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SUSTAINABILITY FORUM on the Limitations and Benefits of the Sustainability Approach

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs | September 8, 2011

CREDIT: Garrett Ziegler (CC).

As part of our third annual SEPTEMBER SUSTAINABILITY MONTH, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs presents the first of three roundtables.

Forum Editor, Zach Dorfman

INTRODUCTION

In the last few years, the idea of "sustainability" has become arguably the dominant framework through which issues of environmental concern are viewed. Conservation of our lands and seas, "green" business ventures, urban planning, food production systems, and, paradigmatically, global climate change—all are being discussed, and in some cases policy is being implemented, under the rubric of "sustainability."

But is sustainability the only, or even the most desirable framework for environmental issues? What are the limitations and benefits of the sustainability approach, and what kind of alternative conceptual approaches may be preferable?

ROUNDTABLE

What Do We Mean By Sustainability?
J. Baird Callicott

When we refer to "sustainability" what we really mean is sustaining global human civilization. Disrupting ecosystem services, and thus the global human economy embedded within them, will lead to our collapse.

In Defense of Sustainability
Ronald Sandler

The strength of sustainability as an umbrella concept is that it can be attached to almost any type of system or activity, and that it must always be operationalized in context.

Using Sustainability to Tell Stories
Dale Jamieson and Christopher Schlottmann

What the idea of sustainability offers, more than anything, is an opportunity to tell rich and compelling stories about our future.

From Sustainability to a New Materialism
David Schlosberg

No longer willing to take part in unsustainable practices and institutions, and not satisfied with a purely individualistic and consumer response, activist groups are building a new materialism around everyday practices.


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