ecoglobe ecoglobe front page ... Sustainability and "sustainable development"

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  • Sustainability refers to societal structures and procedures that can be sustained by our planet for a very long time, theoretically eternally. Sustainability is an environmental concept. It refers to the Earth having to sustain our human impact. The question is how long will the Earth still be capable to sustain us at our present and future levels of activity.

    Sustainablity is not a "balance of economical, social and ecological development", as is frequently being put forward when explaining "Sustainable Development".
    Firstly, sustainability is a state of affairs, not a "development". "Development" is normally equivalent to growth, but no growth can go on forever. Therefore "Sustainable Development" is an impossibility.
    Secondly, ecological sustainability is the basis for a sustainable human society, of which the economy is one aspect. There can be no sustainable society and economy if ecological sustainability is not maintained.

    A meaningful measure of time is 25 years - a human generation. Our children are the next generation, our parents the previous. Some children have the priviledge of knowing their great-grandparents. Those families span four generations - one hundred years. Many people "know" their ancestors further back from stories and from photos.

    A "very long time" could mean 200 human generations, amounting to 5000 years. That is how long we can at least go back in history and find written records from our ancestors. Humans with our features and capacities have existed for some 150,000 years, which is equivalent to 6000 generations, or 30 times longer than our written history records.

    Looking back is quite easy, though details fade away, the further back we are going. But we do know about past civilisations and ecological developments that may have contributed to their decline.

    The present and immediate past is very well documented. We know the extraordinary speed with which human numbers and economic production have increased over the last ten generations, i.e. since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

    The future is a big question. How many years can we plan ahead with any certainty? How long can we go on increasing human numbers, thereby taking over areas that were used by animals and forests? For how much longer can we increase our consumption of all kinds of ressources and expand into the most remote areas of our Earth?
    How long into the future can the Earth sustain our impact before the environment collapses and or ressources run out?

    Wellknown issues are Climate Change, Biodiversity, Fish stocks, Forest decline, Food, Soil erosion, Drinking water, Acid rain and other forms of toxification of the environment.
    These issues are often discussed in isolation. Our purpose is to show their cross-connections, the overall picture.

    Issues are also frequently described in euphemistic (soft) language, hiding the realities, taking hopes for granted, and extremely short-term. One speaks and writes about "future generations" as if we would speak about a far away future.
    However, the trends of increase (human numbers, pollution, resource depletion) are so steep that dramatic situations could occur within our lifetime.

    Time seems to be running out
    Therefore we have made the development of the sustainability pages one of our priorities. Any feedback and help is welcome.


    Some thoughts of others on sustainability:

  • Sustainable development is a hoax: we cannot have it all by Jeremy Seabrook, Guardian

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