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Toward Sustainability (April 5, 2009)

During my Croning studies, and into April, I read the 30-year update of Limits to Growth, first published in the 1970s.  The authors were fine scientists, concerned about the trends they were seeing in population, pollution, etc. and their book reported the results of their computer modeling of outcomes for humanity and the Earth, given differing responses to those trends.  It was a poignant, nearly heartbreaking read, as they reported the changes -- opportunities lost -- since their first edition in 1970. 

I strongly recommend this book.


(My notes & quotes from Limits to Growth, 30 year update)

 

General guidelines for restructuring any system toward sustainability (Excerpts from the summary toward the end of the book):

 

1. Extend the planning horizon. Base choice much more on long term costs and benefits. Report, respect, and be responsible for issues that unfold over decades (or longer).

 

2. Improve the signals. Learn more about and monitor both the real welfare of the human population and the real impact on the world ecosystem of human activity.

 

3. Speed up response times.  Look actively for signals that indicate when the environment or society is stressed. Decide in advance what to do if problems appear... And have in place the institutional and technical arrangements necessary to act effectively. Learn/teach systems thinking.

 

4. Minimize the use of nonrenewable resources. 

 

5. Prevent the erosion of renewable resources.

 

6. Use all resources with maximum efficiency.

 

7. Slow and eventually stop exponential growth of population and physical capital. Most essential! This guideline asks, simply but profoundly, for a larger and more truly satisfying vision of the purpose of human existence than mere physical expansion and accumulation. 

(Requires rethinking -- new thinking -- in three areas: poverty, unemployment, and unmet nonmaterial needs.)

 

 

Properties of complex systems germane to successful profound revolutions such as the Agricultural Revolution (c. 10,000 BCE), the Industrial Revolution (c. 1750 CE to present), and the needed Sustainability Revolution (from now on):

 

1. Information is the key to transformation -- information that is relevant, compelling, select, powerful, timely, and accurate, flowing in new ways to new recipients, carrying new content, suggesting new rules and goals (rules and goals that are themselves information).

 

2. Systems strongly resist changes in their information flows, especially in their rules and goals. Innovators can be literally or figuratively snuffed out. Only innovators, however -- by perceiving the need for new information, rules, and goals, communicating about them, and trying them out -- can make the changes that transform systems.

Margaret Mead(?):

"Never deny the power of a small group of committed individuals to change the world. Indeed that is the only thing that ever has."

 

Me:

"Single individuals can change the world. In fact, only individuals can change the world."

 

Tools:

Rational analysis

Data gathering

Systems thinking

Computer modeling

The clearest words we can find

 

Other helpful tools:

 

Visioning -- imagining what you really want. A sustainable world can never be fully realized until it is widely envisioned.

 

Networking -- Networks dedicated to sustainability at both the local and the global level are especially needed to create a sustainable society that harmonizes with local ecosystems while keeping itself within global limits. One role of local networks is to help reestablish the sense of community and relation to place that has been largely lost since the industrial revolution. Please let global networks be truly global -- the needs of the underprivileged cannot be effectively communicated, nor can the world benefit from their contributions, unless their voices can be heard.

 

Truth-telling -- we may be uncertain of the truth, but often we know an untruth/lie when we hear one. A system cannot function well if its information streams are corrupted by untruths/lies. Information must not be distorted, delayed, or sequestered. Whenever you communicate, you can endeavor to counter a lie or affirm a truth. Counter misinformation!

 

Learning -- Doing is required, but whatever you do, do it humbly. Do it not as immutable policy, but as experiment. Use your action, whatever it is, to learn.

 

Loving -- "How good a society does human nature permit? How good a human nature does society permit?" (Maslow). It is not easy to practice love, friendship, generosity, understanding, or solidarity within a system whose rules, goals, and information streams are geared for lesser human qualities. But we try, and we urge you to try. Be patient with yourself and others as you and they confront the difficulty of a changing world... Humanity must learn to love the idea of leaving future generations a living planet.

 

 

****

Notes in my own words:
 

Most of the computer modeled scenarios the authors ran, including most of those reported in this book, culminated in collapse. 

 

The only ones that did not, were those that tested what would happen if humanity world-wide were to act to stabilize global population and stabilize per capita industrial output at 10% higher than 2002, assuming more accessible nonrenewable resources, while simultaneously implementing serious pollution control technologies, land yield enhancement, land erosion protection, and resource efficiency technologies.

 

Possible? Who knows! We'll never find out unless we try.

 

However, I feel that we must not only work toward creating a sustainable society that averts collapse (but has high population, etc), but also work toward surviving collapse in a manner that seeds and builds toward a sustainable human culture post-collapse. Frankly, I think collapse is a more likely scenario than successfully creating and maintaining a relatively high population global sustainable society.

 

I question seriously that it is possible to maintain a high global population (7-8 billion) after peak oil/peak fossil fuels.

 

Perhaps, in the relative absence of fossil fuels, humankind will be forced into sustainable living, if we do not irrevocably damage the ecosystem before and during collapse...

 

However, we must create a human culture that lives within its earthly means, consciously and devotedly, as intrinsic deep values.

 

It will not do to repeat this cycle!

 

Nor do I especially relish a return to warring bands...

 

 

 

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