Lexical Investigations: Sustainability

sustainability, environmentalismThis may come as a surprise, but the link between sustainability and environmentalism is actually fairly recent. Before 1980, sustainability was an uncommon variant of sustainable, as in “capable of being upheld,” and it could be used in any context. But in 1980 that all changed when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature published the World Conservation Strategy, including an entire section called “Towards Sustainable Development.” Since then, the word’s popularity has skyrocketed.

The concept of environmental sustainability—but not the phrase itself—is present in Rachel Carson’s seminal work, Silent Spring, published in 1962. This book is widely considered the beginning of the modern environmental movement. In fact, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) starts the “Sustainable Development Timeline” with its publication.

Sustainability was a major theme of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen in 2009 (also called the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change or COP15). The word sustainable appears frequently throughout the Copenhagen Accord, the non-binding agreement that was the result of weeks of negotiations between the 193 participating countries.

Popular References:
Silent Spring

Relevant Quotations:
“I know of no instance in our State, in which the sustainability of such a lien has been directly adjudicated, as between the Bank and strangers.”
–Georgia Supreme Court, Reports of cases in law and equity, argued and determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia (1847)

“Achievement of equitable, sustainable development requires implementation not only of the measures indicated above but also of the World Conservation Strategy.”
–IUCN, “Towards Sustainable Development,” World Conservation Strategy (1980)

“The volunteer architects behind the structure even planned to make it a paragon of sustainable living, with passive solar heating and a rooftop hydroponic irrigation system.”
—Emily Badger, “The Building Code Violation Behind Occupy D.C.’s Sunday Standoff,” The Atlantic Cities (2011)

“The council recognizes environmental sustainability in different categories, such as building materials, energy efficiency, water savings and indoor environmental quality.”
–PR Newswire, “United Natural Foods Achieves LEED Gold Certifications for its Lancaster, Texas Distribution Center” (2011)

Read our previous post about the word soul mate and its sudden recent spike.


  1. Tim -  September 4, 2013 - 6:36 pm

    For those that are so convinced that DDT is not dangerous would you care to stand by your opinion and allow me to spray you with it? or spray your family or pets?
    ….. I thought not.

  2. Keith -  September 4, 2013 - 11:10 am

    We definately want to take care of our enviroment. However that is personal responsability and an intrinsic accountability. It should be taught first in the home and can be learned in schools and churches. It never should be placed above humanity.

  3. adam podmore -  September 4, 2013 - 6:40 am

    and i am gay

  4. adam podmore -  September 4, 2013 - 6:39 am

    it is all bull

  5. R. Shearer -  September 3, 2013 - 1:32 pm

    Ironic it is that so long Silent Spring, some environmentalists are fine with chopping up birds via wind turbines.

  6. Mischelle -  September 3, 2013 - 12:54 pm

    This is really sad

  7. Tiffany -  September 3, 2013 - 9:10 am

    Every time I think about this book & title it reminds me of the Sara Teasdale poem there will come soft rains… very sad and eye opening.

  8. Cliff -  September 3, 2013 - 4:15 am

    Rachel Carson’s assumptions on the dangers of DDT were proven wrong. It’s easy to look up if you care to. This caused millions to die in third world countries from malaria. It’s interesting that many radical environmentalists promote de-population as a goal toward “sustainability”.
    “I suspect that eradicating small pox was wrong. It played an important part in balancing ecosystems.” – John Davis, editor of Earth First! Journal
    The statists want to control individuals and manage them like livestock while the masterminds live in the lap of luxury. “Sustainability” is a tactic in a long war.

  9. Victoria -  September 1, 2013 - 5:33 pm

    Environmentalists must thoroughly check sustainability history and efforts. Some ecofriendly enthusiasts want to thoroughly check sustainability history and efforts. Opinions are appreciated.

  10. JohnM -  September 1, 2013 - 4:33 pm

    Carson loved to distort and because of her bogus claims about DDT millions of people have died. Sustainability means different things to different people, many of them misguided and downright foolish. Many want the environment to remain exactly the same, but that’s not how Nature works and the environment would change even without a human influence. The whole process of evolution contradicts the notion of a static environment. If we apply the concept of sustainability to mankind we should all still be living in caves.

  11. Vaulo -  August 30, 2013 - 9:56 pm

    i agree… but can we ever eliminate pesticides with all these multi-national chemical companies producing them… providing employment and incomes for their families and to governments? …. just thinking

  12. Speak2Truth -  August 30, 2013 - 4:17 pm

    The other problem in the 1960s was global cooling. Man’s pollution was bringing the Earth to a new Ice Age. By the late 1970s, the problem was considered severe. Earth day was created during the Global Cooling Scare to focus society on sustainable use of resources to fight global cooling. The predictions for the future were dire:

    “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” biologist Barry Commoner, University of Washington, writing in the journal Environment, April 1970.

    “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.

    “By the year 2000…the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America and Australia, will be in famine,” Peter Gunter, North Texas State University, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.

    By 1995, “…somewhere between 75 and 85 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.” Sen. Gaylord Nelson, quoting Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, Look magazine, April 1970.

    Evidence has been presented and discussed to show a cooling trend over the Northern Hemisphere since around 1940, amounting to over 0.5°C, due primarily to cooling at mid- and high latitudes – Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society – November 1980

    The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. – The Cooling World Newsweek, April 28, 1975

    An international team of specialists has concluded from eight indexes of climate that there is no end in sight to the cooling trend of the last 30 years, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. – New York Times – January 5, 1978

    Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 (amid the global cooling scare) on the 100th anniversary of the birth of communist leader Vladimir Lenin. “Lenin’s core political philosophy was linked at the hip with these newly fangled environmentalists who maintained that America’s government must be altered, its economy planned and regulated, and its citizens better controlled,” writes Sussman. “The environment would be the perfect tool to force these changes, and the most efficient way to gain converts would be through the public-school system – the earlier the better.”

    Al Gore tried to get carbon taxes in 1982 to establish systematic, unquestioned wealth redistribution and control over the means of production (straight up Communist agenda). Then, the Sun warmed up a bit…

    … so he waited a bit, then started screaming about Global Warming.

    Anything to get our cash redistributed into his Generation Investment Management Corporation and scads of other scams set up to receive the stolen loot.

  13. DJB -  August 30, 2013 - 9:56 am

    Yes, that was exactly the reason Ms Carson chose that title. The birds were dying off. If we continued to do nothing about the pesticides that were killing them, there would soon come a day when the spring was empty of their voices. It was a striking metaphoric illustration of the destruction of the entire bisophere of our planet by the way we were living.

    And she did also make the point that eventually, as poisoning the planet we live on destroyed more and more of its ability to sustain our collective lives as well, not only the birds but all others including the human species, too, would vanish. Which would pretty much make for an utterly silent spring. (Except for the continuing sounds of waves on rocks and winds across sand.)

    We were still using DDT as flea powder when I read her book. I cried. Then I started campaigning with my parents and neighboring farm families to stop using pesticides, and eventually herbicides. Some did, some didn’t, and some stopped after discovering odd ancillary facts –like the fact that one man’s alfalfa field’s yield at harvest quadrupled when he stopped applying pesticide which stopped killing off my bees when they tried to gather the nectar, so they survived in greater numbers for a longer time and pollinated the heck out of what were considered to be wind-pollinated plants. There are many plants that wind alone can pollinate but that under the concentrated pollination from the attention of bees will produce a much greater harvest! :)

  14. Barbara Wyatt -  August 30, 2013 - 6:14 am

    I love your website. I get my word every day. It has helped me so much. I don’t have a college degree but all my adult children (4) think I am very smart – because of you.

    Thank you,


  15. Chinyemba Chana -  August 29, 2013 - 7:34 pm

    Yes we to sustain our environment by planting more trees and less cutting.

  16. Jvaidedp -  August 29, 2013 - 9:45 am

    I wiss say to evebody that dictinary is most eportent..

  17. kala -  August 29, 2013 - 2:50 am

    i want know about words

  18. Marlene Crumley -  August 28, 2013 - 6:25 pm

    This is all about the U.N.’s Agenda 21. Let’s herd all humans into the cities, where they can be “managed”. Everything else belongs to nature (and the political elite). Welcome to the New World Order.

  19. elllie -  August 28, 2013 - 4:56 pm

    i no girl

  20. Hebeestie Wallopman -  August 28, 2013 - 2:02 pm

    Sustainability is a farce, they talk about sustainable solutions and all their solutions are full of plastic, plastics are made from Oil.

    Sustainable my arse.

    Shut up and continue to burn dinosaurs.

  21. Ole TBoy -  August 28, 2013 - 8:41 am

    We call her “Mother Earth.” She sustains us as a mother nurses her helpless child. If, as adults, we continue to fail to care for our “Mother” ultimately she will be unable to care for us.

  22. Bubba -  August 28, 2013 - 6:20 am

    Ahhh…Sustenance! (as food) Any connection? I am sustained by sustenance me thinks.

  23. Marg -  August 28, 2013 - 5:09 am

    But the beauty of silence is sometimes inestimable..

  24. Jamie Fleener -  August 27, 2013 - 9:14 pm

    This information isn’t very surprising to me. It is a little disappointing, though. It makes it much more difficult to find items via search engine that are sustainable in a different sense of the word.

    And yes, Silent Spring is very sad.

  25. zacary creagh -  August 27, 2013 - 8:09 am

    yeah i agree depressing

  26. Roshni Kainthan -  August 27, 2013 - 6:49 am

    The title “Silent Spring” sounds so sad. No birds chirping.


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