Whose sustainability, which sustainability?

The last two weeks, I was serving as a teaching side-kick for a course on agent-based modeling at the Global Sustainability Summer School 2012, which was jointly organized in Potsdam close to Berlin by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), in partnership with the Santa Fe Institute (SFI).

It was truly a fantastic event with a number of very distinguished lecturers, and a great group of students with incredibly diverse backgrounds (academic/business/administration, industrial/emerging countries). The first weak was relatively science-based, which was fine, but I found the second week even more stimulating because we moved more into the social, psychological and political questions around sustainability. I was of course aware on some theoretical level that sustainability is a different thing to different people (or, more precisely, people may share the same idea about the word sustainability, but it is different things they think are important to sustain), but it was still really eye-opening to see how strongly those ideas differ, especially between participants from emerging and industrial nations. So, how do we still get the boat in the right (or roughly right) direction with everyone heading for a different harbor, and, which is the right direction anyway? Lots of food for thought, which I might convert in a future post, but for now, no better ones than the ingenious Bird and Fortune to explain to us the western state of mind about sustainability (careful, satirical mode on):

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