“The Fashionable Oxymoron of ‘Sustainable’ Development”

A reader sent me a link to the article below and it was so powerful that I am reprinting the entire piece for my readers. It was written by University of Georgia Professor Emeritus R. Harold Brown, an Adjunct Professor with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and permission is granted for my use of the material on their website here.

The Fashionable Oxymoron of ‘Sustainable’ Development

By Harold Brown

What is so attractive about concepts that defy definition? The concept du jour is “sustainable,” a fashionable adjective for many objectives, an umbrella for many agendas.

“Sustainable” development is the ecologist’s goal, the new urban trend, the green way to build. A “sustainable” world is the promise of salvation for future generations. The U.N. Millennium Declaration (2000) states, “The current unsustainable patterns of production and consumption must be changed in the interest of our future welfare and that of our descendants.” The U.N. 2005 World Summit Outcome contained some form of the word “sustain” 58 times in 38 pages.

Yale and Columbia university centers, which jointly rank countries for environmental “sustainability,” put the United States between Armenia and Myanmar in 2005.

But what does it mean? What are we trying to sustain?

Webster’s Collegiate dictionary has eight meanings for “sustain.” The first is “to keep in existence.” Neither this nor any of the others suit the adjective now tied to environment and development. Sustainable development is an oxymoron. A developed property is not sustained. It’s changed. Development is not meant to keep things the same.

So, is “change” the facilitator or the antagonist of sustainability? If “sustainability” means changing a practice to maintain an existing enterprise, the possibilities are endless and the concept useless. The horse and carriage were changed by eliminating the horse.
The carriage (and a way of life) was improved. Was it sustained or eliminated? That’s the problem: “Sustainability” can justify any course of action if defined carefully.

A Web site for the federal Environmental Protection Agency explains that widespread use of “sustainability” started with “Our Common Future,” a 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. That report defined sustainable development as, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This presumptive definition requires knowledge of the needs of future generations. The notion is ridiculous that we can manage the resources of future generations. Thinkers of five generations ago would have wished for a better horse and buggy or a quieter steam engine.  Had the “sustainability” experts gone to work to forego fossil fuel to “save  the earth,” today’s world would be more impoverished than we can imagine.

Five generations ago, nothing was known  about the potential of petroleum fuels. Today, we know nothing about the fuels five generations hence. It is arrogant and pretentious to claim to know the  needs and limitations of our great-grandchildren’s grandchildren. We ought to  practice preparing this generation for the next, not by teaching and preaching  “cutting back” or “status quo.” Respect future generations enough and advocate  not fear of the future but the noble — and proven — knowledge that humans  have almost limitless potential for innovation to cope in a world of endless  opportunities and possibilities.

Hundreds of developments would be  pronounced “unsustainable” if human ingenuity and innovation were discounted. Take two old examples of coping with the sea. Today’s environmentalists would  scoff at dikes like those on the Netherlands coast begun over a thousand years  ago, but some of the best farmland and 60 percent of the population are behind  those dikes. They would be equally aghast at Venice, Italy, building on wooden  pilings in salt-marsh, beginning 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. These audacious
humans would be mocked by modern ecologists, who are convinced that the sea is  rising at its fastest rate since the last ice age. These two developments are  not “sustainable” by current usage of the word. Yet the Dutch and Venetians  have “sustained” them, securing their future by coping, not by cutting back.  And human ability to cope has advanced dramatically since the Dutch polders  were built and Venice was raised.

Global-warming alarmists stress havoc  from more and stronger hurricanes now and in the future. But 81 percent of all  U.S. deaths from hurricanes occurred before 1930. And the South Atlantic and  Gulf coastal counties’ population is almost seven times the 1930 number.

If “sustainability” is leaving  resources unused for future generations, shut down the industries now.  Thousands of generations will presumably follow. Just how much cutting back now  will satisfy them later?

Humans are infinitely better  qualified today to cope with the world because of our exploitation of resources  as opposed to cutting back, sustaining the “way of life” of previous centuries.  The “sustainability” mindset would have us “maintain” a way of life that pays a
dubious debt to the future. If sustainability means anything about providing for future generations, cutting back is not the way. The answers lie in education, freedom and the inspiration to cope.


University of Georgia Professor  Emeritus R. Harold Brown is an Adjunct Scholar with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and author of “The Greening of Georgia: The Improvement of the Environment in the Twentieth Century.” The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation
(October 3, 2008). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.

I would like to thank Professor Brown for wriitng this insightful article and allowing me to share it with my readers.

I smell a rat…

This afternoon I checked the mail and found a flyer under my mailbox that was offensive… and I smelled a rat. The flyer used repulsive and inflammatory language to describe people who are currently trying to rezone land in our neighborhood for the Amana Academy charter school.

But there is something fishy about that flyer. It doesn’t pass the sniff test. It smells like a rat.

The note is purportedly from a group identified as the “Milton County Tea Party Patriots Citizens Council”. Why would a group name themselves after a county that doesn’t exist? They wouldn’t. There is no such group.

According to Google there is not one single mention of such a group anywhere on the web and there is no such group identified on the Teapartypatriots.org website. I pay pretty close attention the political groups and figures around Alpharetta and not once has anybody ever mentioned the existence of such a group.

So what would be the purpose of distributing an inflammatory flyer and attributing it to a group that doesn’t exist? Could it be an attempt to get the attention of all the Federal Department of Justice investigators who have swarmed into Alpharetta looking for signs of prejudice after last year’s mosque case?

Perhaps. It would certainly make sense. Obama’s minions have been swarming around Alpharetta like killer bees looking for any evidence they can find to prove how racist these North Fulton conservatives are. What better way to get their attention than to distribute an offensive flyer and attribute it to the Tea Party?

I do know some people that oppose having the Amana Academy dropped on their doorstep. Some of those people also opposed the Windward Mill project, The Metlife project and the subsidized senior housing project. But none of the people I have spoken to would ever be associated with the stuff circulated in our neighborhood today. In fact the people that object to the school zoning on reasonable, legal grounds had previously expressed fear that something like this would be used to discredit them because it only serves to offend people in our community.

So that leads me to two possible conclusions.

The first possibility is that there really is a lone nutjob out there stupid enough to think name calling and making up groups would help stop the school zoning. That rules out anyone around here that has voiced opposition to the school because they know this will hurt their cause. It also rules out anyone around here smart enough to tie their own shoes because you would have to be an absolute moron to think such a flyer would help your cause in Windward. But it is possible that such a person does exist so I can’t rule it out.

On the other hand the flyer could have been distributed by a person or group of people that thought distributing such material and falsely attributing it to a Tea Party organization would achieve some other goal. Perhaps smearing legitimate zoning opponents, drawing media attention, influencing lawsuits or attracting the Justice Department.

I don’t know and probably never will know who distributed the flyer in my mailbox today. It could have been one dumb person or a conniving opportunist with a hidden agenda. But based on personal experience I’d say the conniving opportunists in Alpharetta outnumber the people dumb enough to pull a stunt like that by about 1404 to 1.

I smell a rat.

P. S. I hope that if anyone knows the real source of the flyer send me a note.

So how’s that liberalism working out for you Charlotte?

A few months ago Kyle Wingfield of the AJC wrote a column about the unhealthy habit many Atlantans have developed of pointing to Charlotte, North Carolina as an example of what we need to do here. Below is a sample:

One thing I’ve noticed since moving back to Georgia is how many people here spend an inordinate amount of time fretting about North Carolina, and specifically Charlotte. They’re building high-speed rail in North Carolina. They’re building light rail in Charlotte. They’re spending more money on incentives to lure businesses. They just landed the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

(Notice how many of the supposed superiorities in our northern neighbor concern left-wing causes; you don’t hear much about North Carolina leading the way in cutting red tape or privatizing inefficient state-government functions.)

******************

A little background: Even with things going so swimmingly in North Carolina — at least according to some people here in Georgia — the state’s voters just saw fit to turn out the majority party (the Democrats) in both chambers of the legislature. It’s the first time the state’s senate has been out of Democratic control since 1870.

And now a few facts that may help explain the political upheaval:

  • During the 2009 through 2012 fiscal years, North Carolina has had bigger budget shortfalls than Georgia all four years in absolute terms, and in three of the four years as a percentage of the state’s budget. This year, their budget shortfall is projected at $3.8 billion to our $1.7 billion.
  • North Carolina’s unemployment rate, at 9.8 percent, is just about the same as our 10.2 percent.
  • North Carolina was cited by the Tax Foundation as having one of the nation’s 10 worst business tax climates; Georgia is in the middle of the pack at No. 25.

The reason I bring this up again is that this weekend I saw an interesting post about Charlotte’s Mecklenberg county on Twitter:

House hunting in SC 2day. Our property taxes going up $2000 next year. $2000 tax increases might be fine in NJ & CA. Bye, bye MeckCo & #CLT

So a metro Charlotte resident is going to move across state lines because their taxes just went up $2000 a year in a horrible economy? Huge tax increases in Charlotte? That couldn’t be right… could it? Well it is according to a blogpost titled Our 6.3% Property Tax Increase:

By the time you read this our top elected local Socialist – I’m writing of course about Jennifer Roberts –  will have graciously presented you with a 6.3% property tax increase. We now have a property tax rate of $.8166 per $100 of accessed property. A revenue neutral rate would have been $.7678 per $100. This 6.3% increase will soak you for another $50 MILLION. For some reason the percentage increase was never mentioned by that bastion of journalistic integrity – The Charlotte Observer – in their breathless advocacy for the tax increase prior to Tuesday’s budget vote by the BOCC.

If you live in Charlotte (85% of Mecklenburg County residents) you have already been the highest taxed individual in North Carolina for the past ten years.In the FY 2009 budget year (last available statistics), Charlotteans were clipped on average $2,360. The median average in North Carolina was $1,304. That’s a mere 44% difference if you’re mathematically inclined. Thanks to Roberts, you are padding your lead.

One of the leading bastions of liberalism in the Southeast is now raising taxes during an economic depression because they have to pay for the expensive policies that many influential Atlantans want to duplicate. Makes me glad I live in Alpharetta, Georgia. My property taxes will actually decrease this year.

So how’s that liberalism working out for you Charlotte?

Congratulations Mr. Lowery you did it. Now it’s time to put the deck of race cards away.

The referendum on Georgia’s transportation tax increase won’t be on the ballot for more than a year but the Reverend Joseph Lowery is already playing his race card. In writing about the process surrounding the transportation project selection Mr. Lowery writes:

Originally, the committee was composed of all white men, mostly from the suburbs. This glaring imbalance prompted Rep. David Ralston, Speaker of the state House of Representatives, to intervene and request that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed be added to the executive committee.

The painful truth is that Ralston, a white Republican from the north Georgia mountains, should not have been involved in such a local issue.

It’s also telling that other committee members failed to recognize that they did not reflect the region’s diverse demographics. It certainly was obvious to many average citizens in Fulton, DeKalb or the City of Atlanta, who collectively represent 40 percent of the vote within the 10-county region.

A similar misstep was brought to light by Mayor Reed last month. During a meeting of the Regional Roundtable, Reed pointed out that a team of consultants selected to manage the $5 million referendum campaign is also exclusively composed of white men.

You can read Mr. Lowery’s column here.

Of course the appearance of the race card during the transportation tax debate isn’t the only time Mr. Lowery has used it lately. Just a few months ago the news broke that the Reverend filed a lawsuit to dissolve cities in the state of Georgia because of he believes the incorporation of the cities were racist acts. You can read about that issue here.

It is sad to see a man with such a proud history stuck in the past. I have spent nearly 5 decades living in Georgia and I remember how things used to be. I am also well aware of the role that Mr. Lowery played during the civil rights movement. I respect what he did and I am grateful that my children will never be exposed to the kind of racism Mr. Lowery fought.

But with all due respect, this is 2011 and the world is not the same as it was in the 1950’s and 60’s. Children born today are 50 years removed from the segregationist policies that Mr. Lowery fought so valiantly. The vast majority of young white people think of segregation as something that might as well have happened in the stone age.

I am 46 years old and the Civil Rights Act was passed before I was born. People born today are farther removed from institutionalized racism than I was from the Great Depression and the depression seemed like ancient history when grown ups talked about it back then.

Time moves on… so do societies. Leaders need to move on as well.

I’m not saying that racism has been wiped off the face of the Earth any more than greed, lust or avarice have. But the world of 2011 is nearly a half a century removed from the racism that the Reverend Joseph Lowery is still fighting. Someone needs to help him understand that he tarnishes his place in history by continuing to fight battles that are already won. Incorporating a city and raising the taxes on every Georgian are policies we can debate but that does not make them racist acts.

Congratulations Reverend Lowery. You did it. Racism may not be extinct but it has been vanquished. It’s time to put the deck of race cards away.

‘Why Don’t We Just Spend Three Times as Much?’

Nationalreview.com has a great article about the futility of increasing government spending to solve America’s societal problems. In this case the example is an exchange between President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the Senate Budget Committee today, in large part to defend the massive increases in education spending that have occurred under President Obama (68 percent, including the stimulus). In his 2012 budget, Obama calls for an 11 percent increase in spending on education.

Sen. Jeff Session (R., Ala.), ranking Republican, pointed out that when it comes to education, more spending doesn’t necessarily produce better results. Case in point:

Spending per student — South Korea: $8,000; United States: $12,000.

International ranking (reading, math) — South Korea: 1st, 1st; United States: 14th, 25th.

After Senator Sessions pointed out that just spending more money didn’t lead to better results the Secretary of Education persisted in trying to justify more money. Senator Sessions finally responded,”Why don’t we just spend three times as much? Won’t that just help us fix it all?”

Senator Sessions is right. Both of my children attend public schools and a 68% increase in education spending hasn’t improved their education one bit. Neither would another 167 billion dollars. The problems with our educational system are structural and societal and no amount of spending will change that.

You can read the whole thing here.

When your adversary is making a fool of himself, get out of the way

Kyle Wingfield had another great column in the AJC this week about the unhealthy obsession many Georgians have with what is going on in North Carolina. It is a great article and it I have noticed the same phenomenom.

To put it simply there are a lot of liberals in Georgia that are constantly harping about the way Charlotte, NC is beating us to the punch in adopting liberal policies. Of course many of these policies are currently driving the states of California, Illinois and New York into bankruptcy but that doesn’t seem to worry them as much as the possibility of Atlanta without more trains.

You can read all of Kyle’s column here.

Lyndon Johnson once said “When your adversary is making a fool of himself, get out of the way”. I hope Georgia’s political leaders heed that thought.

Things I learned from Atlanta Progressive News

You may recall that last year the Clayton County Commission eliminated that county’s public transportation network, C-Tran. At the time you could hear the ululating of the transit advocates (the fact that people identify themselves as advocates for a mode of transportation amazes me) as they mourned the loss of a public transportation system regardless of the fiscal justification.  

So I tried to find evidence that Clayton County has suffered a negative economic consequence from a lack of public transportation. I can’t find a single shred of evidence that the county did the wrong thing. If any of you have evidence one way or another I would love to see it. I have no doubt that it was inconvenient for some people to arrange for their own transportation needs without government subsidies but I can’t find any empirical evidence which proves that eliminating C-Tran was a bad economic decision for the county.

What I did find was that after C-Tran was eliminated the Clayton County voters passed a non-binding resolution asking the county to join the MARTA system. I am sure there must have been some news coverage of the vote but I missed it and only learned of the referendum when I stumbled across an article on the Atlanta Progressive News website. The article says that the voters passed a resolution to raise the county’s sales tax by one percent and then use the money to buy into the MARTA system. Who knew? It is amazing what you can learn from the interwebs.

For example I also learned that Sonny Perdue served as governor for 10 years. I always thought the former governor served two 4 year terms but according to someone identified only as Biola, ” There’s been a complete lack of leadership for the last ten years under Perdue.” That rascally Perdue. Who knew he was neglecting transportation needs even during the last two years of the Roy Barnes administration?

But that’s not all. I also learned that Clayton County residents will be paying up to $35 million dollars in additional sales tax if the MARTA tax were passed. And that the voters have been lead to believe that $35 million dollars is enough to extend train service as well as buses into their county. That seems odd since Fulton County residents have paid billions of dollars into the MARTA system for 3 decades but the trains still don’t go into much of the county. But if transit advocates say so it must be true. Of course $35 million dollars would barely cover 10% of MARTA’s yearly operating deficit but why quibble over details.

Another thing I learned from APN is that even transit  advocates don’t expect the state’s proposed transportation tax increase to pass in 2012. The singularly named Biola reportedly also said, “he doubts the regional transportation sales tax is going to pass in 2012 in Metro Atlanta, given the difficulty of finding agreement on a project list between progressives in Atlanta and Tea Party elements in other counties.” I have to concede that Biola may have a point on that one. Those darn tea partiers just keep getting in the way every time some glorious government spending initiative comes up for an actual vote. That’s why SRTA had to pass the toll extension on GA 400 without one.

Well I think I’ve learned enough for one day but there is plenty more at AtlantaProgressiveNews.com if you want to check it out for yourself. And if you have that much time on your hands you may want to check out my previous blogposts regarding MARTA. They are listed under the MARTA category on the right side of the GA Jim home page.