Sustainability as a term is quite vague and broadly defined. According to an article in circular ecology, it has more than 200 definitions. On a personal level, some describe sustainability as resilience – the ability of a closed system to sustain itself or exist continuously.
In broader sense sustainability is somewhere in the balance among economic, social and environmental domains. Fritjof Capra states that sustainability is based on the principles of systems thinking. So what’s sustainability?
The Bruntland Report
The principle of Sustainability and meaning of Sustainable development are connected and serve as a base for zero waste and circular economy principles. Sustainable development was introduced by the Brundtland Report for the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) to address the rising concern of “Threatened Future”.
In the report, various symptoms and causes are stated as well as possible solutions to address them. All came down to the introduction of the term: sustainable development. Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Main driving forces
Overpopulation from one side and overconsumption and depletion of resources from other side are the main driving forces of unsustainable growth, that leads to social, economic and ecological issues such as War, Poverty and Climate Change.
There are many schools of thought that address the issue such as the circular economy and many initiatives such as Millenium Ecosystem Assessment as well as the most recent report in 2019 on Plastic and Climate.
The United Nations have set 17 targets under the umbrella of sustainable development goals, and regularly are delivering measurements on each of them.
Path to sustainability
Generally believed paths to sustainability are: Reduction of consumption, Control of population growth and Continuous development of technology.
The latter being the most promising as the first two in long term are self-regulated (namely if we remain in a closed system and do not relocate to Mars, we have finite resources which can sustain the finite number of population).
The understanding goes: the knowledge and technology are the tools that will solve the issue of unsustainable growth and achieve sustainability.
On the shoulders of the giants
Stephen Hawking has said: I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I am an optimist. We will reach out to the stars. (Daily Telegraph, 16 October 2001)
David Deutsch in his book The Beginning of Infinity 3th chapter brings out two well-known principles and refutes them.
Principle of Mediocrity: There is nothing significant about humans (in the cosmic scheme of things).
Principle of Spaceship Earth: The system of all living things on earth. Its passengers represent all humans on Earth. Outside the spaceship, the universe is implacably hostile, but the interior is a vastly complex life-support system, capable of providing everything that the passengers need to thrive. Like the spaceship, the biosphere recycles all waste and, using its capacious nuclear power plant (the sun), is completely self-sufficient. Thus, we should not expect the world to submit indefinitely to our depredations.
Deutsch says in his book, that both Principles are contrary to their motivations and are mistaken. He states that: people are the most significant entities in the cosmic scheme of things, they are not supported by their environments, but support themselves by creating knowledge. Once they have suitable knowledge, they are capable of sparking unlimited further progress. Problems are inevitable. Problems are soluble.
Responsibility on us
Obviously, humans have understood and take action to solve sustainability. Some by going zero waste and reducing consumption, some by promoting population control by enhancing education and birth control solutions, and some by creating and inventing new technologies that help humans to progress further.
Whatever path we choose or mix all of them the importance is that we continue to learn, gain knowledge and experience in whatever constructive field we have chosen as it is our responsibility to create sustainability for our selves, our community, and society.
As Seth Godin has put it in his blog post: No sustainable system can grant power without responsibility.
Let me know your opinion on this.