The Wages of Sustainability

Sustainable Development?

Speaking generally, Sustainable Development can be defined this way:

Sustainable development is the organizing principle for meeting human development goals while at the same time sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon with the economy and society depend. [1]

Clearly, this implies an on-going win – win situation for humanity and for Mother Nature. But “speaking generally” isn’t always good enough. Pursuing human development goals (be those goals global, local or anywhere in between) implies economic expansion, with its attendant costs and/or trade-offs.

The Hopi

Hopi Land

Hopi Land Near Oraibi
BG Jaume – Public Domain via Wikipedia

Traditionally, the Hopi regard themselves as the original human occupants of the western hemisphere. Their tradition indicates that the Hopi emerged into this hemisphere from the sea, most likely in Central America. From there, the Hopi spent centuries in migration: to ice and snow in the north, to the end of the world in the south, east and west to both coasts. Their permanent place of residence, as stipulated by the Creator, was to be at the crossing of the north – south and east – west meridians of the hemisphere. They settled at their reckoning of that crossing about 1,000 years ago and built what archaeologists regard as the oldest continuously occupied human habitation on this continent. The Hopi are still there. [2]

That unlikely promised land is in the northeastern corner of Arizona. It lies in remote, high (generally 5,000 – 7,000 feet), dry (typically 6 – 7 inches of rain annually), barren country. Today’s Hopi reservation is entirely surrounded by a much larger Navajo reservation. There are about 19,000 Hopi today, of which perhaps half live on the 2,500+ square mile reservation. As individuals, Hopi who live on the reservation follow their traditional way of life more or less rigorously, resulting in “traditional” and “progressive” factions. [3]

Black Mesa

Black Mesa lies within the Navajo and Hopi lands. It is well named – it has large deposits of coal that can be rather readily strip mined. Some years ago, Peabody Western Coal Company obtained a concession from the Hopi and Navajo tribal councils to conduct mining operations, primarily to serve two very large coal-fired electric power generation stations. One of those power plants was closed in 2007 due to environmental (water and air) concerns. The second is scheduled for closure in 2019, due to stiffening environmental regulations in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas fired facilities. [4]


The rub here is the asymmetry of benefit and cost. Closure of the remaining power plant and attendant coal mining operations will result in a reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to the atmosphere, providing an unquantified benefit to humanity generally.

The cost of discontinuing revenues from coal production, on the other hand, will impact the Hopi specifically and dramatically. In 2010, the Hopi tribal council had a budget of $21.8 million. Coal revenues provided $12.8 million, or about 59% of that budget. The problem in 2019 — losing almost 60% of revenue — would impact the ability of any governing entity to provide public services. Further, there are few viable options available to the Hopi to make up those revenues from other sources. [5]

This is but one of many issues of asymmetry of costs and benefits that will challenge those who pursue Sustainable Development in an age of globalization. Kermit is right: It isn’t easy being green.

Chuck - VancouverThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

[1] From:

[2] The Hopi, their traditional history, and their worldview are quite remarkable, as is Frank Waters’ Book of the Hopi, which was written in the early 1960s in collaboration with 32 Hopi elders. The book is still available on Amazon. It is a great read. Frank Waters, incidentally, was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature – FIVE times.

“Hopi” means peaceful – the oldest existent culture on this continent actively espouses nonviolence. The Hopis’ history, traditions, religious views and way of life constitute an important part of humanity’s cultural heritage.

[3] The specific figures presented here are from www.en.wikipedia/wiki/Hopi

[4] The Black Mesa mining concession has been controversial since its inception. See

[5] “When coal-fired power plant closes, this mine will die. So will a lifeline for one Native American tribe”, Ryan Randazzo’s article for The Republic, takes a close look at the consequences of closing the power plant and the mine that feeds it. The article is available on-line at: