hay piled in the corner of a ploughed field

Sustainability is more popular than the Kardashians, but not entirely

Sounds impossible, but there is more sustainability content on the web than Kardashian content. A hopeful outcome until we look at interest.

If you type ‘sustainability’ into Google, the engine generates roughly 4.2 billion results. This suggests that many people around the place are interested in sustainability, given so many mentions of the term scattered around the internet.

Here is an unexpected result.

If you type in ‘Kardashian’, you get 1.8 billion results. A staggering number but less than half the sustainability number. More people are interested in providing information on sustainability than they are in the Kardashians. 

I find this interesting in several different ways. 

How on earth does one reality TV family find so much popularity? They have no special talent other than manipulating social media and fleecing sponsors of cash. And yet there they are with a staggering virtual presence.

Then, how does sustainability gain so much traction that you can have over 4 billion references, and yet it’s not really in our everydayness other than as a word? Most people would be hard-pressed to say what sustainability means, and almost all of us in mature economies live unsustainably.

If there is so much information about sustainability, why are we still not operating sustainably? 

Is it that we obtain the information and don’t believe it, or is it that we get knowledge that’s false, or do we not understand the information or the implications of it when we receive the details that Google sends us? 

The demand side

If you look at the demand side, the traffic around sustainability and the Kardashians, then the graph from Google Trends tells us more

Google Trends graph on the relative traffic volume on searches for sustainability and Kardashians

Demand for information on the reality TV family dwarfs interest in sustainability by orders of magnitude, even as their star wanes.

Sustainability has plenty of content but relatively little demand for that content.

There is plenty of information but not much interest in it. 

After a career trying to explain ecology to people, I am not surprised. Humans are not wired for the future or, it seems, for any deep understanding of how nature works. We are immediate creatures fired up by drama and intrigue because those traits helped us become successful.

woman looking across a lake while sitting on a fishing boat
Photo by he zhu on Unsplash

What sustainably FED suggests.

We know that if everyone in the world lived like the billion or so people in the west—the billion people who live on more than a hundred dollars a day—there would not be enough resources to go around. 

We also know that most of the 7 billion on less than $100 a day aspire to the wealth and lifestyles that use more resources.

Sustainability under such pressure of expectation is nearly impossible. Perhaps this is why the Kardashian universe is more popular than ideas on how to keep the world going. We somehow know sustainability is impossible. Why pay attention to an unachievable ideal that requires individual sacrifice?

Nihilism is more attractive than that. 

Hero image from photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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