Extinction is a sustainable condition

Jay R. Lund, The Ray B. Krone Chair of Environmental Engineering, University of California – Davis



Sustainability is favored by everyone, but, people and groups view and use sustainability differently.  Alas, as Keynes observed, “In the long run we are all dead,” and achieve the same sustainable end.

As illustrated above, the word “sustainable” seems to be approaching an unsustainable level.  Sustainability is often a buzz-word, which sounds hip, sophisticated, and engaged, but actually says little and sadly substitutes for substance.  “Adaptive management” has developed similar usage.

We should all have an interest in the long-term well-being of California.  However, the broad use of “sustainability” to justify everything, even the patently unsustainable, invites ridicule.

Sustainability for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is clearly a good thing.  However, a Google search of “sustainable Delta California” yields 4,750,000 results.  A quick scan of these results and some reflection on the use of sustainability regarding the Delta raise all sorts of embarrassing contrasts and usage.  (Almost no one is immune from this critique.)

Sustainability rhetoric often seems to distract us from pragmatic and realistic analysis and discussion of long-term problems and solutions.  In the meantime, species extinctions, a sustained condition, becomes more likely.

Further reading:

Jacob Katz, J., P.B. Moyle, R.M. Quiñones, J. Israel, and S. Purdy (2012), “Impending extinction of salmon, steelhead, and trout (Salmonidae) in California (pdf),” Environ Biol Fish, DOI 10.1007/s10641-012-9974-8.

Lund, J.R., E. Hanak, and B. Gray, “Adaptive management means never having to say you’re sorry”, CaliforniaWaterBlog.com, posted on July 21, 2011.

Mount, J.F., “The Stockholm Syndrome in Water Planning in California,” CaliforniaWaterBlog.com, posted on September 27, 2011.

“Sustainable” graphic from xkcd webcomic, http://xkcd.com/1007/

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