I promised Dave that I would read with an open mind, and I have not read any other reviews than his (and the blurbs on the back of the book!), but my openness was challenged in the first chapter of the book. It just doesn’t start well.
In Chapter 1, Dr. Moore starts off by defining “sustainable development”. This is a good idea, as it is a term bandied about too much by people with little understanding of what it means. It is currently a sexy buzz phrase used by a lot of people who have never understood (or cared about) the definition.
The problem is, Dr. Moore immediately dismisses the definition used by people who work in sustainability: the standard-model definition and, unfortunately, the one most commonly ignored by people who are misusing the term. That being the definition from Brundtland Report. Dr. Moore immediately tosses it aside and replaces it with a definition that fits his needs.
Brundtland Report: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
Dr. Moore: “Sustainable development requires that we continue to obtain the food, energy, and materials necessary for our civilization, and perhaps even increase these resources in developing countries, while at the same time working to reduce our negative impacts on the environment through changes in behaviour and changes in our technologies” (Pg. 14)
The second definition is fine, full of great ideas and feelings, but it is, unfortunately, not a definition of sustainability.
It is like I start my book about American actresses by describing Uma Thurman as the greatest actress of our generation. Then I decide the definition of Uma Thurman as “the star of the Kill Bill Films” is not a very good definition. Instead, I like to define Uma Thurman as “That woman from Kramer vs. Kramer and the Bridges of Madison County who has 2 Academy Awards from 16 nominations”. That definition makes my argument that Uma is the greatest actress of our time much more compelling, doesn’t it?
Although Dr. Moore’s definition contains many soft environmental ideals that we should probably strive towards (as loaded with weasel words as it is), it does not define “sustainable development” the way it is used by anyone other than Dr. Moore. At best, it is one small aspect of “sustainable development”; at worst, it is a dodge of the real issues raised by limited resources on a consumption-growth based economy. It also completely misses the point that sustainability is not an “environmental” concept any more than it is a social and economic one.
I don’t think the problem with “sustainable” is its overuse, but rather its common use in a way that does not relate to the actual definition of the word. As such, it is indistinguishable from “green” or “environmentally friendly” or “clean” or other popular marketing words. I am a believer (as are most scientists) that strict definition of terms is as important to political discussion as it is to technical discussion. Dr. Moore makes the problem of fuzzy definition worse in Chapter 1 when he invents a new definition for the term.