Monday Morning Quarterbacking

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Maybe I should start doing this every week after the weekend break in the hurly-burly of the typical work week. I started this blog to talk about sustainability and, of course, introduce you to the ideas in my book. I have, as you probably now know, pretty deep-seated academic roots although my time in academia came on the tail of a long career in the “real” world of business and government. But given all that is happening out there, I feel OK with straying from this theme and the comfort of academic arguing.
It is hard for me to decide which crisis to follow: the financial market, the election as an indicator of the mess that goes for our political/governance system today, a collapsing global environment, or whatever seems to pop up with increasing frequency.

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Is Sustainable Development an Oxymoron?

In a post on the Athens Banner opinion page, Harold Brown, emeritus Professor at the University of Georgia, asks if sustainable development is an oxymoron. Development is a process and, in any living system, goes on forever or at least until life stops. He, as I do also, interprets sustainable development to mean that the present state of the world should last indefinitely. While not truly an oxymoron, the phrase is certainly a contradiction of terms.

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News about the Website and the Book

Now that the book has been on the shelves for a few weeks and I am beginning to get out and talk about it, there is some news being generated. I actually got reviewed this week and it was a terrific first for me. Matt May gave me high marks in the same column where he panned Tom Friedman’s new book by comparison. Last week I appeared on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC, the New York NPR station. This was my first exposure to this medium. In addition to his prepared set of questions, Lopate had tuned into this blog and asked me about a couple of posts. All sorts of emails showed up after the show, some from long-lost folks who wondered if this was the John Ehrenfeld they once knew. Here’s a comment I picked off Lopate’s website from a listener of our interview. A little hyperbole, but I love it. John Ehrenfeld is brilliant and he is right on! He tells it like it is. Our current “sustainability models” are a band-aid approach to a much greater problem/dilemma: humans are by their very nature destructive animals and we are destroying the planet. Our consumerism is an… Read More

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To GDP or Not To GDP

Looking for something relevant to today’s turmoil in Washington, I came across a month-old article from the New York Times talking about the relevance of GDP as a measure of well-being. Unsurprisingly the article by Louis Uchitelle grabbed onto many previous critical commentaries and pointed to fairly obvious flaws in the standard accounting system used to calculate GDP. This is just another example that shows how existing economic models and theories fail badly to track reality. I got the sense today that those working out the solution were engaged in a dialogue of the deaf and looking for the solution in a politically convenient place rather than facing the underlying roots. Uchitelle points to the fallacies and danger in adhering to political and economic ideologies. While the G.D.P. has continued to rise, wages have stagnated, pensions have shrunk or disappeared and income inequality has increased. Other shortcomings have become apparent. The boom in prison construction, for example, has added greatly to the G.D.P., but the damage from the crimes that made the prisons necessary is not subtracted. Neither is environmental damage nor depleted forests, although lumbering shows up in government statistics as value added. So does health care, which is… Read More

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Flushing for Sustainability

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Is luxury defined by disdain for shutting off lights? It would seem so if one listens to managers thinking about adding environmental features to their hotels. Speaking about a system widely used in Europe, a master switch that is activated by your room keycard when you enter, US hoteliers expressed skepticism about the acceptance of this in the US.

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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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