Is Sustainable X Really Sustainable?

Conversations about sustainability only rarely refer to it as a noun. Most articles talk about “sustainable something,” like sustainable development, buildings, business, and so on and on. When sustainable is used in this adjectival sense, the object of attention is always on the word it modifies. Sustainable development is not really about sustainability, a noun, rather it’s all about [economic] development albeit a particular form of [economic] development that is supposed to be more benign than the way the modern world works today.

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A Fish-wife’s Tale

Stanley Fish, writing his occasional column for the New York Times on August 3, 2008, devoted all ten inches or so of his column space dissing environmentalists in his typical erudite fashion. Kind of surprising as he usually turns his critical eye to modernists, ideologues and all sorts of rigid thinkers. Headlined, “I Am, Therefore I Pollute,” the article apologizes for his disinterest in doing anything explicitly designed to help out the Planet. I usually applaud his work, but this time he pointed his critical finger at people like me.

His wife gets it, and has been making a valiant try to get him to join her in replacing simple things around the house like toilet paper and light bulbs with less polluting, more efficient things.

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Nothing Man-made Is Ever Eco-friendly

When stalwart cheerleading sources like WorldChanging publish articles skeptical of the effectiveness of small green steps is producing sustainability, people working to create sustainability should sit up and pay attention. Here’s the lede.

Do small steps actually lead anywhere? We all know the theory that small steps lead to bigger steps, which lead in turn to real change. And there are certainly a lot of small steps on offer these days, from the latest home energy tracker to the solar bikini. But it’s not at all clear that the ready abundance of small steps is actually making any difference. Indeed, between greenwashing and green fatigue, emphasizing little behavioral changes may actually be hurting.

Until recently, suggesting that “going green” in this fashion wasn’t a correct path was a quick route to condemnation. But now, some of the world’s most prestigious environmental advocates are beginning to call for a whole new approach.

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Uncovering the Subversive in Wall-E


Few of the reviewers of *Wall-E* I read noticed the film’s deeply critical and socially relevant underlying message. Most focused on the Hollywood summer-film story of love and happiness–here between a sloven waste compactor and a svelte extraterritorial robot. I saw a wake-up call to a society that has become so unquestioning of its immersion in a consumerist, technocratic culture that everyday life shows many signs of addiction. The first step in recovering from addiction is to acknowledge your dependence on whatever controls you. But in order to do that one has to step outside of the familiar and reflect on the consequences of your habit.

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Every Journey Begins with the First Step

Welcome. This is my very first post to this new website where I hope can convince you to start thinking about sustainability in an entirely new way. By way of introduction, I am a former MIT professor, who, after 30 years of using my MIT PhD in chemical engineering to solve environmental problems, followed by a presidential appointment to plan water policy for New England, has now focused my energy on how to produce long-term sustainability. I am building on and leveraging my past experience with several foci: environment, sustainability and technology. I have spent almost all of my now very long professional life doing research connected with the environment and applying whatever I learned to improve the way businesses and governments act towards it. Also, as a parent, and grandparent, I can’t but help become increasingly concerned about the long-term human impact of current trends, and am more personally committed to making change for future generations. In these last few years, having much more time to reflect, I have put my thoughts into a book, which, of course, you can purchase through this site.

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