Becoming Landsick: Rethinking Sustainability in an Age of Continuous, Visible, and Irreversible Change
Jessica Owley & Keith H. Hirokawa, eds., Rethinking Sustainable Development to Meet the Climate Change Challenge 41-62 (ELI 2015)
25 Pages Posted: 27 May 2013 Last revised: 19 Jun 2015
Date Written: June 17, 2015
This chapter for the Environmental Law Institute's forthcoming book, Rethinking Sustainable Development to Meet the Climate Change Challenge, argues that, in this climate change era, we all need to re-wire ourselves into metaphorical landsickness — that is, into a state where we view constant change as the norm, not as an aberration to be ignored, avoided, or resisted. As a more positive formulation, we need to acquire our climate change sea legs as fast as we possibly can — and that means jettisoning our more mainstream and popular notions of sustainability.
We have entered the era of climate change adaptation, which is most fundamentally about coping with continual, and often unpredictable, change. Adaptation is absolutely necessary because we have passed, definitively, the point of avoiding climate change impacts. It is against this new reality of constant change and threatened disruption that we have to measure the continuing value of “sustainability” — as a concept, as a goal, and as a principle to guide governance and law. Notably, the United States has clung to sustainability even as it has exhibited what might be termed “climate change seasickness” — the denials and refusals to act that have characterized much of the American response to climate change until recently. But sustainability does not help us to adapt to climate change. Instead, sustainability, at least as pursued in the United States, promotes the myth of stationarity and the utopian myth that we can still "have it all."
Climate change thus requires that we replace goals of sustainability with something else, at least for any policy goal more concrete and specific than leaving a functional planet to the next generations. Acquisition of our climate change sea legs, this chapter concludes, would be aided considerably if we adopted three transforming principles for cultural norms, governance goals, and laws and legal institutions:(1) pursue resilience, not the maintenance of particular socio-ecological states; (2) recognize and emphasize that no private right is absolute and that private interests must yield to community survival; and (3) stop avoiding the subject of human population growth.
Keywords: sustainability, sustainable development, climate change, resilience theory, resilience thinking, property rights, population, public necessity, public trust doctrine, public nuisance, adaptation, landsick, sea legs, landsickness
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