The Obsolescence of Sustainability

Here I compiled excerpts from several recent news stories that helped inspire my recently published three-part essay The Psychoanalysis of Sustainability (See Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).

1. Is sustainability a dangerous myth fuelling over consumption?  The Guardian (10/28/2013)

“Our pursuit of constant growth can never be sustainable. Instead, we must deconstruct our consumer society to consume less and value more.”

“Unless dramatic changes are made, within 20 years the global supply of oil, fresh water, food and many minerals will cease to meet demand. Yet even against this backdrop, I believe that we should cease our dangerous obsession with ‘sustainability’.”

“Sadly right now, sustainability has become a trendy obsession. Perhaps the only thing that most politicians, economists and many business leaders crave even more foolishly is constant economic growth. In plain survival terms, the latter is as ludicrous a proposition as the former. It is therefore not surprising that spin-doctors and marketeers have conflated the two concepts into the preposterous notion of ‘sustainable economic growth’.”

2. Changing mindsets is key to preventing social and environmental disaster The Guardian (10/28/2013)

“We thought up the idea of planned obsolescence to kick-start the major western economies in the wake of the Great Depression. But the thinking that led to such extraordinary mountains of waste is causing untold harm in an era of climate change and resource scarcity, so it’s high time we changed it. Freeing the mind not only creates new possibilities but also, by its nature, generates a change in our behaviour.”

“Steve Howard, the chief sustainability officer at Ikea, points out that companies that set incremental targets, such as reducing carbon emissions by a few percentage points a year, are doing no-one a favour. He argues that the only target really worth setting is a 100% change. Ikea, for example, within two years will have moved to selling only LED lights and using only renewable energy for all its stores by 2020.”


Already, advances in A.I. have created risks that we never dreamt of. With the advent of the Internet age and its Big Data explosion, “large amounts of data is being collected about us and then being fed to algorithms to make predictions,” Vaibhav Garg, a computer-risk specialist at Drexel University, told me. “We do not have the ability to know when the data is being collected, ensure that the data collected is correct, update the information, or provide the necessary context.” Few people would have even dreamt of this risk even twenty years ago. What risks lie ahead? Nobody really knows, but Barrat is right to ask.

 4. The Sustainable Finance Sector (October 27, 2013)

“Even after the severe job losses as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, at least another 192,667 jobs have been lost in the finance sector in 26 countries since 2011, of which 134,051 were in Europe.”

“Worldwide, the health of workers is the most affected mainly due to strong pressure to sell, the fear of unemployment and having to face angry clients. More than 80% of bank staff in Europe are reporting health problems. Half said their personal life was also taking a blow.”

“Business risk is increasing due to the loss of first-hand information. One third of European respondents, and all Asian ones, say worker confidence to report issues to management is being affected for fear of losing their jobs.”

5. On to the Next Crisis: Why Congress Learned Nothing From the Shutdown (10/17/2013)

“The debt and budget crises failed to alter either party’s policy positions, or reveal new ground for compromise. Republicans haven’t acquired a taste for taxes. Boehner has not agreed to put revenue on the table in discussions with the White House. Most congressional Democrats aren’t keen on the entitlement reforms that the GOP will be seeking during the broad budget negotiations to come.”



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