Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Language of Sustainability: Why Words Matter

Here's a new post about the language of sustainability, "Why Words Matter", ironically authored by a fellow whose last name is 'Jabber'.

A few highlights:
In applying framing to the issues that many of us are typically dealing with, examples might include:

1. Change "natural resource management" to "regeneration of nature" or "natural resilience." "Management" reinforces a false sense that we know exactly what to do and how nature is going to respond to our actions. We clearly have a wealth of knowledge on work with natural processes, and it is clear that our actions very often have unintended consequences, to due to the complexities of natural systems. "Resource" conveys that nature is something to be used, rather than our life-support system. As alternative terms, even restoration, a decent improvement, doesn't conceptually support the dynamic ongoing process that is ecology, but, rather, restoring to some static state. Terms like regeneration and resilience better illustrate the end goal of re-establishing the capacity to adapt, flexibility, and ongoing processes that can evolve over time.

2. Change "proper stewardship" to "proper interaction" or "healthy relationship," for the same reason as the above. Our relationship with nature is rightly a dynamic, two-way relationship, and so we shouldn't communicate that we are managing or stewarding nature.

3. Provide context for "sustainability," in that it means the ability to continue into the indefinite future by respecting the Earth's ecosystems, its limits, and providing space for the other beings on the planet to exist. Otherwise, we create perverse concepts like sustainable growth, as if we can continue unlimited growth in the face of limits.

4. Change any language that implies economic growth is always good. In an economy predicated on unsustainable uses of nature, is economic contraction and recession necessarily bad? Or is recession a necessary correction guided by the laws of feedback? During this relatively serious recession of 2008 and 2009, these questions never entered mainstream media or politics in a significant way, yet are the real questions that we as a society need to work through.

Jabber then jibbers (sorry, couldn't resist) about the importance of using the right indicators to measure progress in achieving sustainability goals, and gets into a few good ones offered by Gil Friend.

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