Taboos and Denials: Major Obstacles to Sustainable Use of the Planet
Cairns, John Jr.
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A taboo is a (1) prohibition excluding something from use, approach, or mention because of its sacred and inviolable nature and (2) an object, work, or act protected by such a prohibition. Denial is a refusal to believe in the existence or reality of a fact or entity. Human society professes to believe sustainable use of the planet is a means of leaving it in a habitable condition for future generations. However, a taboo, especially among mainstream politicians, has been placed on the free and open discussion of present practices that are unsustainable. At the core of the taboo is the refusal to discuss the certainty that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. Reducing population growth and/or immigration to achieve a stable population is an example of a more specific taboo. Even in societies that profess to be liberal, there is either denial that the problems exist or a profession of excessive optimism about the future, even without substantive supporting evidence. Achieving sustainable use of the planet will require a free and open exchange of ideas on the present practices that are sustainable and which unsustainable practices should be eliminated or greatly modified to make them sustainable. Until then, the term sustainable development will be a placebo rather than a cure.