OOS 9-9 - Sustainibility, censorship and unholy left-right alliances

Tuesday, August 7, 2012: 10:50 AM
A105, Oregon Convention Center
Stuart H. Hurlbert, Biology, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA

It is impossible to underestimate the scientific community’s role over the past half century in delaying our progress toward an economically and environmentally sustainable world. There have been prophets. There have been marvelous technical contributions by individuals. But scientific establishments themselves have often not only hindered such contributions but also forestalled their potential positive influence in the political sphere. Scientists are quick to see certain vociferous and powerful religious and political factions as the main obstacles to sustainability. These are obstacles but pitifully small ones compared to certain pathologies within our own subculture. I refer to widespread censorship, especially on matters relating to national population policies or lack thereof.  


Among early contributions to the science of sustainability were two in the year 1972: Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren’s formulation of the famous I=PAT equation, based on an idea from Barry Commoner, and Jack Vallentyne’s less well-known but perhaps even more valuable D-index which ca be used to calculate rough “consumption adjusted population sizes.” During the 1980s, the flowering of the field of ecological economics took place, under the leadership of people like Robert Costanza and David Pimentel. The UN-commissioned Brundlandt Report (1987) achieved some international agreement on sustainability matters but left the biggest problems unresolved. In 1989 Garrett Hardin pointed out that “there is no global population problem” but rather 180 national population problems, each of which required, first of all, decisions and actions taken in and by a sovereign state. These are some of the foundations of the strong sustainability movement (SSM) where population reductions in most or all countries have been understood to be highly desirable.

The SSM is antithetical to the population-oblivious sustainability-lite movement (SLM). The SLM is exemplified by a large number of recent and not-so-recent actions (and inactions) by the leadership of the ESA, the AAAS, the White House Science Office, and every university-based sustainability program in the US. A number of these actions will be detailed, starting with the self-censorship on population by authors of ESA’s Sustainable Biosphere Initiative. The attempted takeover of the SSM by the SLM is a process widely applauded by the Democratic Party, Republican Party, Libertarian Party, Socialist Party, US Chamber of Commerce, all building industry associations, manufacturers of earth-moving equipment, the Catholic Church, Latter Day Saints, land speculators, and The Wall Street Journal. So long as your happy with that bunch of allies…. Just sayin’.