Wall Street Has a Lesson for Sustainability

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It’s Saturday and the market gets a few days off before it can awaken again to the turmoil on Wall Street and Main Street. The media of all forms is full of news about bailouts, take-overs, debt acceptance, and many other arcane terms known only to those that have created the mess we are in. This blog is concerned with sustainability, not with financial security, so what’s the connection between sustainability and Wall Street.

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Premiumization and the Lehman Brothers Collapse

If you are unfamiliar with the word, premiumization, read Roger Cohen’s oped piece in today’s New York Times. Not satisfied with merely buying more and more stuff, some hyperwealthy people are looking for special, high-priced goods that satisfy some mysterious inner need I cannot begin to understand: M&M’s with your face on each piece; Renova Black, a “fashionable” toilet paper; or bottled water from the world’s cleanest place.

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Summer’s Over

The closest thing to sustainability I know is spending the summer at our ocean-side cottage in Maine. But like so many things in life, this too comes to a close every year. Tomorrow, my wife and I pack up the car and head back to Lexington. I am always gripped by commingled feelings of gratitude and of sadness. Thankful to be able to spend another year watching the incessant cycles of nature from my office window. Not that my life in the city is so bad, but here I do get a sense of what flourishing (the subject I write about) is really all about.

The sun sets across the water just for us everyday, as the beams reflecting off the surface of the bay aim directly at our house. No day is the same as the last except that in some way they are reassuringly and paradoxically the same.

The sadness comes in anticipating a different life in the city. I write that it is possible to flourish in the midst of a noisy, evermore crowded, consuming society, but I must admit I am not always certain. I probably should not admit this feeling since I am trying to sell my new book and its ideas. But the sadness is tempered by the vision of next year that has already started to form even before this season has closed. Maybe this is what sustainability is.

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Sustainability and September 11th

On this anniversary of 9/11, it seems most appropriate to reflect on the link between that day, the subsequent seven years, and what might seem a disconnected topic: sustainability. The carnage of that day is the epitome of unsustainability–a system stretched beyond the breaking point; the failure to return to the original equilibrium state; the emergence of new patterns of behavior. The response we have created in the United States is fashioned from the very same toolbox and beliefs and values that were in play right up to the event. They are fundamentally technological and technocratic, telling us that we can prevent the next regime changing event in our world… Read More

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Energy Interdependence


I spent a long evening yesterday taking in the Republican Convention. The political message seemed to be very simple–divide and conquer. At least now we have a pretty clear choice ahead in November. But this is not a political blog. Even so, it is often very difficult to separate sustainability from politics and last night offered such an example.
Among the many foot-stamping pauses during Sarah Palin’s speech and those that preceded her on the podium, one of the loudest and most prolonged followed her invocation of “drill, baby, drill” and a long string of just about every form of energy supply technology, except for conservation. It was not just about keeping warm or filling up at the pump with cheap gas, it was all about independence, and that’s the topic I want to comment on.

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More Linguistic Misuse

Having just posted an article about the misuse of the word “sustainable,” I found this blog entry during my daily perusal of my Google alerts on the subject. I see that others have noticed the same problem with the proliferation of sustainable X.

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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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