Sustainability – Is It Possible? Do We Even Know What It Is?

I am a staunch proponent of clean technology, or recycling, reusing and eliminating any possible activities that prove toxic to our lives and to our planet. I believe that these feelings are common to all of us. After all, nobody purposely creates a life for themselves and intentionally ventures out to create as much pollution, contamination and waste as they possibly can. We all want a safe, clean, healthy environment to live in. Accordingly, we have adopted the buzzword “sustainability” Not only have adopted this buzzword but we have become, in my opinion, obsessed with it. So much so that sometimes think that we will do just as much harm to ourselves in our quest for sustainability as we would do if we simply continued on in our formerly oblivious and self-centered manner.

As a man of science, I have observed two disturbing behaviors that I believe are leading us down a path that is no better than we were decades ago. First, there is a growing fraternity to condemn any industrial process that generates a toxic or undesirable waste product. Science, however, dictates that the generation of waste is an integral part of nature. Secondly, much of our striving for sustainability is rooted in a political agenda as opposed to a technically sound plan for doing the right thing.

As an example, our political environment has us falling in love with solar energy. While solar energy indeed has a place, the reality is that the manufacturing of solar panels is a profound producer of toxic waste, water contamination, and resource depletion. Forgetting for a moment the abundance of silicon, we must realize that this process requires electroplating, and the harvesting of metals for batteries, controls, and other components. The making of panels consumes what are called Rare Earth minerals, and metals such as copper, lead, zinc, germanium, nickel, and other metals. These metals help generate a wastewater classified as F006 EPA regulated waste.

The point I want to make is that our concept of sustainability probably needs to change  Part of my belief is that our concept of sustainability is arrogant and self-centered. Oh, we want to do the right thing but we also still want our high-tech cars, appliances, buildings, and other spoils of the modern world we live in. The reality, however, is that no matter how much we conserve, invent and sustain, the way natural resources are found on our planet is constantly changing. As we consume more, our resources become less concentrated in the Earth and more concentrated in the products that we love.

Life 100 years from now may look a lot less high-tech and modern as we envision. We may see a return to simpler, more regional, pastoral times, with only a blending of the high tech, international exchanges, and travel that we see today.If our concept of sustainability encompasses a vision of maintaining life as we know it today I believe we are going to be in for a rude awakening.

I think we should start replacing the word “sustainability” with the phrase, “responsible behavior.” I believe we should focus on doing the right thing and letting the future take care of itself.