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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

“Sustainability” Isn’t Sustainable

Not even in your dreams.

A number of college and universities have introduced “Sustainability Studies.” Of course, “sustainability” is just another term for environmentalism, but it exposes the mentality of the environmental movement very well. The idea is that unless we are forced use fewer resources, we will not be able to sustain our life on earth and humanity will disappear or at best face massive disaster.

So we have to introduce a number of things into our daily lives that will help us to “live green.” It all sounds good at the various rallies and “living green” meetings that are held regularly not only at our campus, but also at campuses all over the country. Students and others are told that they have to stop “wasting energy” and lower their “impact” by eating foods that pass political muster, and purchase goods that have the “sustainability” seal of approval.

What sounds good, however, often is not, and “sustainability” has become yet another scam – yes, scam – the statists have foisted on people in the name of saving humanity and planet earth. I will go even further: What is called “sustainability” is not even sustainable, not by a long shot. The irony is that the very implementation of “sustainable” policies will needlessly make life more difficult for everyone.

We are not even speaking about future events. The “food for fuel” mandates that are coming from governments around the world in the name of “sustainability” have helped drive up food prices and have worked real hardships on poor people. Moreover, food-based fuels, such as ethanol made from corn, are heavily subsidized and are imposed by government mandate.

Government is forcing individuals to do what they never would want to do on their own: pour a version of whiskey into their cars instead of drinking it.

Political Support

Not surprisingly, food-based fuels have a large constituency (although that constituency does not happen to include consumers of those fuels), and associated groups make political contributions and welcome rhetoric from politicians. For example, Newt Gingrich, who sounds like he’s running for the next year’s Republican presidential nomination, recently called for the government to mandate that all cars built in the United States be “flex-fuel,” enabling them to use ethanol.

Forcing consumers to purchase cars that they refuse to buy now only furthers our understanding of the intellectual bankruptcy and economic illiteracy that people like Gingrich promote. (Gingrich claimed that such a mandate would allow the ethanol industry to “stand on its own,” as though forcing Americans to use costly, inferior fuel would revitalize the U.S. economy, as he and others claim.)

The other darling of the sustainability movement is the building of thousands of electricity-generating windmills. Ironically, many environmentalists oppose these supposed “clean-energy” contraptions because they kill birds and change the landscape. Of course these projects also are heavily subsidized by government. But as electricity producers, they hardly are panaceas.

In 2009 President Barack Obama told Congress he would use “clean energy” to help “rebuild the economy.” Given that all the clean-energy pet projects seem to be subsidized, Obama was claiming that his government could bring about a recovery by giving huge subsidies to politically favored industries.

Economically, that is impossible. What Obama was saying was that he could rebuild a moribund economy by cannibalizing those still-healthy industries and transferring resources to those portions of the economy that never could stand on their own without government coercion.

Not only is that idea delusional, it also puts the government on an economic path that is unsustainable. Government can no more save the economy by destroying than the U.S. armed forces could save Vietnam by bombing it into the Stone Age.

While “sustainability” is little more than rhetoric, it is harmful rhetoric, as it carries the appeal to outright government coercion. Economically speaking, sustainability cannot sustain itself. Instead, it promotes a parasitic state that drains an economy – and its people – of energy and vitality.

  • Dr. William Anderson is Professor of Economics at Frostburg State University. He holds a Ph.D in Economics from Auburn University. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.