Sustainability is Not Only About Humans

Recently, the Globe and Mail gave Canada’s colleges significant, welcome publicity. But the marketing program labeled “sustainability” is questionable. Policies, teaching and research in the colleges that is flagged “sustainability” actually only addresses reducing negative human impacts on our natural ecosystems. These college programs are about damage prevention, not sustaining our natural riches or the vital processes of our semi-natural ecosystems.


Truly stated, sustainability means sustaining the vital processes of ecosystems, not just damage control. Certainly, the “green” activities of the college programs can eventually have beneficial effects on our ecosystems but as promoted, their effects are evaluated only with reference to effects on humans and anthropogenic activities.


Programs that target sustaining global ecological systems would also need to address systems and variables that are difficult to evaluate using current economic models. The “sustainability” programs of the colleges do not address issues such as the release of methane into the atmosphere by changes in land use in the boreal forest. The role of seed-eating rodents in controlling future types and distribution of vegetation types is unlikely to be considered although it is known capable of affecting “sustainability”. Nor do the college programs address the proper role of aesthetics in land use planning and the resultant effects on spiritual renewal in recreation of urbanites.


In order to really contribute to the public good as college faculty aspire to do, we need to relate the anthropogenic impacts now included under “sustainability” to the fundamental elements of complete ecosystems. That will require communication between the college programs, which are usefully practical, and the more theoretical basic research programs at other institutions.

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