Friday, June 10, 2011

Sustainability: adjective or noun?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

It is fashionable today to talk about sustainability. It serves as a warranty label that the company, while producing, is environmentally friendly. Behind this word hides some truth, but also many scams. It is usually used as an adjective and not as a noun.

Let me explain. As an adjective, it is added to anything without changing the nature of the thing. For example, I can reduce the chemical pollution of a factory by putting better filters on its smokestacks that spew gases, but the company's way of relating to nature from which it gets the materials for production doesn't change; it continues to ravage it. Its concern isn't the environment, but that its profits and competitiveness be guaranteed. Therefore, sustainability is only a matter of accommodation, not change; it's an adjective, not a noun.

Sustainability as a noun requires a change in relationship with nature, life and the Earth. The first change begins with a different vision of reality. The Earth is alive and we are its conscious and intelligent portion. We're not outside of and above her as one who dominates, but within as one who cares, availing ourselves of her resources, while respecting her limits. There is an interaction between the human being and nature. If I pollute the air, I end up making her sick and strengthening the greenhouse effect, from which global warming is derived. If I restore the ciliary forest of the river, conserve water, I increase its volume and improved my quality of life, that of the birds, and that of the insects that pollinate the fruit trees and garden flowers.

Sustainability as a noun happens when we take responsibility for protecting the vitality and integrity of ecosystems. Because of the abusive exploitation of her goods and services, we are reaching the limits of the Earth. She can't even put back 30% of what has been removed and stolen. The Earth is becoming increasingly poorer, of forests, water, fertile soil, clean air and biodiversity. And what is more serious, more impoverished of people in solidarity, compassion, respect, with care and love towards those who are different. When will this stop?

Sustainability as a noun will be achieved the day we change our way of inhabiting the Earth, our Great Mother, of producing, distributing, consuming and treating waste. Our way of life is dying, unable to solve the problems it has created. Worse, it's killing us, and threatening the whole system of life.

We have to reinvent a new way of being in the world with others, with nature, with the Earth and Ultimate Reality. Learn to be more with less and meet our needs with a sense of solidarity with the millions of hungry people and the future of our children and grandchildren. Either we change or we're going to meet foreseeable ecological and human tragedies.

When those who control the finances and the destinies of the people meet, it's never to discuss the future of human life and conservation of the Earth. They come together to discuss money, how to save the financial and speculative system, how to guarantee interest rates and bank profits. If they talk about global warming and climate change, it's almost always from this perspective: how much could I lose to these phenomena? Or if not, how can I profit by buying or selling carbon bonuses (buying from other countries permission to continue polluting)? The sustainability they are talking about is neither an adjective, nor a noun. It's pure rhetoric. They forget that the Earth can live without us, as she lived for billions of years. We can't live without her.

Let us not be deluded: the companies, the vast majority, only assume the environmental responsibility to the extent that profits are not adversely affected and their competitiveness is not threatened. Therefore, no change of course, no different relationship with nature, nothing of ethical and spiritual values. As the Uruguayan social ecologist E. Gudynas rightly said: "The task is not to think about alternative development but alternatives to development."

We have reached a point where we have no other choice but to make a paradigmatic revolution. Otherwise we will be victims of the iron logic of capital that can lead to a great impasse for our civilization.

1 comment:

  1. This is a simple thankyou for making this wisdom available in the English language! Bless you for sharing and liberating.