Monday, March 14, 2016

4 Principles for Full Sustainability

Thanks to groundbreaking work by scientists associated with The Natural Step, we know what a fully sustainable society must do: meet four simple principles. 

How we do it is up to us, but based on hard science, we won’t be sustainable until we meet these four rules.

It’s as if we made four design mistakes in the design of modern society and if we fix those, our most pressing problems vanish. Individuals, businesses and governments are using these principles to measure their progress.

Take a piece of paper and list the top five worries you have for your kids and grandkids. Are they social, environmental and/or economic? Now see if they fall under any of these principles. We just have to stop breaking these four rules (adapted from the Natural Step’s ‘system conditions’.)

1. Don't MOVE materials from the earth’s crust into nature.

Based on the first Law of Thermodynamics, matter cannot be created or destroyed. So when we take matter from deep inside the earth’s crust that has been hidden there for billions of years, (eg, metal, minerals and especially hydrocarbons) faster than nature can redeposit it, those materials build up in nature. Jerome and the surrounding area is contaminated by mining and its by-products. And climate change is largely a result of combustion engines moving hydrocarbons from deep inside the earth into the air.
What you can do: You already know the drill: drive less, walk/bike/carpool more. Replace lights with LEDs. Choose Energy Star appliances.

You can also generate your own electricity. We are already seeing a sea-change toward solar power. According to Arizona Goes Solar, here’s how our communities compare. To put this into perspective, most households in the US use just under 11,000 kWh per year. (Source)

As more electric cars come on line, we can drive on the power of the sun.

2. Don't MAKE materials that nature can’t handle.

Industry makes tens of thousands of chemicals, and many are not easy for nature to break down. Think of DDT. Thanks to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy, everything spreads. So DDT —which may have been used in Mexico—affected eagles in Alaska.

But this principle also applies to organic materials. Hog farms that create more biodegradable waste than the local land can absorb, so the nitrogen ends up in streams and causes dead-zones in the ocean.

What you can do: One way you can help is to buy organic produce. You not only protect yourself from pesticides, you also protect the farmworkers and the lands downstream. Think about this too when you choose cleaning and personal care products. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients or eat them, you may want to investigate. You can see how your products compare on the Environmental Working Group’s site:

3. Don't TAKE from nature faster than it can regenerate. 

Through development, pollution and genetic manipulation, we are reducing nature’s productivity. Planting palm oil plantations where rain forest used to be and over-harvesting fisheries both undermine nature’s ability to provide us free services we depend on. In our communities, we are still drawing down aquifers faster than they are replenished.

What you can do: When you purchase natural resources or products that come from them, see if there is a sustainably certified option. The Forest Stewardship Council certifies paper and wood products. The Marine Stewardship Council certifies fisheries. Eat lower on the food chain, more fruits and vegetables and less meat. Conserve water.

4. Don't HURT communities’ ability to meet their needs. 

If communities and individuals can’t meet their basic needs in a sustainable fashion, they pursue unsustainable alternatives. Arizona experiences first-hand immigration from Latin America where people struggle to provide for their families and are threatened by drug-related violence and corruption. In Phoenix, kids who don’t see a future in their neighborhoods turn to gangs for opportunity and affection.

What you can do: You can help by choosing Fair Trade products like coffee and chocolate. Donate your clothing and household items so lower-income people can benefit from them. Volunteer with non-profits that address issues you care about and fill up your Green Bag for Yavapai Food Council with healthy foods.