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SUSTAINABILITY: ASSUMPTION, HYPOTHESIS, OXYMORON?. James H. Brown Department of Biology University of New Mexico Mojave Desert Science Symposium November 2004. Benchmarks: Ecological Society of America : 1998 Lubchenco et al. The sustainable biosphere initiative

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sustainability assumption hypothesis oxymoron
SUSTAINABILITY: ASSUMPTION, HYPOTHESIS, OXYMORON?

James H. Brown

Department of Biology

University of New Mexico

Mojave Desert Science Symposium

November 2004

slide3
Benchmarks:

Ecological Society of America:

  • 1998 Lubchenco et al. The sustainable biosphere initiative
  • 2004 Palmer et al. Ecological science and sustainability for a crowded planet

Science:

  • 2001 Kates et al. Sustainability science
  • 2003 McMichael et al. New visions for addressing sustainability

Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA:

  • 2003 Clark and Dickson. Sustainability science: the emerging research paradigm

Books:

1997 Daily. Nature’s services: societal dependence on natural ecosystems

2003 Hall. Quantifying sustainable development

2003 Millenium Ecosystem Assessment. Ecosystems and human well-being

concepts of sustainability
Concepts of Sustainability

Long history in the environmental sciences

  • Sustainable biosphere:

maintenance of “ecological goods and services” to

support human population, ecosystem function, and

biodiversity

  • Sustainable development:

economic progress without social or environmental

damage

  • Sustainable agriculture:

food and fiber production for human use

  • Sustained yield of natural resources:

fisheries, wildlife, timber, livestock forage

what is meant by sustainability
What is meant by sustainability?
  • Ecological system:
  • productivity
  • biodiversity
  • landscape
  • heterogeneity
  • human population
  • and economy
  • Equilibrial exchange:
  • energy
  • materials
  • organisms
  • humans
  • Input subsidies:
  • energy
  • materials
  • organisms
  • humans
  • Output losses:
  • energy, materials, organisms
sustainable biosphere

Ecological system:

  • 6 billion people
  • modern technological
  • economy
  • agricultural
  • productivity
  • biodiversity
  • “ecosystem services”
Sustainable biosphere?
  • Input subsidies:
  • fossil fuel energy
  • Output losses:
  • heat
  • Degrading transformations:
  • dispersion of concentrated materials
  • production of toxins and pollutants
sustainable development

Ecological system:

  • improved standard
  • of living
  • modern technological
  • economy
  • agricultural
  • productivity
  • biodiversity
  • “ecosystem services”
Sustainable development?
  • Input subsidies:
  • fossil fuel energy
  • material resources
  • Output losses:
  • products
  • pollutants
  • Degrading transformations:
  • dispersion of concentrated materials
  • production of toxins and pollutants
sustainable agriculture

Degrading transformations:

  • altered soil and water
  • regime
  • biodiversity loss
Sustainable agriculture?
  • Input subsidies:
  • fossil fuel energy
  • fertilizers
  • water
  • pesticides
  • human, animal, and
  • machine labor
  • Goals:
  • food and fiber
  • production
  • primary production
  • nutrient cycling
  • Output losses:
  • harvested products
  • soil erosion
  • pollutants
sustainable yield of natural resources
Sustainable yield of natural resources?
  • Input subsidies:
  • fossil fuel energy
  • human and
  • machine labor
  • Ecological system:
  • resource
  • productivity
  • “ecosystem function”
  • biodiversity
  • Output losses:
  • natural products
  • timber/fish/meat
  • Degrading transformations:
  • diverse “environmental impacts”
assessment of sustainability
Assessment of Sustainability
  • Sustainable biosphere with 6 billion humans?

oxymoron

energy subsidy from finite supply of fossil fuels

  • Sustainable development?

oxymoron

inputs of energy and material subsidies

outputs of pollutants

  • Sustainable agriculture?

hypothesis

even with energy, material, and labor subsidies?

  • Sustained yields of natural resources?

hypothesis

with minimal energy and labor subsidies?

example sustainable ecology and ranching on the borderlands
Example: Sustainable ecology and ranching on the borderlands
  • Place:

Malpai Borderlands: ~ 2500 km2 in New Mexico and Arizona adjoining U.S.-Mexico Border

  • Stakeholders:

Malpai Borderlands Group: ~20 ranching families, Government agencies and NGOs, scientific advisors

  • Goals:

Ecologically and economically sustainable livestock ranching

Preserve open space, biodiversity, ecological processes

  • Threats

Rural subdivision

Overgrazing

Endangered species

slide17

Ridge-nosed

rattlesnake

slide19

Chiricahua

Leopard frog

the model ecology dictated by four primary processes
The model: Ecology dictated by four primary processes:

1) Spatial variation in topography, geology and soils

2) Temporal variation in climate and weather

3) Grazing by large herbivores (now mostly domestic livestock)

4) Fire

Adaptive management tomanipulate two processes:

1) Livestock grazing

2) Fire

slide21

Spatial variation in

topography, geology and soils

slide22

Temporal variation

in climate and weather

successes to date
Successes to date
  • Initiated ecological and economic ranching practices

Adoption of adaptive management practices

Natural and prescribed burns

Permanent vegetation monitoring plots to track changes

Grass bank to prevent overgrazing during droughts

Experimentation with cattle breeds and marketing

  • Preservation of open space

Conservation leases to prevent subdivision into rural ranchettes

Alternative livelihoods: biotourism, photo and hunting safaris

  • Limited loss of biodiversity

reintroduction/recovery of many endangered species (bighorn, prairie dog, bison, jaguar, turkey)

aquatic and riparian ecosystems: continued loss of native species and invasions of exotic species

long term prognosis most uncertainties are external
Long-term prognosis? Most uncertainties are external
  • “Sustainable” ranching at local to regional scales requires energy, material, and economic subsidies

Fossil fuels to power vehicles, machinery and households

Income from livestock and other commodities

  • Development pressure from growing populations in Tucson, Sierra Vista, and surrounding areas
  • Changing livestock markets, material and transportation costs, taxation and societal incentives
  • External threats to biodiversity

Reduction or loss of source populations, habitat and dispersal corridors in surrounding regions

Time frame for “sustainability”?

50 years?

bottom line regional to local scale
Bottom line (regional to local scale):
  • Some degree of sustainability of is possible, BUT IT WILL REQUIRE
  • Consideration of ecological and human
        • factors
        • Energy, material and economic subsidies
        • Continual monitoring and adaptive
        • management
        • Protection from degrading external
        • processes
bottom line national to global scale
Bottom line (national to global scale):

Sustainability of human civilization with current population and standard of living is threatened by

“five horsemen of the apocalypse”

  • energy
  • disease
  • food
  • water
  • pollution

but energy is by far the most important – and

global oil supply is being depleted