One of the authors of this article sent me the link, and inasmuch as I'm always looking for blogfodder, I decided to give it a look. The title: Sustainability is a Waste / 10 Reasons to Oppose the Sustainability Movement on Your Campus. I suggest that the article contains a bit of waste itself, since several of its "Reasons" seem to overlap somewhat. But let's look at the whole thing and see what we find.

Here's the first one:

1. Sustainability is deceptive.
Sustainability is not just about practicing good stewardship of the environment. It is also a tool to advance progressive politics and ideology. The sustainability movement is a way for people with a hugely unpopular political program to get into positions of influence so that they can advance their cause despite lack of public support. On many campuses sustainability is marketed to students as saving energy and improving the environment, but turns out to involve projects that have nothing to do with the environment.

Let it be said that while the definition of "practicing good stewardship of the environment" is open to discussion, scarcely will you find anyone advocating bad stewardship, except for rhetorical effect. Which brings us to:

2. Sustainability is coercive.
Sustainability advocates assume that no one can legitimately disagree with their message. They therefore have no qualms about imposing their politics on students, faculty, and staff. If someone does disagree, they attack that person's motives and ignore his actual points.

This is a standard leftist operating mode, hardly unique to this movement. (From the right, the tendency is to attack character, to the extent that character can be detected.)

3. Sustainability is closed-minded.
Sustainability advocates put their hands over their ears and refuse to listen to people who point out contrary facts or who have different arguments. Sustainability in this sense is an ideology: it shuts out or explains away whatever doesn't fit with its premises.

This is essentially a restatement, at a different angle, of #2.

4. Sustainability is a pseudo-religion.
Some sustainability advocates tip over the edge of ideology into apocalyptic religion, complete with end-of-the-world scenarios, calls to repent, a new eco-morality, and worship of the Earth. This is a religion that misappropriates the ideas of "ethics," "justice," "social mandate," and "the right thing" to shame people into compliance.

For example, Michael Crichton pointed out nearly six years ago: "If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths. There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all."

5. Sustainability distorts higher education.
Sustainability advocates don't want to just add sustainability to the curriculum; they want to make it "the foundation of all learning and practice in higher education." How exactly does sustainability help you learn calculus, read Homer, or score well on the LSAT? College is also about preparing for adult responsibilities. How does making sustainability the foundation of higher education prepare you for those aspects of life not encompassed by recycling, green grocery bags, and compact fluorescent light bulbs?

The quotation comes from a mission statement, and outside political campaigns there is no more assiduous dispensing of platitudes, triteness and sheer bullshit than in mission statements. I submit that the scholars are giving it more credence than it deserves.

6. Sustainability shrinks freedom.
Sustainability advocates don't like free markets or personal liberty. They believe markets ignore long-term costs and people typically make bad choices. Instead of liberty, sustainability advocates praise "social justice" and "equitable distribution of resources" as the foundation of a sustainable society. These terms may sound nice but they point to governmental control over everyday life. Ultimately, the sustainability movement is about taking away your right to think and act for yourself.

Actually, people very often do make bad choices. A libertarian might say "And it's their responsibility to suffer the consequences of those bad choices." Statists, including some of your sustainability advocates, would prefer that no one be allowed to make those choices at all.

7. Sustainability tries to program you.
The proponents of sustainability aim to have "all students engaged as effective change agents in our sustainability challenges." This is another way of narrowing your education. Can't students simply be students? What if your goal is to learn something about the world before attempting to change it?

Again, another standard leftist operating mode (see #2).

8. Sustainability is anti-rational.
Some sustainability advocates we call them sustainatopians want to instill in students an emotional way of knowing the world that is "separate from the rational." Many of them believe the industrial revolution was a mistake and would like to move beyond reason and science in favor of a combination of intuition and empathy. That runs counter to the basic purpose of higher education.

A restatement of #4 and #5, with the addition of a buzzword. Points, though, for noting that intuition and empathy are opposites to reason and science, especially in an age where "the science is settled" or "there is a consensus," favorites of the warmenistas, have become buzzwords in their own right.

9. Sustainability bypasses the faculty.
Historically, college teachers have made the key decisions about what they teach. The sustainability movement on campus, however, took off when college administrators decided to push it. So far, 650 college presidents have signed a commitment to combat global warming and infuse sustainability into the curriculum.

This is called "assuring funding," and it's the primary goal of college presidents, irrespective of political concerns: were an Ivy president somehow persuaded that "his" endowment would be boosted by the long-term survival of Kentucky Fried Chicken, you'd be getting Original Recipe and Extra Crispy in the student union from that day forward.

10. Sustainability is wasteful.
Sustainability advocates pride themselves on taking the long view and minimizing waste. In fact the movement has a long history of extravagant and false predictions about natural resources, environmental perils, and the consequences of human actions. These predictions have resulted in vastly wasteful expenditures and diversions of human time and talent. Convincing college students to squander their opportunity for a real education is only the most recent example.

It wouldn't be the first time an idea and its putatively-associated movement had little to do with one another. (When it comes to walking the green walk, George W. Bush has it all over Al Gore, but truths of this sort are way too inconvenient.) Points, though, for tacking on a footnote with a reference to Paul Ehrlich, whose track record, prediction-wise, is down there with the world's worst; the fact that anyone listens to this man at all is clearly, to coin a phrase, "separate from the rational."

All in all, though, a reasonably-worthy effort, and I'm happy to give it some small promotion, despite its flaws.

The Vent

  8 September 2009

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 Copyright © 2009 by Charles G. Hill