Chapter IV - Sustainability Principles or Guidelines
The apparent principles and guidelines of our present civilization ignore natural limits. Once we recognize these limits exist, we need to shift the focus of our thinking to different paradigms.
"Sustainable" is a word you will more readily see added to the name of programs. Real change though will be difficult to actually implement and maintain given present individual attitudes, institutions and paradigms.
Civilization, operated on sustainable principles, could eliminate starvation, poverty, pollution, etc. But such will not be implemented by a starving population or by those who benefit from the present system. Such will be resisted by the selfish and greedy who contribute nothing while demanding others support them. It will be resisted by those who feel THEY have the “right” to have as many children as they want, to do what they want, to go where they want, regardless of whomever else upon which the COSTS of such actions are imposed.
Given humanities civilization is now global, for many practical purposes, we've got to recognize we are living in a closed environment. Our resources are finite. Other than energy from the sun, there is virtually no input to our resources. Absent a breakthrough in technology, we are effectively limited to the confines of the Earth for the foreseeable future.
How long Edit
The word sustainable implies the ability to continue for an indefinite period. To put sustainable into an easier to comprehend timeframe, consider seven generations.
"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
Seven generations is somewhere between 96 and 280 years. A properly maintained and managed neighborhood or cooperative housing association provides a minimum genetic population, and can provide for the life-support needs of residents for seven generations and beyond. But it appears clear that a homeowner association scale community, if isolated, will be unable to sustain much technology, education, or skills.
Humans and all other animal life on earth are dependent on plants to use light to recycle our wastes and mortal remains to create food. We in particular are dependent on our agriculture art and technology. Without it, the natural systems on the Earth could not support the present human population.
Given present science, what comprises a sustainable community?
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. - General Colin Powell
Preserve God's natural ecosystems Edit
We must avoid interfering with any unique micro environment, or the environment overall, such that we cause species extinctions, or such that natural evolution is prevented. Therefore a key initial question, what is the upper limit for the portion of the environment to be devoted to human use? 1/10? 1/3? 1/2? More? Less? Please note, humans are already using 50% of the productive life of the world.
Within such dedicated space, or indeed the entire world, simple logic shows the number of humans who can be sustained, and the per person ability to use resources, are inversely related. The smaller the population to be maintained, the greater the resources per person.
Despite the appearances of vast remaining wide open spaces, estimates are that almost 50% of the productive life of the globe is already diverted in some manner to human use.
Feedback loops Edit
If you stick your hand into the fire, you need the negative feedback of searing pain letting you know there's not much time to get your hand out.
There are consequences to actions; whether those of an individual, family, neighborhood, city, nation, or humanity as a whole.
Foul your air and you're dead in 3 minutes.
Foul your water and you're dead in 3 days.
Foul your food and you're dead in 3 weeks.
You may be able to temporarily obtain resources from elsewhere, but in a long-term sustainable world where everyone is in balance, there may not be excess to share.
Population control Edit
Some maximum population can be fed, but with no resources available for any other purpose. A technological civilization, in particular to continue developing, requires "excess" resources that can be invested for the future, and lost in failed projects.
At the other end of the scale, there is certainly a minimum human population, and distribution program, for safety, maintenance and development of skills, knowledge, scientific discovery, etc.
The smallest human population is that required for genetic safety. (A tribe? Six families? Twenty families?) While this size might be appropriate for a "survival" community, or a well organized and supported project (i.e. an interstellar mission) it is doubtful that technology could be indefinitely maintained, let alone development continue.
We need to allow for some specialization, maintain skills and simple technology.
Somewhere there is a range of population that allows continued human achievements without destruction. It requires however understanding and individual responsibility to achieve the local action which is essential to achieve stability on a global scale - unless you WANT war and pestilence.
Every factor I've examined indicates the population must decline dramatically. Once we have reached sustainable levels, the population can only be permitted to fluctuate within a limited range. Consider the factors of fluctuation, lifespan, child bearing age, and birthrate..
Lifespan. Given other factors being stable (child bearing age and birthrate) an increase, or decrease in the average lifespan of a population will cause a one time increase (lifespan divided by child bearing age) in the number of generations alive at any given time, and therefore the total living population.
Child Birth Age. Given other factors being stable (lifespan and birthrate) an increase, or decrease in the average age of parents when children are born will cause a one time increase (lifespan divided by child bearing age) in the number of generations alive at any given time, and therefore the total living population.
Birthrate. Given other factors being stable (Lifespan and child bearing age) an increase, or decrease in the average number of children born to parents, in simple fact, ANY deviation from a strictly replacement birth rate, will cause a continued, and essentially geometric change in the actual number of people alive at any given time.
Regardless of the size of the population units, it appears practical to blend living, working, entertainment, etc. facilities in as close proximity as practical.
Modern civilization, as we experience it, is a product of the present global socio-economic-industrial infrastructure. Surely, no one believes this present infrastructure is indefinitely sustainable. Flying the face of logic, we have expanded our numbers such that much of the present 6+ billion human population depends on this infrastructure not only for an economic livelihood, but for essentials of life ( H2O, food, shelter, etc.) Our infrastructure itself though is dependent on the destruction of a finite resource.
What does human-scale infrastructure look like?
Background. We cannot indefinitely burn fossil fuels, pump groundwater stored millennia ago, mine, etc. The easy discoveries and recoveries of such are past. Very soon, we must begin to live with the declining supplies.
The Earth, and every definable (political or geographic) area has a maximum population that can be maintained using local resources or sustainable trade.
The present global population is well beyond sustainability even for food, let alone a functional and developing civilization. There are some places and peoples who may have attained a stable population, but none is good example of stable population and sustainable resource utilization.
Most places on the globe are so overpopulated (and still expanding) that they have no chance of attaining higher standards of living, let alone sustainability, absent a massive, premature, and unpleasant death of the bulk of the population.
Those in poor, but expanding population areas, in seeking to emulate higher resource use nations, or emigrate there, are acting contrary to sustainability.
The smaller the sustained population, the greater the resources available per person. But a small population is vulnerable to the "needs" of the majority being imposed unwillingly. If the world is not composed of sustainable units, conflict is the logical outcome.
A small, sustainable community, must be capable of resisting unwelcome and oppressive "neighbors", and needs appropriate defensive and policing capabilities.
Throughout the globe, humanity needs to "...get it's act together...". But there is no indication it will do so in time to prevent a crash.
Resource bases Edit
Use of a finite resource (i.e. fossil fuels, minerals, ancient groundwater) in a manner not readily recycled is foolish. Having the infrastructure of civilization dependent on such use is insane.
Use of a renewable resource beyond the reasonably reliable applicable renewal rate is foolish. If it takes 50 years to grow a tree, our use to growth relation must be balanced. For every tree needed annually, we need to have fifty growing. (Growing in the human resource dedicated areas.)
Technological innovations may for example, possibly eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels (ancient stored solar energy) prior to effective exhaustion of this resource. Absent such leaps in technology, we will, relatively soon, need to again rely on our annual solar energy allotment.
Further, it is not in the present day "best interest" of business or political leadership to prevent the crash, or even take steps to mitigate it.
Air / O2 / CO2. In theory, the area of plant material necessary to balance the breathing of a human is the same as that needed to produce food. The same area is that which can be practically fertilized by the humanure and urine from an adult.
Micronutrients. Whether from humanure, ruined clothing, a damaged wood item, or the body of a human, when the micronutrients that comprise the object, or person, are no longer needed, they need to be recycled to the growing medium.
Physical Limits. Absent scientific breakthroughs, humanity is effectively restricted to the limits of the Earth for the foreseeable future.
First, do no harm. Present businesses make huge profits selling products engineered for short useful life and disposal, with no concern for the damage to the environment. Pre-crash, while cheap fossil fuels are still available, sustainability engineered products might compete, but to a limited public.
Consider, no one asks you what the "payback" period is for an investment in a new "Corvette", but put up solar panels, and expect the question.
We already arguably divert 1/2 of the production of the planet to human uses, and we continue in most places to despoil our own communities, and common resources. It must stop, or after an oil shortage, we will face shortages of safe places to live, safe food, water, and air.
Fossil fuel has for around 150 years put into the infrastructure concentrated easy to manipulate energy, with only the minute cost of initiating the digging (coal) or pumping (oil) process, after which diverting only a small portion of the coal or oil sufficed to drive and expand the removal, refining & distribution process. It has been a great self-enhancing feedback loop, soon to end.
Absent a breakthrough, we will not have the "free" energy store such that we can expend 10+ times as much energy to get a can of corn to your home, as there is food value in the corn.
High shipping prices should lead to a concentration on local production and virtually closed recycling loops for necessities.
Centralized design and manufacturing of critical components, with local assembly and craftsmanship of non-critical components, cases, frames, etc.
Proactive maintenance and repair.
Solar energy. Sunlight powers the photosynthesis process, and feeds virtually all life on Earth. It powers the evaporative process, giving us rain and hydroelectric generation. It powers the winds and wind driven waves. But as great as it may seem compared to the size and capabilities of a human, it is still limited. The probable maximum effective solar collection area of the Earth that faces the sun at any given time is a disk of around 5,000 mile diameter.
An economy requires a stable and readily acceptable currency. As touched on earlier with mention of the "Wheat Receipts" lecture, even a fully "backed", gold-based currency remains subject to fraud and inflation by whomever issues the receipts. Far worse than this, virtually every nation today uses "fiat" currency, which only has value because the government directs that it does.
The present (2007) currency is backed by the "full faith and credit" of the nation, which in reality means the productive capability of the nation. Now remember what happens to the economy with peak oil. What is a real currency that cannot be subject to false receipts, theft and deliberate inflation? One that creating more of the backing adds actual value to the community?
Wheat is a real example where the entire community gains when more “currency” is generated. Finding more gold does not necessarily add to the capabilities of an economy. Beyond food and life support, it really appears that power is the prime driver of a robust like to know.
Chapter IV - Sustainability Principles or Guidelines - part 2