The word sustainability is in many ways an outgrowth of the classical environmentalism of the 1960s, with its earliest roots in the concept of Sustained Yield Management, as advanced by the USDA in the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act, which defined sustained yield as the maintenance of high-level output of renewable resources (specifically forests), with no degradation of the land’s productivity. One critique of this definition given in class was that it seemed to equate sustainability with complete equilibrium, something rarely seen with life. The Brundtland Report introduced a broader idea of sustainability based on intergenerational equity—the idea that sustainable development involves meeting current needs while not compromising later ones. Additionally, the Brundtland Report emphasized the interconnected nature of current global crises and the necessity of vastly increased global equity. Though criticized by William Adams as offering only vague idealism regarding potential solutions to the global crises, the Brundtland Report was nevertheless important as an affirmation of the importance of a drastic change in how we view the role and nature of development.
Far less palatable to a capitalist audience than the ecodevelopment proposed by the Brundtland Report, the articles by Lynn White (“The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”) and Arne Naess (“The Shallow and the Deep, Long Range Ecology Movements”), and the Ecotopia excerpt all connected to the ideas of sustainability and development in rather radical ways. White argued that the basis of humanity’s ecological destructive development laid in the notion, generated by Christianity, of a hierarchical separation between man and nature, with man entitled to exploit nature for his own gain. Similar ideas, though lacking White’s focus on religion, permeated the Naess article and Ecotopia. Naess differentiated between shallow and deep ecology, the former being a concern about ecological degradation decreasing the standard of living for humans, and the later involving a total deconstruction of the distinction between humanity and the environment and the development of an ecological egalitarianism. Ecotopia used fiction to visualize a society which committed fully to these deep ecology views, treating trees as sacred and steadily decentralizing and depopulating so as to make human society reconnected with nature.
The ideals of deep ecology, ecospirituality and sustainability as expressed by the Brundtland Report all involve values far more complex and far-reaching than those behind the contemporary, locally-focused projects using sustainability as their buzzword of choice. In this way, the realm of “sustainability” shrinks to a local and shallow level. A common theme throughout these readings was that solving ecological problems requires a shift in public consciousness rather than just application of technologies considered “green”.