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Outer Space, Expansive Sustainable Development, and the Future of the Environmental Humanities

Abstract : What does it mean to be live sustainably? Work within the environmental humanities assumes that sustainable development will happen on planet Earth. Sustainability is associated with respecting the limits of the planet, the transition away from fossil fuels, the escape from the growth mindset, and the protection of biodiversity. However, a new wave of space expansion advocates is using sustainable development in an alternative way. "Sustainable" is used to refer to self-perpetuating private economic activities off-world. "Sustainable" is also employed to refer to permanent space habitats that rely on the harvest of local (but unrenewable) space resources. Finally, "sustainable" is used to describe forms of extra-terrestrial extractivism-e.g., strip-mining asteroids-which would be carried out with the aim of offsetting Earth-side resource deficits. From the point of view of traditional understandings of sustainable development, these uses of the term "sustainable" are perverse. By expanding horizons of the world out beyond the Earth-by becoming post-planetary-expansive sustainability subsumes a whole range of current practicesconsumerism, extensive reliance on unrenewable resources, unending population growth, and even unbridled pollution-within the limits of what is judged "sustainable." Post-planetary or expansive sustainability seems to legitimate the sustainability of the unsustainable. Nevertheless, expansive sustainability seems to meet the Brundtland commission's definition of sustainable development: "development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This is in part because expansive sustainability, like Earth-bounded sustainability, takes into account the long-term future: "deep time." Yet expansive sustainability differs sharply from traditional sustainability with respect to the location of those future generations. Earth-bound advocates of sustainability have always imagined the future in terms of intensification.
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Contributor : Brad Tabas <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - 4:34:32 PM
Last modification on : Monday, April 26, 2021 - 2:08:02 PM


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Brad Tabas. Outer Space, Expansive Sustainable Development, and the Future of the Environmental Humanities. 2021, ⟨10.20935/al120⟩. ⟨hal-03150750⟩



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