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2020 Theme

Beyond Sustainability: Imagining an Ecological Future

We need a more robust framework than “environmental sustainability” to address the interrelated environmental crises that we now face. The word “environment” draws a line of separation between humans and the rest of the community of life. “Ecological” better captures the vital relationships among all living beings and systems on the planet. “Sustainability” implies that we have a stable condition that we can preserve going forward. In fact, we face decades if not centuries of climate disruption and rising sea levels, even if we dramatically reduce carbon emissions over the coming decades. Moreover, to pursue “sustainability” begs questions that we have largely avoided: What do we want to sustain? What can we hope to sustain, given that it’s not logically possible to sustain the status quo? To think “Beyond Sustainability” is not to negate sustainability as a goal, but our situation challenges us to boldly think, feel, and imagine how we can grapple with unsustainability and see it for what it is: a multifaceted, “wicked” problem that will increasingly manifest itself across all aspects of our lives over the coming decades, with especially harmful results for the larger community of life of which we are a part and for many people around the world who already struggle to make ends meet. The Covid-19 pandemic, which has cast intense light on both our strengths and shortcomings as a society, provides an especially poignant context to address this issue.
David Voelker, Ph.D.
Common CAHSS 2020 Program Director
Professor of Humanities and History