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Sustainable Civilization: From the Grass Roots Up

Chapter VIII - Sustainability Laws

First Law. Non renewable resources must not be used in a manner that precludes their future re use, and the maximum sustainable level of renewable resource use is the minimum reliable level of renewal.

Second Law. Achievement of sustainable society globally requires that every definable area, whether natural or political, maintain a population and consumption level sustainable within the applicable borders, using the local resources, or trade in a sustainable manner.

Third Law. Personal or societal experimentation and development requires the availability of excess resources.

Fourth Law. There is no "away" where we can throw things, or move to.

Fifth Law. An economic system becomes fragile when it comes to depend on external exchange over which it has little control. Ekholm

Sixth Law. "If an ethical foundation is lacking, a civilization collapses. Civilization exists in the effort to perfect humanity, and originates when a population is inspired to attain progress and to serve." Albert Schweitzer.

Seventh Law. "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations" - From the Great Law of the Iroquois Nation

Eighth Law. Isolate Human Activity. An ecology optimized for human habitation and life support is incompatible with a natural state ecosystem.

Ninth Law. Protection of personal property rights is essential. People are more readily willing to present their surpluses for trade, if they are assured they are free to negotiate the trade, or not, without fear that the "authorities" will take their property.

Tenth Law. Survival of the fittest, but not perhaps what you would first think. Eleventh Law. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”

Twelth Law. There is no quick fix. Deep-seated problems require more than a positive mental attitude and collection of short-term success formulas.

Thirteenth Law. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Fourteenth Law. Law of the minimum. There are critical factors the limit living and non-living processes, regardless of the quantity of other factors present.

BACKGROUND ON THE LAWS

These laws are presented for consideration as physical principles, and not the arbitrary laws invented by society and governments.

Consider them as laws of the universe that apply to human civilization. They may occasionally be "bent", with consequences, but for the most part cannot be broken without dire effect.

In your own life, you must plan. What are your desired results? What are your personal guidelines? Your resources? To whom are you accountable? Who suffers the consequences of your actions?

DISCUSSION OF THE LAWS

First Law. Non renewable resources must not be used in a manner that precludes their future re use, and the maximum sustainable level of renewable resource use is the minimum reliable level of renewal.

Living and non-living resources can, given existing science, be renewable, or non renewable.

Consider aluminum scrap. It takes technology, and electricity, to produce aluminum. In general though, once we've produced metallic aluminum, it remains available for re-use. Even if discarded in our garbage, it essentially remains in a form that can be salvaged by simple human activity, and with low-level technology re-melted and re-formed into new useful items.

Consider fossil fuels such as oil or coal. If we use this resource as molecular feedstock to create plastics, and many other physical objects, the molecules essentially remain available to be recycled. If however we burn the resource as fuel, we have effectively destroyed it beyond our ability to recycle.

A prime example of renewable resource us is groundwater. If average use does not exceed the recharge rate, a well is a naturally filtering & refilling tank. But if you exceed the recharge rate too long or too deep you may cause permanent loss in capacity, and other problems such as surface subsidence, or cracks in the "filter" layers.

Second Law. Achievement of sustainable society globally requires that every definable area, whether natural or political, maintain a population and consumption level sustainable within the applicable borders, using the local resources, or trade in a sustainable manner.

Globalization has been a horrible mistake. Cheap (for most purposes, "free") fuels have lead to a global network of supply and distribution that is simply not sustainable when fuels return to being a "currently" paid cost. Global shipment of luxury goods is a non-event. Even the logic of moderate international reliance for durable goods is only moderately questionable. But an early 2006 advertisement by Archer Daniels Midland could easily be considered the "poster child" for peak oil. The ad shows an Asian teen, with the text:

Somewhere west of Shenyang, a teenager is stopping for dinner.

Which is why the soybean harvest west of Peroria is not stopping.

And why a soybean processor west of St. Louis is not stopping.

And why a ship's captain on the west coast is stopping but just for a while.

Somewhere west of Shenyand a teenager is stoping for dinner.

A dinner rich in soy protein.

Consider the implication. This youth, supposedly in China, is apparently depending on a soybean crop in the United States, and a network of fossil-fuel powered processing and shipment industries, for sufficient dietary protein on his plate.

Can you and your multi generation family subsist on food grown on your own property?

Third Law. Personal or societal experimentation and development requires the availability of excess resources.

At an extreme example, if an upper limit large population is living at a barely subsistence level, any crop failure will result in famine. In that scenario, who can afford to experiment on the hope of a better crop, while risking a failure?

Fourth Law. There is no "away" where we can throw things, or move to.

The Earth is a finite area sphere. Absent a scientific miracle, space travel, if we can maintain it, will only be available for a minute portion of the population. It is often tossed out that we should just send all of our radioactive waste to the sun. Sending untold tons of mass, on an ongoing basis, on a trip to the sun greatly exceeds our present capabilities.

We are, for all practical intents and purposes, "stuck" on Earth with whatever is here, arrives here, or that we in our misguided efforts generate.

Earlier, limited geographic scope civilizations, even Rome, still only occupied a limited area of the globe. It was, if essential, possible to physically walk away from a collapsing society. We've created a high energy, intensely interdependent global society. When the collapse reaches some critical point, anyone and anything still dependent on the infrastructure at that time will most likely fall with the rest.

Fifth Law. An economic system becomes fragile when it comes to depend on external exchange over which it has little control. Ekholm

Similar to the above "away" discussion, but limited to the financial aspect. Even if you have a reliable local food system, and can obtain your other essential life support locally, what happens to you if you have a need for a continued flow of funds, customers for your goods or services, who are not local? If you're in debt, and cut off from cash flow, is someone going to foreclose on your homestead?

Even when local food, water, housing, etc. have remained viable, with labor needed to keep life support processes properly going, history has shown that there have at the same time been vast amounts of idle labor. Examples would be when a national currency fails, whether from hyper-inflation, or extreme devaluation, such that it is no longer trusted as a medium of exchange. Those who do not personally know and trust each other, find themselves reluctant to enter into financial arrangements with a cloudy future, and local activity fails for want of a questionable larger scale economy.

Informal local barter programs are a start, but a local stable and accepted means of exchange can be a significant tool in reducing the local effect of a large sector economic downturn.

Sixth Law. "If an ethical foundation is lacking, a civilization collapses. Civilization exists in the effort to perfect humanity, and originates when a population is inspired to attain progress and to serve." Albert Schweitzer.

I need to trust you, and you to trust me, if we are going to co-exist without some third party that we both either trust, or that is imposing control, monitoring and ensuring our interactions.

Seventh Law. "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations" - From the Great Law of the Iroquois Nation

Eighth Law. Isolate Human Activity. An ecology optimized for human habitation and life support is incompatible with a natural state ecosystem. We need nature, nature does not need us.

Ninth Law. Protection of personal property rights is essential. People are more readily willing to present their surpluses for trade, if they are assured they are free to negotiate the trade, or not, without fear that the "authorities" will take their property.

If ownership is not protected, envision the lazy who decide they have the right to move in and take from the innovator and builder. Such a threat destroys incentive, and stagnates civilization at the least common denominator. Scientific and other discoveries and breakthroughs in history are, for the most part, individual achievements, with the "assistance" of a stable surrounding and supporting community. Protection of property rights is a primary purpose, if not THE purpose for governments to exist.

Tenth Law. Survival of the fittest, but not perhaps what you would first think. Early tools, stones and knives required physical strength, and hand to hand combat ability was essential to survival. The bow, a more refined tool, allowed for lesser strength but a distinct skills to provide distant neutralization of an adversary or animal. Our continued progression has made mind and precision more important than strength, in a feedback loop. The drive to overpopulate was early on another survival trait, as many died as children, or before they had their own children. Like other early "cave" aspects, given the now global coverage of humanity, the drive to populate is obsolete. The "gene" for prolific procreation is now a threat to the entire race.

Eleventh Law. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” In an optimized society, essentially the input of everyone is necessary, with no "waste". Those who sit, and wait for others to provide for them, are a net drain on the resources of any community. Those who are shown how to provide for themselves free the time and resources of others to greater accomplishments.

Twelth Law. There is no quick fix. Deep-seated problems require more than a positive mental attitude and collection of short-term success formulas.

Thirteenth Law. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Fourteenth Law. Law of the minimum. There are critical factors the limit living and non-living processes, regardless of the quantity of other factors present. As exampled in the earlier protein discussions, the protein balance of an egg is essentially ideal and able to be fully used by a human body. Reduce or eliminate any one of the complimentary proteins, and in the case of eggs the rest of the egg is processed by the body as fuel, rather than tissue building proteins. On a macro scale, being in a remote warehouse full of dry food is of little value to you, if there is no water.

A challenge to you, what factor requires that global human civilization exceeds one educated and high-tech city of a million?

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