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Sustainability. EVSS 695 Class 7: Defining Sustainability Fall 2012 P . Brian Fisher. Heinberg , “Beyond Limits to Growth”. Beyond Limits to Growth Heinberg. 1. Rapidly Reduce dependence on fossil fuels

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EVSS 695

Class 7: Defining Sustainability

Fall 2012

P. Brian Fisher

beyond limits to growth heinberg
Beyond Limits to GrowthHeinberg
  • 1. Rapidly Reduce dependence on fossil fuels
  • 2. Adapt to the end of economic growth: reworking our current economic system without “continuous expansion”
  • 3. Design and Provide basic needs for 7billion people (and constrain pop growth (e.g. education)
  • 4. Address environmental consequences—first and foremost is GCC
  • Post Carbon Transition: “must entail the thorough redesign of our societal infrastructure, which today is utterly dependent on cheap fossil fuels…This difference will be reflected in urban design, land use patterns, food systems, manuf output, distribution networks, job mkt, transportation, health care, tourism, etc…It will also require a fundamental rethinking of our financial and cultural systems.” (p10-11)
what is sustainability heinberg
What is SustainabilityHeinberg

Heinberg’s five axioms

  • 1. Any society that continues to use critical resources unsustainably will collapse
  • 2. Pop growth and/or growth in rates of consumption cannot be sustained
  • 3. To be sustainable, the use of renewable resources must proceed at a rate that is less than or equal to rate of natural replenishment
  • 4. To be sustainable, the use of non-renewables must proceed at a rate that is declining, and the rate of decline must be greater than or equal to the rate of depletion
  • 5. Sustainability requires that substances introduced into the enviro from human activities be minimized and rendered harmless to the biosphere
sustainability political issue
Sustainability = Political Issue

“Ultimately, sustainable development and sustainability itself are about collective values and related choices and are therefore a political issue, almost certainly the supreme global political issue of this century. Because values, politics, and our understanding of the Earth and its systems will evolve, notions of what is sustainable will never be static.”

  • Worldwatch, “What is Sustainability, Anyway”
care instructions for sustainability
Care Instructions for Sustainability
  • Sustainability: “things can keep going, and sustain themselves, and keep going into the future.”
  • Planet Sustainability: “can continue to do what it was designed to do”
  • Reduce dependence on fossil fuels
  • Reduce dependence on chemicals
  • Reduce destruction of nature
  • Remove barriers to meeting basic needs
  • UN (Brundtland Commission): “development that meet the needs & aspirations of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
  • Fisher: Improving well-being for human and ecological systems at all scales in ways that can endure to future generations (living within the carrying capacity of ecosystems)
simple sustainability how many people can earth s systems support
Simple Sustainability: How many people can Earth’s systems support?


  • the typical level of material well-being;
  • the distribution of material well-being;
  • available technology;
  • political institutions;
  • economic arrangements;
  • demographic arrangements;
  • physical, chemical, and biological environments;
  • how much variability in total population is acceptable;
  • peoples’ willingness to risk local ecological disaster;
  • the time horizon; and
  • fashions, tastes, and moral values.
what is sustainability anyway
What is Sustainability, Anyway
  • Human Survival
  • Environment/Biodiversity
  • Equity
  • Human Well-Being/Life Quality
  • “Since the industrial revolution, we have increasingly ignored or altered the natural cycles—carbon, nitrogen, hydrological—that replenish these systems. The resulting explosion in economic output has come at the cost of the long-term and dangerous depletion of natural capital.”
lessons from easter island
Lessons from Easter Island
  • Human beings respond strongly to incentives to overuse resources.
  • We have great difficulty noticing when things are going wrong, unless it happens over relatively short periods.
  • Declining resource availability can undermine the very organizational structures and capacities needed to fashion a response.
  • Failure of Easter Island culture to grasp what was happening to it led, not to its extinction, but to its radical impoverishment and simplification

-Easter Island Sustainable? If def’n is about “survival”, yes; but if it’s about “thriving” then no.

-Ecosystem and society became simplified from loss of biodiversity and quality of life.

tainter the inevitability of transition
Tainter, “the inevitability of Transition”
  • Looking at 18 civilizations that reached growth limits and collapsed—diminishing marginal returns on increasing social complexity.
  • For localization:
    • 1. collapse (in this context) doesn’t mean total destruction, but a rapid descent to a lower level of social complexity
    • 2. technological innovation cannot prevent this descent
    • 3. So, as societies solve problems with technology, social complexity increases; yet, there is diminishing returns  leading to vulnerability and breakdown of complexity.
    • 4. Interconnection of key systems makes “mutual descent” most likely
  • Therefore, a “strong and meaningful notion of localization must go beyond the local. It must be at once local, regional and international.”
environment dimension management of planetary resources
Environment Dimension: Management of Planetary Resources
  • Enviro Management
    • Biosphere
    • Freshwater/Oceans
    • Land Use
  • Human Management
    • Energy
    • Water
    • Food
    • Transportation
    • Materials, Toxins, and Waste
waste example
Waste Example

Environmentalism: Stresses individualization based on recycling

Sustainability: Stresses minimization and Prevention by changing systems

economic and social spheres
Economic and Social Spheres
  • Economic Dimension
    • Decoupling Econ Growth & Enviro Decline
    • Economic Externalities (of nature)
    • Economic Opportunity
  • Social Dimension
    • Security and Social Justice
    • Poverty and Inequality
    • Human Settlements and New Urbanism
    • Eco-Democracy
history sustainability
History  Sustainability
  • Our shared understanding of “sustainability” is less a scientific concept than an historical discourse through which we might imagine more hopeful futures.”
  • We need “new ways of talking about sustainability that will galvanize diverse and experimental forms of action b/c it is through such experimentation that we will find the vocabulary we need.” (p4)
what is sustainability
What is Sustainability?
  • Sustainability = resource sufficiency and functional integrity
  • Non substantive Sustainability: much of discourse is based on political, ethical, and cultural concerns—that have nothing to do with above (sufficiency)
  • Jamieson: Sustainability does little to explain human activities in terms of philosophy (moral obligations) and/or motivational power (little effect on behavior)
  • Sustainability must be more than optimization (or well being over time), it must be a by product of resource sufficiency and functional integrity of the system
studying and employing sustainability
Studying and Employing Sustainability
  • Resource Sufficiency = Econ sustainability
  • Functional Integrity = Ecological sustainability
  • Equity Fairness = Social Sustainability
  • Environ + Soc Justice?
  • Sustainability as social mvmt
  • Sustainability = interests of labor, marginalized
  • Sustainability = storyline contested in locale
thompson s conclusion
Thompson’s conclusion
  • Social Sustainability (or non-substantive sustainability) amount to merely normative commitments and is insufficient.
    • Need empirical factors like resources & functionality
  • Yet, sustainability as social impetus is important and compensates for its vagueness.
  • Believes that storylines are important, esp around democracy and social justice
preamble us constitution
Preamble US Constitution

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

cultural narrative from constitution on sustainability
Cultural Narrative from Constitution on Sustainability
  • Citizen empowerment and democracy
  • Build connection and community (perfecting the Union)
  • Generate Justice and equity
  • Convey security and resilience
  • Foster collective benefits and well being
  • Obtain freedom and self-determination
  • Responsibility to future generation
hubert humphery landon lecture 1970
Hubert Humphery – Landon Lecture (1970)
  • Topicwould be "How We Can Make Our Government Work”—but about our social order, our government, this country, its role in the world
  • Lessons of the Past – Sons and daughters of the depression, so “economic security was vital. We learned the hard way. There were no jobs; the nation was prostrate…our leaders…had suffered the anguish and the pain and the disaster of war—world war—, of depression—worldwide depression.”
  • “And we spent our time trying to create the economic mechanism that would assure the production of goods and services to guarantee economic health for the nation. Perhaps we forgot that man does not live by bread alone. But we did learn—also learned the hard way—that isolated as a nation, there was no security.”
  • “So the 1960's could be described as a time when we had too much confidence in our wealth, too much confidence in our power —thinking that wealth was goods and services and that power was military might and alliances. There was far too little emphasis, I suppose on real power, namely, reason arid understanding, knowledge directed to action, a knowledge with commitment.”
  • We had a little too much confidence in our science and technology. We were overwhelmed—awed—by computers, by electronics, by the Space Age…we failed to recognize that science must be a tool for man; that it must be his servant, not his master. The 1960's taught us that we should make science and technology our servants and this requires that we have political conviction, political decision, and social decision.”
achieving our goals
Achieving our Goals
  • What I am saying is that we have created the material means to do the great things that need to be done. The question is whether we, as individuals, have the willingness to do what the founders of this republic said we would have to do if we wanted life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: namely, to pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to the achievement of these goals.
  • The first sign of health is recognizing your sickness. A strong nation and a great people do not run away from their problems, they confront them head on—and recognize that they can be solved.
social change
Social Change
  • The preamble of the Constitution of the United States says "we the people of these United States do ordain and establish”…” It is a contemporary document. It is a living instrument; and because it is that, it changes just like the human body and the human mind and the emotions of human beings, and all living organisms.”
  • “And what we seek is change with order and order with change. It's a tremendous assignment. And it requires that we understand the difference between dissent on the one hand and violence on the other; the difference between liberty and license; the difference between rights and privileges.”
  • Need a “new great partnership….modern society requires a partnership of private and public sectors, a partnership of the university with the private economic community and the government and all other segments of society….And it requires new management methods.”
  • “New federalism, therefore, wasn't so much a delineation of power between national and state government as it was a pattern or description or formula of cooperative partnership of all levels of government in concert with private resources, the partnership of creative federalism…Your government—and that's what we're talking about—was designed to maximize and mobilize the nation's resources for the achievement of national goals and the solution of increasingly complex problems. This is the only modern industrial nation in the world that lacks a system to establish our priorities.”
  • Need a new GOAL(s) and priorities  have limited resources
  • Need Strong Federal branch because of mobility  this mobility has made matters of national, rather than just local, concern.
  • New "people programs” (like Civil Rights and Education Policies of 60s) is that they are designed to meet local needs, but local needs that are in the national interest.
  • Streamline and Coordinate  “We must find ways to coordinate and to eliminate duplication in this huge and complicated government structure, so that we maximize the purpose of government as never before…coordination is essential.”
  • Strength in People  “The strength of this nation is not in its arms or in its industry, it is in its people. And the wealth of this nation is not in its banks or its insurance companies, it is in its people. We must develop these human resources.”
  • Environmental Protection  “And surely if there is one focus for the seventies, it must be survival and the protection of our physical environment….ladies and gentlemen, don't underestimate the danger that is before us…The danger that faces us today comes right out of the exhaust pipe of our automobiles and our busses, and out of the water that flows from an industrial plant into the river, and out of the smoke stacks that spew their poisonous gases into the air and out of a jet engine.”
solutions part ii
Solutions Part II
  • We can't have two Americas We need a positive program to set priorities for the development of human resources.
  • Democracy is not self-executing  We have to make it work. We have to understand it. Not only external vigilance but unending self-examination must be the perennial price of liberty because the work of self-government never ceases…unending self-examination is the perennial price of liberty ….the work of self-government never ceases.”
  • Challenge of Change  “with a sense of urgency, I suggest that we ventilate the clogged channels of political participation and of social opportunity. These refreshing winds of change, which are everywhere about us, must be directed to constructive purposes…through responsible debate and dissent, through reason and discussion, until decision and direction are clear.
  • Gov’t through the consent of the Governed  “This is what we mean when we say a wholesome and decent respect for the opinions of others. This is what we mean by a social contract among equals…And this is what creative federalism means—a government that never stands still, a society that sees change as a challenge not as an enemy, a social structure that constantly expands and opens its doors because we, the people, know that there are new people to be heard from, new ideas 'to be discovered, and new ways of life to be found.”