Thinking in terms of sustainability is better than not taking the impact of our actions on our environment seriously, but I think there is a subtle and important fault in looking at the relationship this way. Having grown up in an industrial capitalist economy, most of us unconsciously accept "the economy" as an irreducible something on which we depend for our survival. For those of us who live in the cities and suburbs our direct relationship to nature is limited by our way of living and working where we spend most of our time in industrially produced enclosures and buy our food in stores instead of growing it on our land. The natural world from this perspective is seen as useful and, if you are supporter of sustainability, worth preserving to one degree or another. At the core of the sustainability meme there is a failure to step back and evaluate the premise of sustainability and appreciate that one side of the equation is an arbitrary social construct, "the economy", and the other, nature, is unavoidably real. In addition to equating something that is real with an arbitrary human social construct the idea gets the dependencies wrong, "the economy" depends on nature.
Here is part of the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability entry on sustainability as a point of reference for further analysis
Though relatively new, the term "sustainability" has already proved useful. Sustainability discourse is discussion of how to make human economic systems last longer and have less impact on ecological systems, and particularly relates to concern over major global problems such as climate change and oil depletion. More useful than discussion, however, is to find ways to make some unit of economic production, a business firm, a family household, a farm, more sustainable.
So here we have the dilemma stated clearly. What is to be sustained is the economic activity. Why should we start the discussion there? When starting from a sustainability frame, there is an inherent assumption that it makes sense to start there. There is also an implicit valuation of economic activity, as it currently exists, placing it on an even, or more critically, superior footing, when contrasted to "the environment". A better starting point for addressing the interaction between human activity and the rest of the natural environment is to begin at the base of the structure, the existence of life on Earth.
If you substitute the word livability for sustainability the focus shifts to the base of life as a starting point for the discussion. This is important because the assumptions in the starting point of any discussion set the scope of the possible ideas that are seen as relevant to the topic. Starting with livability as the base on the human side does not exclusively focus on economic activity and there is an implicit unity between humankind and the living environment of which we are a part. The question then becomes how do we best use the technical and systems power we have to enhance livability. Livability is inherently unitary because it can include all living creatures and plants and all that sustains them and makes living well possible.
Starting from a livability perspective also expands the boundary of the discussion from inherent acceptance of the purpose of the current economic system. So now issues of social well-being, justice, and equity can be raised along with the concern that we find a way of living well as a very powerful species within the framework of the natural world.
Another quote from the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability article on sustainability.
To assist in this, it is meaningful, and pragmatic, to speak of some practices being "more sustainable" or "less sustainable." Thus energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs might be considered more sustainable than incandescent ones, and so on. Given the science, it is more apt to talk of moving "towards sustainability," or away from it. Sustainability advocates would argue that this kind of discourse helps inform debate about human impacts on planet Earth.
When we find ourselves forced into talking of more sustainable and less sustainable we are operating from the absurd premise that the economy could exist independent of nature as if it were possible. I do not want to be a ?sustainability advocate? anymore than I want to be a ?consumer?, I want to be a livability activist. As http://africanhistory.about.com/od/bikosteve/p/qts_biko.htm Stephen Biko, the South African anti-apartheid activist eloquently wrote, in a speech in Cape Town, 1971
"The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."
.To bring about the change we deeply want and know is right we must liberate our minds. Choosing words that communicate the meanings you intend is a part of the process and livability works for me.
Dictionary.com defines livability as,
Suitable for living in; habitable; comfortable: It took a lot of work to make the old house livable
Now that I have liberated myself from the shackles of sustainability language and found a word that allows me freedom of thought and expression, I am free to think, speak, and act as an advocate for livability. Now I have a purpose, enhancing livability, that is not constrained by modern, Milton Freidman, economics. It will be a lot of work to create an economy that uses our incredible extra-biological power to serve the ends of livability, but lets open the Overton Window http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window all the way up and let that be our goal.
Our economic and political systems should be structured to fit within the interconnected respiratory systems that transfer the energy required for life between various entities and levels of our living world. Our systems are all related to land use, shelter, agriculture, water, energy, and atmosphere, because the process of life is a dynamic dance of mutually beneficial exchange (respiration) across semi-permeable boundaries.
The system of the breath on the level of biology and consciousness is a self replenishing system operating within the context of the larger planetary self replenishing systems. Breathing in air by creating a pressure differential between the air in the lungs and air outside due to the physical structure of the boundaries of the lung and diaphragm. The function of the semi-permeable boundaries of the alveoli allow o2 to move through the semi-permeable boundaries of the red blood cell, transfer of nutrient material from and to red blood cell from other cells, expulsion of air transferring co2 from the cell through the alveoli back into the atmosphere.
The atmosphere then breathes via all plants, animals, water, rock etc. Consciousness breathes by participative witnessing of the physical human breath and perception of energy. The process of the human breath can be viewed from various perspectives; spiritual, emotional, perceptual & neuro chemical processes, all of which are interrelated and provide for the mutually beneficial exchange of life supporting energy/matter across the boundaries that define the various living and non living entities in our world. The awareness of mutually beneficial exchange across semi-permeable boundaries is what I call love.