Sustain-Ability?   /   Summer 2012   /    Interviews

A Conversation with Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson

Joshua J. Yates

Why has the term “sustainability” become so popular, and is it useful?

Berry: I’ll go out on a limb, and Wes can saw it off. We’re stuck with this word because of the obvious need to sustain the things that we’re not sustaining. But by itself, the word doesn’t mean very much because no word means much by itself. If you’re going to make use of this word, you have to find a context for it in which it can mean something. You can look around and study examples. You can find here and there forests that have been sustainably managed, so far as we can tell. You can find farms that are not running off a lot of topsoil after rains. If you can get it particular enough, you can talk about sustainability and make a little sense. But it’s a matter of getting it into sentences that say something actually verifiable in a context. And I think we have a long, long way to go.

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