Sustainability and Text

Topics: Sustainability, Ecological economics, Sustainable development Pages: 13 (4867 words) Published: January 19, 2009
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References: 11 Further reading 12 External links {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Definition Although the definition of sustainable development (above) given by the United Nations Brundtland Commission, is frequently quoted, it is not universally accepted and has undergone various interpretations. Definitions of sustainability may be expressed as statements of fact, intent, or value with sustainability treated as either a "journey" or "destination."[5] This difficult mix has been described as a dialogue of values that defies consensual definition.[6] As an appeal for action it is also open to many interpretations as to how it can be achieved. Sustainability has been regarded as both an important but unfocused concept like "liberty" or "justice"[7][8] and as a feel-good buzzword with little meaning or substance.[9][10][11] The idea of sustainable development is sometimes viewed as an oxymoron because development inevitably depletes and degrades the environment.[12] Consequently some definitions either avoid the word development and use the term sustainability exclusively, or emphasise the environmental component, as in "environmentally sustainable development". {draw:a} Scheme of sustainable development: at the confluence of three constituent parts.[13] {draw:a} {draw:a} This diagram incorporates the three pillars diagram within the sphere of the Earth, life on Earth and the surrounding Environment that the systems within rely on.[14] The term "sustainability" is defined in many ways according to the context in which it is applied. As all human activity entails sustainability the word may be used to refer to any aspect of human behaviour. The fundamental integrated dimensions of sustainability are often taken to be: ecological, social and economic, known as the "three pillars" These are depicted as three overlapping circles, to show that these are not mutually exclusive and can be mutually reinforcing.[16] While this model was intended to increase the standing of ecological concerns, it has since been criticised for not adequately showing that societies and economies are fundamentally reliant on the natural world.[14] As Herman Daly famously asked "what use is a sawmill without a forest?"[17] For this reason a fourth and outer "environment" circle is sometimes added that encloses the other three.[14] Definitions of sustainability may include statements of both fact and value, and may also be a call to certain kinds of action. Consequently, for some people sustainability is a desirable state of affairs (a "destination"), for others it is a process and way of living (a "journey"). Because of these diverse factors sustainability is sometimes perceived as a general concept like liberty or justice, which is accepted as being of critical importance to humanity and life in general. It can also be viewed as a "dialogue of values" that defies consensual definition.[19] As a call to action, sustainability" is open to various political perspectives on ways to achieve particular sustainability goals. The Earth Charter sets out to establish values and direction in this way: We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations. A simpler definition is given by the IUCN, UNEP and WWF: Sustainabilty is: improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems.[20] Sustainability can also be presented as a call to action, as: ... a means of configuring civilization and human activity so that society, its members and its economies are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals in the very long term.[21] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} {text:bookmark-end} {text:bookmark-end} Emergence of industrial societies {draw:a} {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Early 20th century Ecology had now gained acceptance as a scientific discipline and many concepts now fundamental to sustainability were being explored. These included: the interconnectedness of all living systems in a single living planetary system, the biosphere; the importance of natural cycles (of water, nutrients and other chemicals, materials, waste; and the passage of energy through trophic levels of living systems. {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Mid 20th century: environmentalism Following the deprivations of the great depression and World War II the developed world entered a period of escalating growth. A gathering environmental movement pointed out that there were environmental costs associated with the many material benefits that were now being enjoyed. Innovations in technology (including plastics, synthetic chemicals, nuclear energy) and the increasing use of fossil fuels, were transforming society. Modern industrial agriculture—the "Green Revolution" — was based on the development of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides which had devastating consequences for rural wildlife, as documented in Rachel Carson 's Silent Spring (1962). {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Late 20th century Increasingly environmental problems were viewed as global in scale. The 1973 and 1979 energy crises demonstrated the extent to which the global community had become dependent on a nonrenewable resource and led to a further increase in public awareness of issues of sustainability. A direction toward sustainable living by increasing public awareness and adoption of recycling, and renewable energies begins to occur. The development of renewable sources of energy in the 1970 's and 80 's, primarily in wind turbines and photovoltaics, and increased use of hydro-electricity, presented some of the first sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel and nuclear energy generation. These developments led to construction of many of the first large-scale solar and wind power plants during the 1980 's and 90 's. The 1990 's saw the small-scale reintroduction of the electric car. These factors, further raised public awareness of issues of sustainability, and many local and state governments in developed countries began to implement small-scale sustainability policies. {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} 21st century: global awareness Principles and Concepts {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Scale At the global level a number of key goals have been isolated: Grassroots democracy involving people and communities in understanding problems and developing new solutions {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Consumption, population, technology, resources {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Direct and indirect impacts At a fundamental level, human impact on the Earth is now seen in harmful changes in the global biogeochemical cycles of chemicals that are critical to life, most notably those of water, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus.[58] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Sustainability and development {draw:a} Before flue gas desulfurization was installed, the emissions from this power plant contained excessive amounts of sulfur dioxide. An "unsustainable situation" occurs when natural capital (the sum total of nature 's resources) is used up faster than it can be replenished. Sustainability requires that human activity only uses nature 's resources at a rate at which they can be replenished naturally. Inherently the concept of sustainable development is intertwined with the concept of carrying capacity. Theoretically, the long-term result of environmental degradation is the inability to sustain human life. Such degradation on a global scale could imply extinction for humanity. {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Human impact on the biosphere {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Protecting the biosphere There are two major ways of reducing human impact on the planet. The first is to monitor and respond to direct human impacts on the oceans and freshwater systems, the land and atmosphere (see direct impacts below). This approach is based on information gained from environmental science and conservation biology. However, this is management at the end of a long series of causal factors (known to ecologists as drivers) that are initiated by human consumption, our demand for food, energy, materials and water. {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Direct global environmental impacts {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Atmosphere {draw:a} Use of the atmosphere {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Oceans {draw:a} Saltwater fish Oceans and their circulation patterns have a critical effect on climate and the food supply for both humans and other organisms. Major environmental impacts occur in the more habitable regions of the oceans – the estuaries, coastline and bays. Because of their vastness oceans act as a dumping ground for human waste. Trends of concern include: ocean warming, reef bleaching and sea level rise, all due to climate change together with the possibility for a sudden alteration of present-day ocean currents which could drastically alter the climate in some regions of the globe; over-fishing (beyond sustainable levels); and ocean acidification due to dissolved carbon dioxide.[3] Remedial strategies include: more careful waste management, statutory control of overfishing, reduction of fossil fuel emissions, and restoration of coastal and other marine habitat. {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Freshwater In the industrial world demand management has slowed absolute usage rates but in the developing world water security, and therefore food security, remain among the most important issues to address. Increasing urbanization pollutes clean water supplies and much of the world still does not have access to clean, safe water.[3] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Land Land use change is fundamental to the operations of the biosphere. This includes alteration to biogeochemical cycles, effects of agriculture, proportions of forest and woodland, grassland and pasture.[3] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Forests Historically about 47% of the world’s forests have been lost to human use. Present-day forests occupy about a quarter of the world’s ice-free land with about half occurring in the tropics[69] In temperate and boreal regions forest area is gradually increasing (with the exception of Siberia), but deforestation in the tropics is of major concern. {draw:a} {draw:a} Forests can moderate the local climate and the global water cycle through their light reflectance (albedo) and evapotranspiration. They also conserve biodiversity, protect water quality, preserve soil and soil quality, provide fuel and pharmaceuticals, and purify the air. These free ecosystem services have no market value and so forest conservation has little appeal when compared with the economic benefits of logging and clearance which, through soil degradation and organic decomposition returns carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The FAO has concluded that, over the period 2005–2050, effective use of tree planting could absorb about 10–20% of man-made emissions – so clearly we need to monitor the condition of the world 's forests very closely (both reafforestation and deforestation) as they must be part of any coordinated emissions mitigation strategy.[71] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Cultivated land {draw:a} Rice Paddy {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} Extinctions {draw:a} {draw:a} In line with human migration and population growth, species extinctions have progressively increased to a rate unprecedented since the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event. Known as the Holocene extinction event this human-induced extinction of species ranks as one of the worlds six mass extinction events. Some scientific estimates indicate that up to half of presently existing species may become extinct by 2100.[75][76] Loss of biodiversity can be attributed largely to the appropriation of land for agroforestry. Current extinction rate are 100 to 1000 times their prehuman levels with more than 10% birds and mammals threatened, about 8% of plants and 5% of fish and more than 20% of freshwater species.[3] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Biological invasions {draw:a} {draw:a} {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Indirect global environmental impacts {draw:a} {draw:a} Numbers and consumption patterns of people relate directly to environmental impacts The direct impacts on the environment described above are the result of a long chain of causal factors, which is why managing direct human impacts on oceans, atmosphere and land is sometimes called "end of pipe" management; it does not manage the indirect "start of pipe" drivers of this impact which can be reduced to three fundamental factors: Population numbers Levels of consumption (affluence) Impact per unit of resource use (which is a result of the technology used) This has been expressed through an equation: [78] Where: I = Environmental impact P = Population A = Affluence T = Technology This equation has been criticised, because it represents only a static picture without changes over time: rising affluence (_A_) may over time have a curbing effect on the environment due to the circumstance that a strong economy could provide the means to tackle environmental problems by changing technology (_T_). Also the equation does not include social considerations such as the development of efficient environmental governance; it is difficult to apply in a realistic and useful way.[79] Nevertheless, it provides a strong starting point for discussion. To detail the various direct and indirect environmental impacts per unit of consumption (_T_), the tool of Life Cycle Assessment is increasingly applied internationally. Addressing sustainability now focuses much of its attention on managing levels of consumption and resource impact by seeking, for example, to modify individual lifestyles, and to apply ideas like ethical consumerism, dematerialisation and decarbonisation, while at the same time exploring more environmentally friendly technology and methods through ecodesign and industrial ecology. At present individual and household use of resources like energy and water is monitored through domestic water and energy bills and car fuel use – but much greater quantities of these resources are embodied in the goods and services we use. In the same way society as a whole tends to consider environmental management in terms of direct impacts rather than their driver - human consumption. Patterns of consumption must reflect the cleverer use of resources: e.g. using renewable energy rather than fossil fuels and fewer embodied resources in goods and services.[80][81] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Production, consumption, technology {draw:a} {draw:a} Shopping There is debate about the relationship between natural and human capital - whether we must live off the interest of our natural capital (strong sustainability).[82]) or if it is possible to thrive indefinitely while taking more natural resources, provided total capital remains constant (weak sustainability).[83] Consumerism focuses on the end-product. It tends to stay away from the focus on the production and transportation stage of the goods. In coming to terms with human consumption sustainability science focuses on four interconected and basic human resource needs - for: water (agriculture, industry, domestic use), energy (industry, transport, tools and appliances), materials (manufacturing, construction) and food (horticulture, agriculture and agribusiness)[59]. Each of these resources are discussed below. {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Energy Since the industrial revolution the concentrated energy of the Sun stored in fossilised plants as fossil fuels have been a major driver of technology and the source of both economic and political power. {draw:a} {draw:a} Flow of CO2 in the global ecosystem In 2007, after prolonged skepticism about the human contribution to climate change, climate scientists of the IPCC concluded that there was at least a 90% probability that this atmospheric increase in CO2 was human-induced - essentially due to fossil fuel emissions and, to a lesser extent, the CO2 released from changes in land use. Projections for the coming century indicate that a minimum of 500 ppm can be expected and possibly as much as 1000 ppm. Stabilising the world’s climate will require high income countries to reduce their emissions by 60-90% over 2006 levels by 2050. This should stabilise atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 450-650 ppm from current levels of about 380 ppm. Above this level and temperatures would probably rise by more than 2 °C (36 °F) to produce “catastrophic” climate change.[84][85] Reduction of current CO2 levels must be achieved against a background of global population increase and developing countries aspiring to energy-intensive high consumption Western lifestyles.[86] Projecting climate into the future and forecasting regional impacts depends on our understanding of the exchange of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere, oceans and land ecosystems. NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration), is charged to provide the atmospheric measurements and analyses required to track the fate of carbon dioxide emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels and biomass, and to reduce uncertainties in how the exchange of carbon responds to the variations and trends of climate and land use.[87] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Water {draw:a} {draw:a} A freshwater lake in daylight. Water covers 71% of the Earth 's surface. The oceans contain 97.2% of the Earth 's water. The Antarctic ice sheet contains 90% of all fresh water on Earth. Condensed atmospheric water, as clouds, contributes to the Earth 's albedo. Awareness of the global importance of preserving water for ecosystem services has only just begun as, during the 20th century, more than half the world’s wetlands have been lost along with their valuable environmental services. Biodiversity-rich freshwater ecosystems are currently declining faster than marine or land ecosystems.[88] In the decade 1951-60 human water withdrawals were four times greater than the previous decade. This rapid increase resulted from scientific and technological developments impacting through the economy - especially the increase in irrigated land, growth in industrial and power sectors, and intensive dam construction on all continents. This altered the water cycle of rivers and lakes, affected their water quality and therefore potential as a human resource, and altered the global water cycle.[89] Currently towards 35% of human water use is unsustainable, drawing on diminishing aquifers and reducing flows of major rivers.[3] Over the period 1961 to 2001 there was a doubling of demand and over the same period agricultural use increased by 75%, industrial use by more than 200%, and domestic use more than 400%. [3] Humans currently use 40-50% of the globally available freshwater in the approximate proportion of 70% for agriculture, 22% for industry, and 8% for domestic purposes and the total amount is progressively increasing being about five times that at the beginning of the 20th century.[89] The path forward appears to lie in improving water use efficiency through: demand management; maximising water resource productivity of agriculture; minimising the water intensity (embodied water) of goods and services; addressing shortages in the non-industrialised world; moving production from areas of low productivity to those with high productivity; and planning for climate change.[88] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Materials Materials used by humans are still increasing in volume, number, diversity and toxicity. Synthetic chemical production is escalating and global transport systems accelerate distribution across the globe.[90] Much of the sustainability effort is directed at converting the linear path of materials from one of extraction to production and disposal as waste, to a cyclical one that reuses materials indefinitely, much like the waste cycle in nature.[91] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Waste {draw:a} {draw:a} Household waste {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Food The American Public Health Association (APHA) defines a "sustainable food system"[94][95] as "one that provides healthy food to meet current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can also provide food for generations to come with minimal negative impact to the environment. A sustainable food system also encourages local production and distribution infrastructures and makes nutritious food available, accessible, and affordable to all. Further, it is humane and just, protecting farmers and other workers, consumers, and communities."[96] Concerns about the environmental impacts of agribusiness and the stark contrast between the obesity problems of the Western world and the poverty and food insecurity of the developing world have generated a strong movement towards healthy, sustainable eating as a major component of overall ethical consumerism.[97] The environmental effects of different dietary patterns depend on various factors, including the proportion of animal and plant foods consumed and the method of food production.[98][99][100][101] The World Health Organisation has published a Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health which was endorsed by the May 2004 World Health Assembly. It recommends the Mediterranean diet which is associated with health and longevity and is low in meat, rich in fruits and vegetables, low in added sugar and limited salt, and low in saturated fatty acids; the traditional source of fat in the Mediterranean is olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fat. The healthy rice-based Japanese diet is also high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Both diets are low in meat and saturated fats and high in legumes and other vegetables; they are associated with a low incidence of ailments and low environmental impact. At the local level there are various movements working towards more sustainable use of wastelands, peripheral urban land and domestic gardens. This includes permaculture[102], urban horticulture, local food, slow food, and organic gardening. {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Economic pillar Main articles: Ecological economics, Natural resource economics, Natural capital, Energy economics, and Environmental economics {draw:a} {draw:a} The Great Fish Market, painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder Ecological economics explores the interface between environmental issues and economics, especially in relation to how traditional market forces deal with diminishing natural resources. [103] In most circumstances, as commodity or service scarcity increases then the resultant increase in prices acts as a restraint that encourages technical innovation and alternative products. However, this principle applies only when the product or service falls within the market system. [104] Nature and natural resources are generally treated as economic externalities. While these services remain unpriced economic they will be overused and degraded, a situation referred to as the Tragedy of the Commons. The economic importance of natural resources has been acknowledged by sustainability science through the use of the expression ecosystem services to indicate the market relevance of nature which can no longer be regarded as both unlimited and free. [105] Protecting the biological world is now becoming progressively subject to market strategies including environmental taxes and incentives, tradable permits for carbon, water and nitrogen use etc., together with an increasing willingness to accept payment for ecosystem services by these and other methods. Physical scientists and biologists were the first individuals to use energy flows to explain social and economic development.[106] Energy economics relating to thermoeconomics, is a broad scientific subject area which includes topics related to supply and use of energy in societies. Thermoeconomists argue that economic systems always involve matter, energy, entropy, and information.[107]Thermoeconomics is based on the proposition that the role of energy in biological evolution should be defined and understood through the second law of thermodynamics but in terms of such economic criteria as productivity, efficiency, and especially the costs and benefits of the various mechanisms for capturing and utilizing available energy to build biomass and do work.[108][109] As a result, thermoeconomics are often discussed in the field of ecological economics, which itself is related to the fields of sustainability and sustainable development. {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Decoupling environmental degradation and economic growth Part of the task for sustainability is to find ways of reducing (decoupling) the amount of resource (e.g. water, energy, or materials) needed for the production, consumption and disposal of a unit of good or service. In other words the goal of sustainability is to minimise resource use per unit of product or money spent (the resource intensity) and to maximise the output per unit of resource input or money spent (the resource productivity).[115] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Peace and security Main articles: war, peace, crime, corruption, security_ and _environmental security. {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Population, migration, urbanization Main topics: population, overpopulation, urbanization, megalopolis, migration, bioregionalism. {draw:a} {draw:a} Human population from 10,000 BC – AD 2000. The world population will likely increase by 2.5 billion over the next 43 years, passing from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050. This increase is equivalent to the overall number of people in the world in 1950 and it will be absorbed mostly by the less developed regions, whose population is projected to rise from 5.4 billion in 2007 to 7.9 billion in 2050. In contrast, the population of the more developed regions is expected to remain largely unchanged at 1.2 billion and would have declined were it not for the projected net migration from developing to developed countries, which is expected to average 2.3 million persons a year after 2010. [117] Between-country migration and movement from rural to urban situations continues to increase. In some regions coalescence of urban centres has given rise to the term megalopolis. Emerging economies like those of China and India aspire to the living standards of the Western world as does the non-industrialised world. Long-term estimates suggest a peak at around 2070 of nine billion people, and then slowly decreases to 8.4 billion by 2100. [118][119] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] Globalisation*,* and governments Main articles: globalization, sustainability governance An increase in globalization and trade and exchanges of technology, along with increased migration, and communication and some attendant global approaches to the management of environmental problems, frames many sustainability issues. The power of some national governments appears to have decreased in regard to transnational and non-government organizations.[120] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit] The Sustainability Transition Main articles: Ecological Footprint, Environmental Performance Index, Environmental Sustainability Index. The sustainable development goal is to raise the global standard of living without increasing the use of resources beyond globally sustainable levels; that is, to not exceed "one planet" consumption.([who?] At present the developing world per capita consumption is sustainable (as a global average) but population numbers are increasing and individuals are aspiring to high consumption Western lifestyles. The developed world population is stable (not increasing) but consumption levels are unsustainable. The task is to curb and manage Western consumption while raising the standard of living of the developing world without increasing its resource use and environmental impact. This must be done by using strategies and technology that decouple economic growth from environmental damage and resource depletion.[122] {text:bookmark-start} {text:bookmark-end} [edit*] Cultural, socio-political, psychological and behavioural* change Further articles: Precautionary Principle, cultural change, ecopsychology, environmental psychology, environmental sociology, social ecology. Weight of scientific evidence is often insufficient to produce social change, especially if that change entails moving people out of their comfort zones. [123] At present we have a cultural tradition that places a high value on possession of material goods and a relatively low value on the natural world.([
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