Once sustainability seemed a rather edgy and challenging concept: messy and controversial, but also aspirational. Michael Jacobs pointed out in a memorable exchange with Wilfred Beckerman in Environmental Values in 1995 that sustainable development and sustainability were essentially ethico-religious terms, a bit like social justice or democracy. They expressed key ideas about how society (and the economy) should be governed, albeit in a way that skated over the intractable political ecology of wealth, power, consumption and environmental change.
It seems they are not like that any more. Everybody, from rock bands to corporations, claims to be green. The ‘green economy’ is booming, with banks and other businesses trading in everything from pollution permits to carbon derivatives. After the deeply disappointing ‘Rio+20’meeting in June 2012, seasoned observer Fred Pearce observed in New Scientist ‘this is how civilizations end … not with a bang but with a whimper’. Continue reading