by Marion Nestle
Mar 5 2021

Weekend reading: Sustainability

Paul B. Thompson and Patricia E. Norris.  Sustainability: What Everyone Needs to Know.  Oxford University Press, 2020.


“Sustainability” is one of those terms that everyone uses but if you ask people to define it, you get a million different answers.  This book addresses that precise point, and I thought it was worth a blurb:

Sustainability is the hot buzzword these days.  Does it take a whole book to explain what it means?  Yes and how lucky we are to have it.  This is a book about how to think about what it takes to keep systems going.  The Q and A format makes difficult and contested concepts especially easy to follow.

As an example, here is an excerpt from the authors’ answer to the question, “Is sustainability just a passing fad?”

The solution to this problem [of thinking that sustainability goals are morally mandatory] is to recall the complexity created by interacting systems.  While an action can increase sustainability by making for efficient use of some resource, that action can have rebound effects that do just the opposite.  Sometimes the rebound is in systems (like the global climate system) that most of us do not understand in the first place.  Seeking sustainability requires you to remain faithful to the objective, even while you remain open to the possibility that any particular strategies might provide to be less effective than you originally thought, and sometimes they are just wrong altogether….”Sustainability is about being nimble, not being right”.  Put another way, we all, every one of us, still have a lot to learn.