses. Cami knickers will be up to her neck in this and I already knew that 'call me stupid Dave helped set new sustainability targets post Kyoto. I wonder when he was planning to tell the rest of us mugs?
BTW it is no longer about saving resources, it is about NEVER preventing future generations from developing by using up all their resources. As always the true purpose is hidden behind a curtain of vaguely benign rubbish.

Oct 30, 2015 at 6:03 PM | Registered CommenterDung

OK. So I read Paul Matthews linked essay to see what I misunderstood about the question. It seems a little paranoid but I have seen some empirical evidence to support it.
The Guardian environment page comments show signs of this:

1) Open enquiry is displaced in favour of appeals to authority.

2) Research and teaching faculties are locked into orthodoxy – “Not only are certain questions shut out, but certain answers are locked in.”

They don't just fail to make coherent arguments, they don't even know that they aren't doing so.
3) Students are subjected to ongoing and sometimes constant manipulation. This is generally through the process of ‘nudging’ acceptable behaviours with regard to, for example, consumption, recycling and energy use.
Again, all recycling projects are justified by increasing awareness and changing attitudes. Indeed, council tax bills actually record how many extra resources are used in recycling and add it on to the bill.

Which is the opposite of what I understood "Sustainable" to be.

Oct 30, 2015 at 7:39 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

"Sustainability" means giving money to things that will sustain the green's need for money.

Oct 31, 2015 at 5:29 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

I'm with @M Courtney Surely it's a simple Self evident, a good thing just a simple concept like Value for Money, I don't see why it needs its own huge movement and degrees.

Simply considering the consequences of your action and not painting yourself into a corner.
Levels of business : Growing, Sustainable, Unsustainable

Sustainable fishing : you can continue month after month
UN-Sustainable fishing : using dynamite, so you get a huge amount of fish the first time ..and diminishing there after.

You get to a point in most businesses whereby your output gets to a certain level that it damages your future output.

However the problem is when as the CS essay seems to do, you equate Green=Sustainable
In the paragraph with "The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records show more than $3 billion in grants " it seems to move up a notch to say Green spending is Sustainability spending.

No look : your organic farm grows 40t of potatoes a year
My farm grows 80t of potatoes a year, by trucking in tonnes of fertiliser from a big hole somewhere which will be exhausted in 20,000 years time.

My farm system is better, cos we just leave more land in a natural state.

It's ironic that universities and Sustainability depts are in growth phase right now and will one day hit that sustainable level. But anyway the level of borrowing govts take on to support such luxuries as those bloated sustainability programs/courses is unsustainable.

Oct 31, 2015 at 8:15 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Sustainability is/was a term used to sneak the concept of 'Green' into Government and Local Government mindsets.Those employed as 'Sustainability Officers' will have terrific Green Credentials, and may even wear appropriate badges to prove it.

Any project or scheme led by, or supported by, a Sustainability Officer, will therefore require a disproportinate amount of financial support, with no quantifiable financial benefit to anyone, apart from the paid professional experts who say passionately, that the benefits will be felt by everyone, long after the professional experts have moved on to supporting the next waste of public money.

Anything can be made sustainable, with sufficient community support. Community support actually means taxpayers, and every Sustainability Officer has been told that taxpayers always have unlimited funds. Sustainabilty Officers may seem very nice, but know nothing about sums, particularly sums involving other people's money.

Any scheme with a strong emphasis on sustainability, in official reports which may include Press Releases, should be treated with the same contempt, that will be shown to anybody asking simple questions about the same scheme's real economics. In this way, offence and disappointment can be minmised for all concerned.

Oct 31, 2015 at 7:37 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

What the word 'sustainability' meant to you in a previous life (before the UN took over world government) is something you must now forget, it now means just what the UN says it means. The new meaning is now controlling your lives as with biodiversity, conservation, environmentalism, green and democracy. The new definition is that you must NEVER exhaust any resource which may be needed by a future generation, just think about that for a while.

Nov 1, 2015 at 11:29 AM | Registered CommenterDung

In the DT today was an article asking whether the internal combustion engine would be replaced by fuel cell technology or by battery technology/electricity? The suggestion that the internal combustion engine would be replaced was not questioned at all.
If the UN are right and the fuels of the future will be one of the two suggested fuels then could they please stop and think for a moment?
Logically everything they believe tells them that future generations will not need fossil fuel in which case it seems reasonable for us to use as much as we want. Right now fossil fuels are the most efficient, most convenient and most easily accessible fuels on the planet.

Nov 1, 2015 at 11:45 AM | Registered CommenterDung

As the earth is warmed by the sun and the sun will eventually disappear (via its various development phases) the earth will die.

It/we are not sustainable.

Nov 1, 2015 at 8:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Richards

Steve Richards

The Earth does not need to be sustainable, the human race needs to be sustainable, a fact which does not seem to have got through the thick skulls of the UN twats and alarmists in general.

Nov 1, 2015 at 9:04 PM | Registered CommenterDung

That's a fair summary, Dung. Saves me having to use the T word.

Nov 2, 2015 at 2:51 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Steve Richards

Actually the Earth itself will probably never die but will become a lifeless rock floating in the void. LIFE on Earth will die, which seems to me to be a good reason to make sure that we are somewhere else when that happens ^.^
The reason why the human race needs to be preserved is that we are the only species on Earth that might be able to solve a number of future problems (might be sooner than we think):

Large asteroid impact.
Super Volcano
Lethal, untreatable viral infections,
Snowball Earth.

Trying to preserve all life on Earth is pointless simply because one day it will all die, whatever we do to try and prevent it. Unless we humans can establish ourselves in other star systems we will also die along with our science/technology, art and literature, EVEN football will die out ^.^

Nov 2, 2015 at 10:00 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Dung, I'm afraid the earth (if it's still there) will be consumed in the death-throes of the sun, which will expand to take in a size larger than the orbits of the inner planets. Earth won't be swallowed in this expansion (its orbit will actually get farther away) but it will get caught in the tidal forces of the sun's outer atmosphere at that point, which will strip the crust off and basically vaporise the planet, which will become part of the sun.

If we're still around then, and are feeling a bit sad about this, I'm sure we can remove the earth to a nearby museum system, where we keep all the planets of our ancient history in perpetuity. Or perhaps we'd have already moved it to a slightly more salubrious area of the galaxy long before the sun starts to misbehave.

The fact that the earth has a finite lifespan measured in the billions of years does not mean that the idea of sustainability is moot. it's a clever technical point, but a bit nit-picky, and makes us look a bit silly. We, as a species, can only be concerned about the next couple of centuries, and that is the timespan over which sustainability is a concept. The fact that everything will end billions of years from now doesn't mean we don'[t have to be careful about what we have in the next few centuries.

Nov 2, 2015 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Happy to concede that point BYJ, can't say I have read about the situation, the point is that we need to get off this planet well before that happens. Sustainability wise there are billions of planets out there so even if we stripped the Earth clean, nobody will notice ^.^

Nov 2, 2015 at 1:20 PM | Registered CommenterDung

"Sustainable forestry" in Borneo is not sustainable, it's a joke say people I have met working in it. The WWF certifies stuff everyone knows is not sustainable.
- Furthermore loggers are supposed to cycle land every 50 years, but that law is too unrealistic so it seems accepted that they go in much earlier after 30 odd years and log again

I am reminded of this by a comment David B just posted
\\ the WWF is in effect a protection racket which keeps quiet on major environmental scandals in exchange for "funding". I don't see Greenpeace and/or FoE as essentially any different - see eg. their actions in covering for "Big Wind" in Scotland. Though it's too early to say whether Modi's actions reflect a spat between gangsters or a genuine exposé of corruption, I have my suspicions.// Nov 6, 2015 DaveB

Nov 7, 2015 at 9:18 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Please try and get your heads round the UN definition of Sustainability rather than your current understanding:

Following something called the Brundtland Report in 1987, Sustainable Development was redefined as

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Basically this seems to be a fool proof method of slowing down our progress. Interestingly this revision was made because it was felt that too much emphasis had been placed on human development and not enough on safeguarding the environment.
Wherever Sustainability is discussed in government or the UN, the above definition should be assumed.

Nov 7, 2015 at 2:08 PM | Registered CommenterDung