Edited by Peter Dauvergne
Chapter 37: The Sustainability Debate: Déjà Vu All Over Again?
Ronnie D. Lipschutz1 What can be said about sustainability that has not been said before? Is the term defined today with any more precision and specificity than in the past? Does “sustainability” denote a process or a goal, and has progress toward it been achieved? After 30 years and an extended period of eclipse, should we pay attention to sustainability? To be sure, sustainability has returned with a vengeance. It has become an all-encompassing watchword for environmental policy and practice, for production and consumption, for urban planning and rural extraction. It is pursued by universities, think-tanks, communities, corporations, and governments around the world. It is the silver bullet that will save the world … or will it? In the background to the term can be observed many of the terminological struggles and controversies of the past 50 years, including “limits to growth,” “the population explosion,” and “environmental security.”2 Whatever it is or does, sustainability continues to confuse and confound, being applied in contexts as diverse and distinct as military strategy, financial stability, and the world’s environmental future. My goal here, therefore, is to assay and analyze the “sustainability debate,” drawing not only on contemporary usages and practices but also extending the investigation into the realms of science and engineering. Whether sustainability represents something new in contemporary use and practice, or is nothing more than “déjà vu all over again,” might become clearer by the end of this chapter. I begin with a brief discussion of the history of sustainability...
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