Sustainability: Lost in Translation

“Sustainability”, from Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen explores how language barriers between different cultures has affected the current environmental dilemma. The United Nations has dedicated time to concoct plans for sustainability regarding the natural world, however this has caused some unintentional issues; an example being that the word “sustainability” does not directly translate to Spanish. In Spanish, it could potentially possess two different definitions: “to be maintained over time” or “a sense of being reasonable” (Maldonado, Meza, Yates-Doerr).

One of the problems that arises has to do with people assuming that the rest of the world understands the same words but, in reality, they do not. This results in the problem that if a group of people – a large population due to approximately 5.85% of the world’s population speaks Spanish ( – does not understand a goal set forth by the United Nations. If this occurs, then the human race cannot cohesively work together towards the common outcome of restoring and sustaining the environment. It creates a split and is therefore more of a burden if everyone wanting to save the planet is not on the same page. Another issue this miscommunication causes as a result of the first is that this leads them to find different solutions to their common problem, which works against each other because of their different interpretations of the term “sustainability”. Opposing solutions become problems because the populations would not be working together to power one large fix to the obstacle, they instead, formulate smaller solutions and do not have a shared mindset.

However, if this hurdle were to be overcome, then we would still have to deal with consequences of modernity and its negative affluences it has had on the environment. Perhaps the question is not: what should we invent that could help sustain the environment? But instead, “what sustainable strategies could we find and repurpose for the current time period?” Advancing technology, while it can be extremely beneficial, can also be detrimental and why not find clean and renewable resources in the past that can also be used in the present day, as a woman named Doña Marta was able to utilize goat feces as fertilizer and their urine as an insecticide (Maldonado, Meza, Yates-Doerr).

Fixing the environmental deterioration needs to be a combination of teamwork between countries and therefore an understanding of possible roadblocks that could come with translation. In addition, being aware that the future is not always the best place to look to for solutions to this dilemma, we need to recognize the past as being a possibility too.

History Repeats Itself Once Again

Image from Wikimedia Commons

“Sustainability,” from the series Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen, uncovers the issue of how the United Nations, and more specifically the United States, is handling the ideas of sustainable living during the Anthropocene in order to mitigate climate change as well as general harm we have done to the environment. 

While climate change mitigation specifically is a relatively recent issue for a major western organization like the United Nations to handle, the methods of which they are managing the issue is one which is as old as western civilization itself. These methods come from an imperialist and particularly western mindset, which is to say that the nations and individuals at the helm of an organization like the United Nations eschew as much responsibility as possible for their actions by using other countries (particularly ones in which the majority of citizens are not white) as some sort of scapegoat for environmental disaster, as we’ve seen in all of the previous readings from this class. 

The major powers within the United Nations have taken it upon themselves to spread a gospel of sustainability to nations in Latin America, much in the same way that major western groups and powers have dubiously spread democracy or Christianity throughout history. These Latin American countries don’t play even close to as big a role in the escalation of carbon emissions as a country like the United States does, but their citizens are being told to practice a sustainable lifestyle on our behalf. This is strange and bad for heaps of reasons. The United States has no intent on imposing these same ideals onto its own citizens, and it’s likely that they never will. I don’t even know what the United States is trying to get out of this, besides maybe just the joy of exerting power and force over people who don’t matter, in their eyes. Most of the people involved in high politics within the US and the UN hardly care or believe in climate change to begin with, so what’s their motive, if not doing it “just because”? Maybe the answer is right in front of me and I can’t see it. But I can’t say I’m surprised that any of this is happening.

The Hypocrisy of Sustainability

The Giving Tree: A Cautionary Tale for Tu B’Shevat ...

In “Sustainability”, from the series: Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen, the publication brings up the valid point that “Sustainability is an English Word.” And with that in mind, its clear to see that not only is “Stustainability” a word derived from the English language, but more importantly, the fact that it is western in nature and ideals. This is exactly what the publication discusses.

There is an irony to the word Sustainability. It is an ideal from a culture that most defies it. We preach ideals of Sustainability to the point that we almost force it upon others, others who often meet those ideals better than ourselves. This is what I saw in Marta’s story, the far reaching effects of the western ideals of Sustainability. From her giant silver solos, to her U.S. supplied nutrients, western society had manifested this ideal, forcing it upon others.

However, the problem with this ideal is not in its own nature. In fact, its much more about the hypocrisy of our actions with it. We agree that the world needs to be more sustainable as we see the issues it causes everyday in western society, but instead of forcing ourselves to change it, we’ve decided other parts of the world must do it first.
Of course, in the western world this kind of assimilation is not a new idea. Most prominently, this idea was formed in the eyes of religion, in this case mostly Christianity. However, this kind of assimilation is much different, not just in nature, but rather in the fact that we assimilate others to what we don’t do ourselves so they can delay the problem for us.

We agree that there is a need for change so much to the point that we fund a massive amount of resources in order to advocate for it, yet we hold ourselves to a double standard. To me, this is the real kicker. We force others to change so we don’t have to, and I see no other word for that than hypocrisy.

Picture from the book, “the giving tree”