Sustainability is the New Christianity

The Crusades.
Image from Sergey Kohl/Shutterstock.

Once again the western world is attempting to dictate the actions of the whole world, this time through a lens of sustainability. Western culture began its crusade for world domination with religion and the propagation of Judeo-Christian values to all corners of the planet. It has continued through the spreading of western scientific discovery, industrial technology, and more recently social and cultural norms portrayed through the media. Our newest method of western proliferation is sustainability. 

As the article points out, sustainability is an English word (duh). However, the implications of this are impactful for understanding how the idea of sustainability is translated into actions across cultures, especially those that do not speak Indo-European languages. The example given by Maldonado et. al. takes place in Guatemala in a Mam-dominated village. There, western ideas of sustainability are not sustainable; they are destroying local ways of life and disrupting systems that have been built up over hundreds of years. 

The most unsettling aspect of this argument is that until reading this article I had never considered that sustainability (the word and the idea) would not translate across boundaries. I had always thought that sustainable practices should be implemented across the world (with changes to adapt to local cultures, of course) as a global solution to climate change. Using a different word, especially one from a non-English language, had never crossed my mind. It is time we step outside of our western way of thinking and look to other cultures around the world for sustainable practices instead of trying to fight western practices of capitalism and consumerism (and their associated negative impacts) with a western idea of sustainability.

Activists, philosophers, scientists, and other environmental scholars say we need a “World War II scale mobilization” or to “adopt a spiritual ecology” to fight climate change, but in a way is that not what we have already? Sustainability is the religion of western environmentalists, and we (western environmentalists) are the missionaries, spreading the practices and ideas of sustainable living to improve the health of the global citizens and the planet itself. However, as Maldonado et. al. discuss, the benefits of sustainability are not, in fact, beneficial for everyone. From this perspective, is the propagation of sustainability any better than the spreading of Judeo-Christian beliefs?

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