Old habits die hard, even when new ways of thinking and doing are being either promised or claimed or assured. We are now in an era where we are buzzing the word “sustainable” at everything, anything, anyone, everyone. Few of us understand what this word really means but one thing is certain. Even before it has been fully understood, it is in danger of becoming stale and going the route of such words and phrases as green, conflict transformation, nation building, reconciliation, integration and good governance. The reason is quite easy to understand: we are attempting to market and promote something which we have understood but little and realized but less. Without knowing it, we are using the mechanisms of failed classical socioeconomics on a process that is the antithesis of it. Doing so, we are headed for a major disaster even before we start because a few pretty basic, pretty stupid things have happened to bring about this state of affairs.
The first is that there are quite a few people who have jumped on the sustainability bandwagon believing that it is an opportunity for profit. Even a person with marginal intelligence knows that sustainability is a process – an opportunity (if opportunity it is), to subsume one’s individualism within the collective consciousness and commonalities of a nation pulling together for the preservation, regeneration, enhancement and continuation of life. Many times over the last few years I’ve heard phrases such as “organics fetch a higher price so why don’t we try to position ourselves to tap those markets and use sustainability as our promotional slogan” or “if I can become the only manufacturer of natural fertilizer, I will be the don of the sustainable age”, or “if our products are accredited and certified there will be greater acceptance in global markets”. The rationale behind such thinking is easy: all that these people want to do is leverage any effort coming under sustainability to make … the least sustainable of all things…money. If a sustainability effort ends up with commandeered markets with just one fertilizer manufacturer, one rice mill, one fruit distributor, one soap maker, one physician know then that we have won nothing but lost much. All we would have done is created a new word for old nonsense. What must be understood is that in a sustainable world, profit is merely a collateral outcome of a process and not a primary goal. Financial gain is a happy positive but not an essential. The minute anyone thinks otherwise, we are back in the old humdrum of markets promoting sweet nothings to people desperate for hard somethings. Go this route and all we can hope to do is sustainably consume bitter dreams and dashed hopes.
The second is that quite a few people want bragging rights. The right to claim that they were the first and the best in pushing a community, a nation and region a planet towards sustainable living. Even a person who is not too smart will know that sustainability is a process so complex when set against the modern realities of the world that no single person can or should claim hero status for its establishment. They cannot. If they think they can, they have been guilty of oversimplifying the infinitely complex. By its very definition it is a process that requires very large numbers of very wise people to be given hands-off ownership of the process at any level, at every level. To do this, every individual, group, community should be allowed to do their thing the way they want to do that thing. Over time, these pockets will organically merge into common collectives. If anyone attempts the insanity of forcing them to adhere to this or that, vote for this or that, salute this or that, sign-in to this or that, they should understand then and there that the effort is doomed. If someone can do that, he doesn’t need to become the next leader of a nation to be respected for what he has done. She needn’t be looked upon as the great bountiful goddess of sustainability to feel a sense of worth. No. Just the simple, personal knowledge of having done something well, something durable, something sustainable is sufficient.
The third is that quite a few believe that sustainability can be achieved as quickly and as easily as flipping a switch. Sorry folks. If we want to do things quickly, easily, conveniently or politically, we might as well go back to the industrial era. That was an age where time was money. That was a time where IQ tests were devices to test how quickly people can do something not how well people can do it. That was an era where quality was measured by how many people bought something over ten days not on how good something was that they never had to replace it over the next ten years. It was a period where the next election determined the development cycle. The way of doing things sustainably is directly opposed to such tactics.
Sustainability takes time and it doesn’t care at all for individual agendas or fiefdom economics or party politics. It cannot be promoted to the human collective if it is not present exactly as claimed upon the ground. It will not tolerate failure or post-failure finger-pointing. It is not dependent on positive and hopeful slogans but on cold assessments of what is possible, probable and impossible when measured against social and temporal parameters. It takes care to exquisitely create things that are durable. It does not create things that have short sharp burst lifetimes and which hardly qualify as produce and products. It doesn’t do things in contravention of nature’s timetable just because the political timetable for delivering results is different. In the industrial era, politicians, businesspeople, civil agents, activists, media and researchers could and did lie through their teeth about what is good, what is bad, what is right, what is wrong, what is popular, what is not. They collectively fibbed, blatantly, on how well or how badly a country was governed or its security and happiness was assured. In the sustainable era, nobody can lie. If they do, then they get caught quickly because one of the key foundations of sustainability is to stop buying into lies be they lies on goods, services or politics. You see, the sustainable man cannot be fooled and to try to fool him is foolish.
So, let us take a step back and assess these things soberly. Let us be circumspect and thoughtful. Let us be considerate and careful. Let us not make age old mistakes in our attempts to curve out a new age for our children. Let us not try to commoditize sustainability and go the route of desiring gain, or fame or praise which will only result in pain for all. We cannot do that when we are trying to collectively overturn centuries long loss, shame and blame so that all will live content.
Let us understand that if we are shooting for the world, we must take a pass on the stars.