Kathryn-Louise Meng* - Clark University
Sustainability continues to grow as a powerful ideological project, yet the 'revolutionary' notion of sustainability has evolved into a potentially 'regressive' ideology. Sustainability is materially and discursively constructed, as such it can be co-opted. Political, economic, and social processes operate on and through sustainability. Though a variety of discourses on sustainability exist, the mainstream notion of sustainability appears to be heavily entrenched in capitalist ideologies, focusing as always on consumption and continued economic growth. Sustainability and capitalism can be understood as mutually reinforcing. Capitalism drives the need for sustainability, and sustainability can be viewed as a third (green) industrial revolution, providing fuel for 'new' infrastructural and commodity production. Though 'radical' critiques are tempting, there may be greater utility in the development of a simplified framework for understanding sustainability. This paper situates sustainability in a reduced form model that accounts for both biophysical inputs and political economic structures. The mutual reinforcement of sustainability and capitalism is elucidated through feedbacks. I discuss the potential for such models to mainstream 'radical' critiques, paralleling such theoretical incorporation with the incorporation of human-environment approaches in frameworks for vulnerability analysis. If models were harnessed so as to incorporate structural critiques, would they help to foster an expansion of contemporary policy discourse, change the questions asked, and alter that which is seen as policy relevant?