Sustainability

Discussion

To make our civilisation more sustainable, we need to reduce our per capita inputs on the environment and natural resources, as well as build up communities and human capacities. Otherwise, with a growing world population, we run a significant risk of ecological collapse of the natural systems supporting us over the next few decades.

Subtopics

Ecological Footprints - We need to reduce our per capita ecofootprint, to both accommodate an increasing population and to return land to nature, to protect biodiversity.

Sustainable Cities - Provide residents with a good quality of life without depleting natural resources and destroying the environment to do so.

Readings

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability - Wikipedia

The goal of sustainability [is] to achieve human and ecosystem well-being together.

It [involves] [re]configuring civilization and human activity so that society, its members and its economies are able to meet their needs while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, [both now and in the future].

There is a high leverage point in this structure that has never been tried.

The one with the most potential to solve the social side of the problem in a single stroke is general ability to detect political deception.

If environmentalists can unite and raise it to a high level the race to the bottom will collapse, leaving the race to the top dominant. Politicians will then respond correctly to the truth about the global environmental sustainability problem because it will now be in their best interests to do so. If they come to the same conclusion that environmentalists have, that sustainability is civilization’s top priority and nothing else comes close, then civilization will at long last enter the Age of Transition to Sustainability.

Principles

A number of common principles are embedded in most charters or action programmes to achieve sustainable development, sustainability or sustainable prosperity. These include:

Sustainability Principles

Education for Sustainability - Reorientating Australian schools for a sustainable future (PDF). John Fien. Tela Paper 8. Australian Conservation Foundation. 2001

Four interrelated principles for sustainable living:

Conservation to ensure that natural [biophysical] systems can continue to provide life support for all living things, including the resources that sustain the economic system.

Peace and Equity to encourage people to live cooperatively and in harmony with each other and have their basic needs satisfied in a fair and equitable way.

Appropriate Development to ensure that people can support themselves in a long-term way. Inappropriate development ignores the links between the economy and the other systems in the environment.

Democracy to ensure that people have a fair and equal say over how natural, social and economic systems should be managed.

[Thus] sustainability [is] grounded in four interdependent systems:

Biophysical systems which provide the life support systems for all life, human and non-human.

Economic systems which provide a continuing means of livelihood (jobs and money) for people.

Social and cultural systems which provide ways for people to live together peacefully, equitably and with respect for human rights and dignity.

Political systems through which power is exercised fairly and democratically to make decisions about the way social and economic systems use the biophysical environment.

Sustainable Consumption

How can we cut back on resource consumption, while making sure everyone is able to live a good life?

Sustainable Consumption. Earthbeat. ABC. 2003.7.19

Rampant over consumption is one of the greatest threats to life on earth. Klaus Toepfer head of the United Nations Environment Program examines how to cut resource use, while using ‘leap frog’ technologies to overcome poverty.

Sustainable Population

How many people can the world support, given current (or future reduced) rates of resource consumption?

Sustainability. Wikipedia

One of the critically important issues in sustainability is that of human overpopulation combined with human lifestyle. A number of studies have suggested that the current population of the Earth, already over six billion, is too many people for our planet to support sustainably at current material consumption levels.

This challenge for sustainability is distributed unevenly. According to calculations of the ecological footprint, the ecological pressure of a US resident is 13 times that of a resident of India and 52 times that of a Somalian resident.

Sustainable Population - Australia

How many people can Australia support?

How many Australians can the World support?

How Many People Doing What? (Population, Consumption and Technology) - Australian Conservation Foundation, 2000

The ability of a country or region to sustain its people and other species indefinitely is dependent on the interaction of a complex range of factors including the physical environment of the country or region, the numbers of people which the physical environment needs to sustain, the lifestyles of those people, the economic structure of the region; and the use of technology.

Too often debates about population in Australia overlook one or more of these factors, focussing simply on absolute numbers and the benefits or costs of increasing or decreasing the total population. All of these issues need to be addressed if we are to achieve a sustainable Australia.

Proposals:

Sustainability Assumptions

What assumptions motivate initiatives for sustainability?

Sustainability. Peter Newman. Sustainability Policy Unit. Western Australia. 2001

Sustainability has become the global message of hope in public life.

Sustainability Strategies

What strategies are governments developing to facilitate sustainability?

Hope for the Future: Western Australian State Sustainability Strategy

The Western Australian State Sustainability Strategy gives us a chance to imagine a future where there is synergism between environmental, social and economic factors, and then we can create projects and processes to implement this vision. (Peter Newman)

National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development - Australian Government, 1992

The National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development provides broad strategic directions and framework for governments to direct policy and decision-making. The Strategy facilitates a coordinated and co-operative approach to ecologically sustainable development and encourages long-term benefits for Australia over short-term gains.

Sustainability Initiatives

Can the push for sustainability be led by government, or do all sections of the communitiy need to drive the process?

Sustainability Initiative - Earthbeat, 27 March 2004

Sustainability is an all-encompassing concept and requires an extraordinary reorientation of Australian society and how it functions. It's not something that a national government can do on its own.

Sustainability needs to be a community led process. Part of that is to do with the nature of Australian politics; all political parties are sensitive to community views.

Sustainability is about pushing forward into the future, about new thinking. We need to look to communities and to the private sector and to our universities for the kind of innovation and leadership that sustainability demands.

Sustainability Education

Education for Sustainability - Reorientating Australian schools for a sustainable future (PDF). John Fien. Tela Paper 8. Australian Conservation Foundation. 2001

Education for sustainability involves approaches to teaching and learning that integrate goals for conservation, social justice, appropriate development and democracy into a vision and a mission of personal and social change.

It seeks to develop the kinds of civic virtues and skills that can empower all citizens and, through them our social institutions, to play leading roles in the transition to sustainability.

Sustainability Issues

Teaching for a Sustainable World: International Edition. Griffith University and the Department of the Environment, Sport & Territories. 1997

We need a new ecological ethic, an ecologically oriented value system based upon empathy with other species, other people and future generations, and respect for natural and social limits to growth.

We need social systems, institutions and practices that support careful planning in order to minimise threats to nature and the quality of life.

Issues of ecological sustainability and social justice

There are great differences in the availability and use of resources around the world, with poverty and need in some areas matched by overproduction and over-consumption in others.

Some economic activities do great harm to environments, resources and communities.

Economic growth in some parts of the world is so high that it is leading to the production and consumption of many items that are super-luxuries and use resources that could be used to satisfy the needs of many of the world's poor.

Relatively high population densities and growth rates in certain parts of the world, and the associated pressure on the local resource base, are symptoms of the legacy of colonialism and present-day structural inequalities in the world economic system rather than causes of environmental problems. Appropriate social development lies at the heart of the solution to population and environmental pressures.

The indigenous and farming peoples of many countries have developed an ethic of sustainability and associated land use practices that have preserved their culture and harmony between people and nature for millennia.

Women and young people have a vital role to play in environmental care and development, now and into the future. They have viewpoints, skills and interests that can help maximise the potential for sustainable development.

The most effective arena for action on sustainability and justice issues is the local community.

Regional Sustainability

Regional Futures - Sustainability in our regions. Australian Conservation Foundation. 2000.10

Those regions that are tapped into the global economy are booming, while those regions based on traditional rural and industrial enterprises tend to be falling behind.

A new agenda to support regional development is urgently required, and while the focus has tended to be on the social and economic aspects of the regional divide, a truly sustainable long term future for all regions must be underpinned by a healthy environment. Indeed environmental action in the regions can build social and economic sustainability.

Sustainable Cities and Towns

National Summit on the Future of Australia’s Cities and Towns - Communiqué. 2004

To be successful into the future, Australia's cities and towns must:

Strategies include:

A National Action Framework will be considered by ministers within their own jurisdictions and at the-next Ministerial Council meeting.

Components of the National Action Framework include:

Sustainability Visions

Sustainability within a Generation: A new vision for Canada. David Suzuki Foundation

Over-consumption of natural resources and energy are the root causes of Canada’s environmental woes. But reducing consumption does not mean reducing our quality of life. To shift to a sustainable economy, we need to focus on generating genuine wealth rather than continuing to measure progress exclusively in financial terms. Genuine wealth is a much broader concept that focuses on five key asset areas: human, natural, social, manufactured, and financial capital.

Canada has the ability to become a world leader in sustainability and environmental conservation . We can do this by:

Improving efficiency: Canada has a poor record of resource use, and over 90 per cent of material extracted for use in manufacturing goes to waste. We can improve by applying energy efficiency standards to appliances, passenger vehicles, homes and commercial buildings. Improving water efficiency standards, shifting to renewable energy sources like wind, solar and micro-hydro would also help us achieve this goal.

Eliminating waste and pollution: Eliminating waste means designing production and consumption processes and patterns so that waste is not created. In addition to reducing environmental impacts, reducing waste can produce economic opportunities, create jobs, and save money.

Building sustainable cities: We can promote regional and national planning that integrates transportation, land-use and environmental planning; and ensuring municipal infrastructure is sustainable and based on smart growth. It’s also important to put an end to urban sprawl, which causes air pollution, water pollution, habitat destruction, gridlock, and loss of productive farmland.

Sustainability Resistance

Why hasn't the environmental movement made more progress in getting people and organisations to act more sustainably?

The New Paradigm. Thwink.org

The transformation of society to environmental sustainability requires three steps:

1. The profound realization we must make the change, because if we don't our descendants are doomed.

2. Finding the proper practices that will allow living sustainably.

3. Adopting those practices.

Society has faltered on the third step.

By now the world is aware it must live sustainably. There are countless practical, proven ways to do this. But for complex reasons society doesn’t want to take the final step and adopt these practices.

[There is a] strong, prolonged, successful solution adoption resistance. There must be an invisible social structure that is the fundamental cause of that phenomenon.

A satisfying hypothesis for this structure is The Dueling Loops of the Political Powerplace and its current exploitation by the New Dominant Life Form.

This structure consists of a race to the bottom among corrupt politicians battling against a race to the top among virtuous politicians. Because the race to the bottom has an inherent structural advantage over the race to the top, it is the dominant loop most of the time, as it is today. Furthermore, the race to the bottom is currently being exploited by what is best called the New Dominant Life Form, which is the modern corporation and its allies.
The goal of most corporations is to maximize the net present value of profits. The goal of most individuals, once they have gotten past the survival and security stage, is to maximize quality of life for themselves and their descendents. These goals are mutually exclusive, which explains the very strong, prolonged resistance to solving the global environmental sustainability problem.

Library

Institutions for Sustainability (PDF). Tela Papers 7. Australian Conservation Foundation - Institutional arrangements can help or hinder the pursuit of a future society that is both ecologically sustainable and humanly desirable.

Links

Australia

Australian National Sustainability Initiative

Australian Conservation Foundation

Ecologically Sustainable Development Australia

Sustainability Policy Unit WA

Beyond Australia

David Suzuki Foundation (Canada)

Interface Sustainability (US)

Sustainable Development Commission (UK)

World Business Council for Sustainable Development

2007.7.16