Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Top 10 myths about sustainability

Michael D. Lemonick at Scientific American has listed his top 10 myths about sustainability.

When a word becomes so popular you begin hearing it everywhere, in all sorts of marginally related or even unrelated contexts, it means one of two things. Either the word has devolved into a meaningless cliché, or it has real conceptual heft. “Green” (or, even worse, “going green”) falls squarely into the first category. But “sustainable,” which at first conjures up a similarly vague sense of environmental virtue, actually belongs in the second. True, you hear it applied to everything from cars to agriculture to economics. But that’s because the concept of sustainability is at its heart so simple that it legitimately applies to all these areas and more.

Despite its simplicity, however, sustainability is a concept people have a hard time wrapping their minds around. To help, Scientific American Earth 3.0 has consulted with several experts on the topic to find out what kinds of misconceptions they most often encounter. The result is this take on the top 10 myths about sustainability. And after this introduction, it’s clear which myth has to come first....

Myth 1: Nobody knows what sustainability really means.
That’s not even close to being true. By all accounts, the modern sense of the word entered the lexicon in 1987 with the publication of Our Common Future, by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland commission after its chair, Norwegian diplomat Gro Harlem Brundtland). That report defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Or, in the words of countless kindergarten teachers, “Don’t take more than your share.”

Note that the definition says nothing about protecting the environment, even though the words “sustainable” and “sustainability” issue mostly from the mouths of environmentalists. That point leads to the second myth...."

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