Thanks to Paul Retherford for pointing me to this essay, Beyond Sustainability: Why an All-Consuming Campaign to Reduce Unsustainability Fails. Highlight:
Our very approach to solving the “problem” of unsustainability is grounded in a mindset that prevents sustainability from emerging. Always anchored to the past, the future is envisioned as being bigger or better. But such an approach will always keep us rooted in the past. To escape from the past, one must think in an entirely different way.
The current ideal of sustainability, as sustainable development, is not a vision for the future. It is merely a modification of the current process of economic development that its proponents claim, in theory, need not cause the terribly destructive consequences of the past. Sustainable development is fundamentally instrumental. It suggests new means, but still old ends. Sustainable appears as an adjective; the noun is still development.
As I look at sustainability efforts in my own life and at sustainability as a local progressive value, it's important to me that someone out there has the right words to say what so many people are afraid to say: there are ways in which the survival of life on Earth is in conflict with traditional economic development, a.k.a. the continued growth of our civilization. Many sustainability efforts are purely or primarily anthropocentric, and therefore fail by definition.
This essay doesn't have all the answers, but it's got a good grip on that particular problem.