Revolutions come and go. They start; they create a new stasis; then, they falter in their own ways. Often, they create new falsehoods, new perversions that betray ideals as mercilessly as did preceding ideologies. That’s why, the success of the sustainability revolution — and any particular revolution — doesn’t matter nearly as much as the sustenance of the revolutionary spirit.
In the sustainability movement today, this spirit is gasping for air. The passing generation of sustainability pioneers succeeded in many ways, but it failed to inspire a new generation of sincere mavericks who would nurture the torch of Olympian fire. Because of this failure, I characterize today’s sustainability movement as a stillborn idea, a noble and imperious impulse seduced into complacency and compromise.
The advocacy of sustainability that still grabs headlines today is an effete narrative, an exhausted Will with a low sperm count and crippling arthritic pain. Frail and disenchanted, sustainability has become a majority-owned subsidiary of consumer capitalism, an unwitting victim of a rigged deal with Mephistopheles. In this humbled state, sustainability functions as an intricately engineered mechanism for easing our anxieties by urging us to seek solace in our creature comforts.
True, some die-hard advocates of real change occasionally attempt to reverse sustainability’s degradation into self-inflicted irrelevance. But these desperate measures suffer from tactical and strategic miscalculation, the fool’s errand of fighting and re-fighting past battles long after the battlefield has undergone dramatic changes, and long after institutional inertia has thoroughly co-opted the language of protest and reform.