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Sustainability - what are the odds? Envisioning the future of our environment, economy and society
Jordan, Steve. Sustainability - what are the odds? Envisioning the future of our environment, economy and society. Humanities. MDPI AG, Basel, Switzerland, 2:119-127, (2013).
Sustainability – the word is everywhere these days. Cities, transportation systems, energy producers, agriculture, fisheries, businesses, even mines (!), are making claims or making plans for sustainability. Several formal definitions of sustainability have been offered; here is one adopted in a recent National Research Council report1, quoted from the National Environmental Policy Act of 19692: “. . .to create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.” This seems to be a good idea, at least if one cares about humans, nature, and future generations. In this essay, I first explore these diverging paths through the three dimensions of sustainability—environmental, economic, and social—then offer some suggestions for advancing our understanding of future probabilities. To take a deeper look at the sustainability paradigm, we must first acknowledge that human society has been sustainable all along, for tens of thousands of generations, or we would not be here. So why this rush to sustainability? The concern, of course, is that the world’s resources cannot indefinitely support an exponentially growing human population and its increasing demands on nature. In my lifetime, the Earth’s human population has more than tripled, from about 2.1 billion to more than 7 billion, and is expected to reach 9-10 billion by 2050. We don’t know exactly how many are too many, but we can be confident there is such a number. The implication is that the population, their demands, or both must be curbed for the human enterprise to be sustainable. Skeptics would retort that technological advances have promoted a thriving population far larger than earlier estimates of the Earth’s carrying capacity. Why should it not be so in the future?
Essay to explore the future possibilities of sustainability
Record Details:Record Type: DOCUMENT (JOURNAL/PEER REVIEWED JOURNAL)
Organization:U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
NATIONAL HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS RESEARCH LAB
GULF ECOLOGY DIVISION