Sustainable (adj.): Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

This xkcd.com carton was posted some time ago.  It’s funny, and as with most xkcd pieces, it’s insightful too.  It’s also highly relevant to the aquarium trade right now.  In light of what’s happening in Hawaii, I’ve wanted to share this sketch for several weeks but simply did not know how to frame a blog around it.

Then it occurred to me to think of this carton as good pop art that provokes conversation through interpretation.  Maybe that’s the best way to approach this blog: By reflecting on the words we choose when engaging the public and especially the anti-aquarium proponents (whether we should or not is debatable) about the ecological role of the aquarium trade.

Sustainable development.  Sustainable packaging.  Sustainable energy.  Sustainable farming.  Sustainable design. Sustainable living. Sustainable apparel.  Sustainable homes.  Sustainable fisheries.  Ad naseum

Anti-aquarium proponents will often quote aquarists’ use of the word sustainable in parentheses in an attempt to devalue the word and ultimately belittle our position.  Despite the merit of the word, are we undermining our message when we use it?  Does the public understand the context of this word the same way aquarists and scientists do?  Has sustainable become so over-and-misused that it now falls on deaf ears?  Are our ideas better served with a different word, or are we doomed by anti-aquarium dogma no matter what word we choose?

It is frustrating that pro-fishery proponents have to parse words so carefully while anti-aquarium proponents miss salient points (possibly on purpose) about a very serious conversation.  But semantics is the refuge of a losing argument, and this is what we will continue to face in the court of public opinion.

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