Book: 'Unsustainable' Indicts Every Human Action

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Joakim Book, a writer I first learned about through Alex Epstein's Power Hour podcast, has written a piece for the American Institute for Economic Research in which he explores the meaning of the term, unsustainable. He does not use Ayn Rand's term anti-concept to describe it, but it is clear that that's what it is.

Book's article is excellent for its exploration of the original meaning of the term; how it is being corrupted today to mean zero impact on nature; and how "zero impact" as an ideal is incompatible with human life.

Book elaborates that the demand for zero impact makes the idea of "sustainability," at least insofar as human life is concerned, rationally unusable as a guide to action:

Image by Delfino Barboza, via Unsplash, license.
This part of the 'unsustainability' definition is most odd, and feeds into the resource scare that returns every generation. Fossil fuels like oil are made by decaying plants and life over millions of years; gold and other precious metals arrived when this planet was bombarded with meteorites. There is in other words no way that humans can use any of these objects and not fall prey to the "unsustainable" label. That makes the label meaningless. [links and emphasis in original]
The term damns every human endeavor, and -- as Book argues earlier -- this makes it incompatible with human survival, which requires "impact:"
Human beings are the organism that has been the most successful at removing nature's obstacles from our path, and protecting ourselves from its damaging forces. Even though there are six billion more of us today than in 1900, fewer people die at the hand of nature's powers. That's us impacting the environment and it is cause for celebration. Impact away! [links and emphasis in original]
This means, for those of us who value human flourishing, that the term isn't just meaningless: It should be guarded against in discourse.

I strongly recommend the whole article, which considers the Malthusian elements of climate catastrophism against history, and makes a point that fossil fuels have a positive role to play in our future, linking to Alex Epstein's book on the subject along the way.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing: It is an aid to understanding to do as Book did, and consider terms like this afresh and even-handedly.

-- CAV


: Corrected a typo. (HT: John Shepard)


John Shepard said...

A typo, Gus?

"Book elaborates that the demand for zero impact makes the idea of "sustainability," at least insofar as human life is concerned, rationally usable as a guide to action:"

Shouldn't that be "rationally *unusable* as a guide to action" — as opposed to "rationally *usable* as a guide to action"?

Thank you for the heads-up on the article by Mr. Book.

Gus Van Horn said...



Thanks, John.