Peter Wood, formerly known for his work on diversity (and his book by that title), recently shifted his focus to what he deems diversity’s replacement: sustainability. In his October 3 Chronicle of Higher Education commentary, he wrote that:
Sustainability combines some astonishingly radical ideas with mere wackiness. Many sustainability advocates want to replace free markets (a source, as they see it, of unsustainable growth and exploitation) with some kind of pan-national rule with little scope for private property rights. On the other hand, sustainatopians also busy themselves with eliminating trays from cafeterias and attacking the threat of plastic soda straws. Sustainability thus unites vaunting political ambition and comic burlesque. Both are at odds with patient and open-minded intellectual inquiry.
His argument throughout the article seems to be that Americans (particularly college students) have a need to belong to a “cause” that gives them morals and a meaning. The diversity club ran its course, and has been replaced with “second-wave environmentalism,” a.k.a. our culprit, sustainability. His observations about campus culture and the eco-pop focus on sustainability may, in part, be accurate.
Those on the Porch, readers of Wendell Berry, or followers of some sort of stewardship ethic may well wish to contest the precision with which Wood is bantering the term “sustainability.” As a fad that focuses on the environment rather than on the natural order, it can be seen as well-meaning and misguided. There must be room in the discourse on sustainability, though, for those who argue for a rich natural order, in which the relationship of humankind to the rest of creation is of great importance.
What do we do? Link arms with the “sustainability” crowd in the hopes of sharing in their momentum, engage in vigorous discussions on the meaning of the term, or sit back with Wood and scoff at this next wave from the “left”?