THE QUESTION keeps coming up at primary schools all over the country: "What's stainability really all about?"
Well you may ask, little fellow, a certain famed Professor Julius Sumner Miller would once have said.
Sustain. Sus, from the Latin, Sus. Meaning: under or below. And the Latin teneo: to hold. Combined, to keep in being, or in a certain state - at a proper level or standard.
Or the Australian Sus. Meaning: a bit of a worry. And stain, meaning, well, a bit of a worry.
It is not to be confused at all with stain, from the Latin: Stainus Maximus, not unlike gluteus maximus, or bottom.
This is self explanatory.
Actually, no, this is from the ancient French distain, and also from the Latin, tingo, or dye.
Ability, then, the suffix, is quite self explanatory too. The dictionary qualifies it as ‘sufficient power' or ‘being able' from the ancient French able.
So that's sorted. Our use of the word sustainability in its modern economic and ecological sense comes directly from the ancient forms that mean below keeping in a certain state.
Or, to put an Aussie derivative on it, a bit of a worry about things getting dirty.
But enough of derivatives. That sort of argument is just not stainable. So what's it really all about?
Let's hear what the world experts have to say ...
I believe sustainable use is the greatest propaganda in wildlife conservation at the moment. - Steve
Irwin (1961-2006), Australian self-confessed wildlife warrior.
"Future generation is the most important thing." - Confucius.
"A wise man changes his mind; a fool never will." - Spanish proverb.
"We are seeing the birth of a new perspective of the world, where ecology and economics are two sides of the same coin." - Leif Johansson, president and CEO of the Volvo Group.
"Only to the white man was nature a 'wilderness'." - Luther Standing Bear, Indian chief.
"There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew." - Marshall McLuhan, Canadian philosopher (1911-1980).
"If we use fuel to get our power, we are living on our capital and exhausting it rapidly. This method is barbarous and wantonly wasteful. A far better way would be to avail ourselves of the sun's rays." - Nikola Tesla, electricity pioneer (1856-1943).
"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait 'til oil and coal run out before we tackle that." - Thomas Edison, American inventor and scientist.
"Out of clutter ... find simplicity. From discord . . . find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." - Albert Einstein, physicist (1879-1955).
"The future isn't what it used to be." - Arthur C. Clarke, author and futurist (1917-2008).
"A man reaps what he sows." - Galatians 6:7.
"You cannot have everything. I mean, where would you put it?" - Steven Wright, American humourist.
"Human history is a race between education and catastrophe." - H.G. Wells, author (1866-1946).
It's possible to have sustainable quotes, but is it possible to have sustainable jokes? Is it possible to have a decent set of jokes about (sus)stainability that give you a real belly laugh?
Apparently not. If you tap green jokes or sustainability jokes or climate change jokes into Google, you get more articles complaining that there are no such jokes than you do jokes themselves.
Here's what leaders in their field have to say (well, those we have not published in Bottomline before) ...
"President Bush toured parts of Missouri that were devastated by a recent tornado. There was one awkward moment, when the President looked at the tornado damage and said, ‘Don't worry, we're going to get whoever did this'." - Jay Leno, US talk show host.
"Clean coal is a bit like wearing a porous condom - at least the intention was there." - Robin Williams, comedian.
"I hope that Live Earth ends global warming the same way Live Aid ended world poverty." - Chris Rock, comedian.
"President Bush has a plan. He says that if we need to, we can lower the temperature dramatically just by switching from Fahrenheit to Celsius" - Jimmy Kimmel, US talk show host.
Or there's the rare and, apparently classic climate science denier series:
How many climate sceptics does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None. It's too early to say if the lightbulb needs changing.
A: None. It's more cost-effective to live in the dark.
A: None. We only know how to screw the planet.
A: None. Eventually the lightbulbs will right themselves.
A rollicking set, that ...
Which begs the real question about climate science - why is it so difficult to laugh at? In other precarious situations - such as wars, race and religious differences - we humans seem to be able to get some real belly laughs going, to break the ice.
Should anyone suggest that the polar bears are going for a swim to break the ice over global warming, we are unlikely to be greeted with enormous jocularity.
Even a few of the kids jokes - like ‘Why are we catching hardly any fish these days? Global worming ...' and ‘What did the one tornado say to the other? Let's twist again like we did last summer.' And, ‘Before you snowboard down that hill, you must first CLIMATE.' - are so PC-laced they are unlikely to make the school yard ever again.
In fact, the biggest problem facing the entire climate change and sustainability movement could be the unsustainability of its jokes.