How do I Define “Sustainability”?

110930_sustnowradio.jpg“How do you define ‘sustainability’?” was the opening question asked of me by co-host Peter Dawson Buckland on Pennsylvania State University’s Sustainability Now Radio today (listen to archived interview).

I quoted recent guest Derrick Jensen (How the West HAS Won, episode 200) from his latest book Dreams:

The word “sustainable”… would apply to some action that can be done more or less forever, which means an action (or a way of life) that at the worst does not harm one’s land-base, and more realistically improves one’s land-base on the land-base’s own terms.” (page 428-429)

The land-base’s own terms, not human terms. Given that definition, industrial civilization is totally unsustainable. Industrial society is using up resources from everywhere (way beyond our own land-bases) and spewing out wastes like crazy. All for the short-term (profits) rather than for the long term, for Life.

How do you define “sustainability”?


  1. Hi Janaia,

    that podcast is well worth listening to; D. Doherty quite certainly is the most experienced guy in the world when it comes to designing regenerative systems.

    If you’d like something more visual than a podcast, this one’s great:

    Actually, I’m surprised he’s not been on your show 🙂

  2. Stuart M. says:

    Hate to bring some bad news, but did anyone see this article on the coming oil boom in America?

    New technologies such as fracking are increasing not only natural gas production, but also oil production from American shale deposits. Canada is going to flood America with horrendously polluting tar sands oil.

    Yes, you and I know this will only delay the inevitable peaking of oil, but in the meantime it will make our politicians and consumers complacent again and torpedo efforts to contain global warming.

    The article says the American domestic oil glut has driven down the price of Texas crude oil by $20 from the world Brent crude price.

  3. mus, I like that notion. I didn’t listen to Darren’s podcast, but I should think most of the planet’s life systems are naturally regenerative. Those which aren’t…go extinct. And certainly with the level of destruction humans have caused to the planet, all efforts should go towards regeneration and restoration. All the more challenging and necessary as climate chaos tips the balances.

  4. I have to agree with Darren Doherty on this – ‘sustainable’ is a rather unfortunate term; we should be talking about ‘regenerative’ systems instead:

  5. I’m in agreement with Derrick Jensen, sustainability is an action that can more or less be repeated forever, maintaining a balance and maintaining the community of life and not using up any “resource” faster than it is replenished. Industrial civilization is not sustainable and can never be sustainable, it is based on a system of infinite resources and not on a sustainable system.

  6. “…the land-base’s own terms.”

    I recall Thomas Berry’s answer to the question… Who does the Ecosystem belong to? …. “The Ecosystem belongs to itself.”

    So… ask the Ecosystem. If we’re listening, it may tell us what “sustainability” is.

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