Annie Leonard, an expert in international sustainability and environmental health issues, made an informative and humorous video-cartoon called "The Story of Stuff". It explores the costs and consequences of our consumer culture and its impact on the environment, third-world nations, working class Americans, personal health and our general state of happiness. To learn more about sustainability, and how our consumer culture works against it, click here to watch Annie Leonard's video.
Sustainability is defined as "a characteristic of a process or state that can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely. The term, in its environmental usage, refers to the potential longevity of vital human ecological support systems, such as the planet's climatic system, systems of agriculture, industry, forestry, and fisheries, and human communities in general and the various systems on which they depend."
Since sustainability has to do with the environment, ecology and people, I went to the Environmental Protection Agency web site to see if they knew about the concept. They cite it, but they define it a little differently. According to the EPA, sustainability is "the ability to achieve economic prosperity while protecting the natural systems of the planet."* Hmmmm, economic prosperity wasn't mentioned in the previous definition. And why does economic prosperity come first, before the more important part about protecting the planet?
A major problem for us and for future generations is that our dirty energy economy can't prosper without polluting the planet and increasing global warming. Simply put, our current system is not sustainable! We need to transition to a clean energy economy that will create new jobs in support of renewable energy sources that don't pollute the planet. And oh yes, contrary to Bush's advice to "go shopping", we could all do the planet a big favor by purchasing LESS STUFF!
[*UPDATE, September 2008: the EPA has now adopted a more reasonable definition of sustainability: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”]