Are there words or phrases that you get so tired of hearing that they almost make you ill? How about “awesome”? Or “no problem”, when a simple “you’re welcome” would do nicely? Both of these have become obnoxious to me. But these are benign and merely irritating. A different problem is the word for the new fundamentalist religion known as “sustainability”, which pops up everywhere in a multitude of contexts and, in its current ideological sense, is not merely irritating, but dangerous. My dictionary, The American Heritage Dictionary, has a definition for the word sustain, but no definition for sustainability. I admit that I am guilty of using the word sustainable in the context of whether or not a particular effort or policy or program can be continued or expanded in its efficacy or economic viability. But this is much different.
The notion of sustainability has become the banner under which the newest and largest pseudo-academic field travels. As George Leef of the John William Pope Center describes it, “…..like the identity studies, there is no body of knowledge regarding ‘sustainability’; it’s just a farrago of beliefs, attitudes, and grievances centering around the general notion that most humans aren’t living the right way and unless we make drastic changes, we’re doomed”.
The degree to which the sustainability movement has penetrated into American higher education is the subject of an extensively researched study released last summer by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), “Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism”. In it, authors Peter Wood, President of NAS, and research associate Rachelle Peterson, argue that sustainability is not really an academic discipline; rather, it’s an ideology that unites environmental activism, anti-capitalism, and a progressive vision of social justice and these themes are manifest in the proliferation of courses and “studies” mainly centered around the supposedly uncontested science of global warming and the impending catastrophe. So “sustainability” is a term that encompasses not only a particularly aggressive form of environmentalism, but also a strong attack on market capitalism and a progressive vision of social justice, a “triple bottom line”, as its proponents characterize it.
In a related article on the subject, Wood writes, “The stronger claim, that sustainability is a religion, takes its warrant from the adherents to the movement who personify Earth as a deity. This claim also emphasizes the cult-like zealotry of sustainability advocates, who imagine they possess an accurate knowledge of the future that goes beyond what is actually knowable, and who regard any dissent from this orthodoxy as intolerable”. This is dangerous ideology.
The findings of the NAS study have major implications. Most troubling is that sustainability has now become an academic discipline. It identified 1,438 degree programs at 475 colleges and universities focused on or related to sustainability studies, with at least one such program in each state in the U. S. The tendency that this proliferation will push downward into elementary and secondary education will be relentless, along with the indoctrination that will certainly follow.