Sustainable Development or Sustainable Evolution?

Let’s face it: “Sustainable development” is a euphemism for “sustainable growth”, and there’s no such thing. When is the growth of a tumor sustainable? When is the growth of a bird flu epidemic sustainable? When is the growth of organized crime sustainable?

Sustainability means being able to sustain a certain process at a certain level indefinitely. Sustainable economic growth would mean being able to sustain a certain rate of growth indefinitely. But on a finite planet, there is no rate of growth that can be sustained indefinitely. This is no mystery, and it’s not news.

But how can a society survive without economic growth? And what is sustainable, if economic growth is not?

Actually, the answer is very simple. Societies evolve, indefinitely, until they destroy themselves or are destroyed by others. So what’s wrong with seeing sustainability in terms of sustainable evolution instead of sustainable growth? Evolution does not automatically entail growth — it only entails adaptation to new sets of circumstances and hopefully an improvement in the way of life provided by the evolving society.

So what would sustainable evolution involve? In one sense, that’s what this blog is all about. You can see the bits and pieces of sustainable evolution by scanning down the list of categories:

  • Rigid bureaucracy, either corporate or governmental, cannot be part of sustainable evolution because it tends to prevent evolution in the first place. We expect to see more and more adhocracies spring up in its place.
  • Unchecked damage to the environment cannot be part of sustainable evolution because there are limits to how much damage the environment can absorb before the entire society is in danger.
  • Relying on non-renewable resources for energy, food and everything else cannot be part of sustainable evolution because non-renewable resources cannot be extracted at a sustained level indefinitely.
  • Taking a monetized view of health care cannot be part of sustainable evolution because human well-being does not have a dollar value — institutions that attempt to give it one will necessarily fail to provide a sustainable level of health to members of society.
  • Obfuscated governance and law enforcement cannot be part of sustainable evolution in a democracy that is supposed to be governed by the people because tyrannies always fail. We expect to see much more transparency in government, including law enforcement, as the members of society become increasingly networked with each other and with each other’s information.

So anytime you encounter the term “sustainability” or “sustainable development”, remember that growth cannot be the long-term answer. Ask yourself how we should evolve, not how we should metastasize.

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