Sunday, November 16, 2014

How would you know if you were truly sustainable?

by Darcy Hitchcock

No question, there is a lot of activity around the Verde Valley regarding sustainability. What is missing is a scientific understanding of what full sustainability is. Otherwise, we risk being just 'less bad' instead of shooting for full sustainability.

The Natural Step, an international organization based in Sweden, worked with a broad range of scientists to develop four principles for a fully sustainable society. They started with fundamental laws of nature like the Laws of Thermodynamics and then ironically, imagined themselves to be an evil alien intent on ruining the planet. How would you go about it, understanding natural laws?

Image courtesy of The Natural Step
In a nutshell, you'd...

  1. Dig up or pump out elements that had been buried deep in the earth's crust for billions of years and spread it around the planet. (Eg, hydrocarbons, metals and minerals)
  2. Create synthetic chemicals like DDT that nature can't break down and spread that around.
  3. Undermine nature's ability to create life by over-harvesting, reducing genetic diversity and paving over paradise.
  4. Hurt people's ability to meet their own needs sustainably so they would go to war or be forced to over-harvest to survive.
Of course, we don't need an evil alien to do this. Humans have been doing this for years. We made four design mistakes in our society. Pretty much all the problems of the world can fit under these four mistakes.

These design mistakes got turned into 'system conditions' and principles. Once you understand these, you can assess the degree to which you are dependent upon breaking these and measure your progress toward achieving those principles. 

Here are a couple resources to help you understand these principles better.

"Sustainability Buzzwords"—Article on different frameworks and why The Natural Step is at the top


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