J500 Media and the Environment

Sustainability but ‘Shh, tame the ability’ by jmuselmann
February 12, 2010, 4:40 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 4, Society + Media | Tags: , , , , , ,

For a long time I thought I had been talking about sustainability, but it was really just me becoming glassy-eyed and warm as I imagined tiny, delicate green plants emerging through the smoggy, wicked epicenter up to Mother Nature’s sky, where we all belong, with the sun, and…

Sustainability is like a mystic yin-yang. Does that help?

It was usually downhill from there. What were people even talking about? I didn’t know, but I thought it was noble, and, you know, wanted it to happen. But what though? Thankfully, my emotionally delusional days are over, and I’ve sobered up enough to  want to know what sustainability actually is, minus the imagery. I wanted something objective and  concrete. Now that, I quickly realized, was delusional: I found out about as many definitions of sustainability as there are ways to do it. Often, it is defined as the balance of people, planets and profits. But there’s something missing in this equation, something intrinsically bound up in the root of the word, sustain: time. Balancing people, the planet and profits becomes skewed when we do no think about the long-term. As someone probably told them, Monsanto, like almost every business involved in the business of food, needed to acknowledge sustainability. And let’s just say its approach sounded, well, familiar.

Theirs is a three-pronged message. The first two focus on increasing populations equaling increased food production (help us, Monsanto!), and the last one pledges, over the next 10 years, to help all “their” farmers, plus an extra five million people/contestants! It is among the many stabs at sustainability that makes one feel good without knowing why, and that should raise red flags.

So should the USDA definition, which fixates on efficiency and “enhancing.” Efficiency is code for corner-cutting and rationalization. And to enhance the environment? Hang on, doesn’t something have to be good and well before it can be enhanced? Be wary of vague interpretations of sustainability that prey on your lack of understanding.

I’m glad the DCFPC, a council that creates and promotes healthful and environmentally conscious food initiatives for Douglas County, has adopted a definition focused on the future, on maintaining and enduring. Because without a vision for tomorrow, a falling elephant is flying right up until it hits the ground, and we’ll start conserving when we need to—but not yet.

—Jacob Muselmann

6 Comments so far
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I am a bit confused by the Monsanto definition… they want to add 5 million what? -Kristina B.

P.S.- did you make your photo? It is beautiful!

Comment by kristinabev

It’s funny, because I am also confused by it. They say they will help five million extra “people in resource-poor farm families by 2020.” Which, without explanation, seems absurdly arbitrary. That agriyin-yang is purty and belongs on our state flag, and sadly I did not make it.

—Jacob M.

Comment by Ruby

I feel like the USDA definition is a cave to people who want to claim “greenness” without much work. The problem with the “time” aspect of real sustainability is that it implies patience, rightly called a virtue because most people simply don’t have it.
-Ben C.

Comment by bendcohen

I agree completely. I think it’s very easy to tout sustainability with a definition designed for the present. True sustainability, I imagine, would take decades to fully develop. It is a complex balancing act and it will take focused endurance to pull it off.

Comment by Kelly


I too have picked up on the point about the Tower of Babel around ‘sustainability’ and the whole industry and language that has emerged around it..rather than repeat everything, just drop in and have a look at my blog http://rippleseed.wordpress.com



Comment by rippleseed

As Paul Hawken (or maybe I’m thinking of Bill McDonough… it’s probably both of them) would say – Efficiency has no value unless it is part of an overall Effective system/approach.
Sustainability is often defined as meeting the needs of the present without comprimising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Monsanto (a.k.a. Monsatan) continues to rob the earth of its nutrients and fertility with the products they manufacture and market and the “food” they breed, not to mention the thousands of farmers whose livelihoods they have diminshed or reign over.

Comment by Tera

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