Pseustainability

Pseustainable is a composite word created from the greek root pseudo meaning false and the word sustainable, meaning a use model that does not damage or deplete a resource over time. Sustainability is frequently misused in environmentally conscious contexts to describe situations or technologies that are not really sustainable.

The classical definition of the adjective sustainable resembles something like: "A process or a practice that could be expected to be continued for an indeterminate length of time." In this sense, the word sustainable contrasts with words such as consumptive or depletion.

At some time in the 1990's the word sustainable was co-opted to describe any technologies or practices that required less resource consumption than those that were displaced. This new meaning of the word sustainable was not in keeping with the classical definition of the word as no consideration was given to the ultimate ability of the practice to endure beyond the immediate future. This new usage was often justified by the concept that in an interrelated system of resource consumptive practices any improvement led to a system of consumption that could endure for a longer period of time.

As of this writing, sustainable has been so carelessly misused to describe such a wide variety of topics that any of its original connotations have been diluted to meaninglessness. In this vacuum a new word, pseustainable has been introduced to refer to applications where an adjective is required, but sustainable is not and never was appropriate.

For example, suppose that the executive director of a "sustainable" living fair is asked whether consideration was given to move from a distant mountain home to a more urban or sub-urban location that is closer to the person's daily work and the answer is that the commute is not at all deleterious because the commute vehicle is fueled by 20% biodiesel. In this case, B20 could be called a psuestainable fuel. The long distance commuter might claim their fuel choice is sustainable even as it offers negligible mitigation of the impacts of basic life choices regarding resource use.

In the extreme, one may consider that current post-industrialized society is completely unsustainable (in the classical sense of the word) due to rapid resource depletion and the complete inability for self-administered cultural transformation. Under this assumption, practices that are truly sustainable are increasingly hard to find. Even the liberal connotation of "sustainable" - something that improves the longevity of a larger system - is unappropriate for any practice except those that might possibly avert or avoid becoming a root cause of social collapse.

That pseustainable has a cynical connotation recognizes the fact that practices which defer to simplicity, sacrifice and solidarity are rarely, if ever, mentioned by "sustainability" experts.

Sometimes a less harsh and cynical term is needed: one alternative is Shallow green.

Contains content from the Appropriate Technology Wiki Project.