Chapter 2 - Issues in Sustainability | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability

Overview

The Chapter will start with basic information about sustainability standards. This will include defining sustainability; the difference between weak and strong sustainability; sustainable development vs. economic development; case studies of community participation; the ecological footprint; Odum’s emergy accounting; resilience (social, economical, political); externalities outside of the marketplace that still effect people and the environment (e.g. air pollution); capital; Local Agenda 21; and The Bellagio Principles.

Keywords

  • Weak sustainability
  • Strong sustainability
  • Sustainable development
  • Economic growth
  • Ecological footprint
  • Ecological rucksack
  • Emergy accounting
  • Resilience (social, economic, political)
  • Environmental resilience
  • Externalities
  • Capital
  • Local Agenda 21
  • The Bellagio Principles
  • The Precautionary Principle
  • Biodiversity

Chapter Parts

 
Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability, Part 1 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability

Part 1 - Definitions of Sustainability

sand dunes with cloudy blue skyEcologist C. S. Holling forwarded the notion that “Sustainability is the capacity to create, test, and maintain adaptive capability.” That adaptive capability arises from the concept that all systems, natural and human, are in constant cycles of creation and destruction, invention and revolution, some of these passing by rapidly, and some quite slow relative to the human time scale. We develop opportunity, and in doing so, we must craft sustainable development.

Holling says, “Sustainable futures are ones in which the basic means of human livelihood get easier, human opportunities become richer, and nature's diversity is more sustained — and not only in the rich parts of the world. Utopian, perhaps, but the resilience of nature and the ingenuity of people would make it feasible, if our institutions and those who utilize and control them had sufficient flexibility and vision.”

This is a compelling challenge for our future, as individuals, as communities, and as organizations and institutions of government, commerce, and shared values and purpose. Vision is about changing the world. Visions are exclusively about changes that would happen only because you want to realize them they change an undesirable trajectory. A shared vision can be a powerful motivation towards a positive future. For a sustainable future, our vision must be specific, not fuzzy, and it must couple the human knowledge of the past, while taking action for practical change for our future.

In the end, any vision for a more sustainable future, without action, is meaningless. We must create and own our future by melding our hopes, our dreams, and our aspirations with meaningful, purposeful action. Only then we can say to future generations, our children and our children’s children, ...yes, we thought of you.

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Keywords

Reading

  1. "Squaring the circle? Some thoughts on the idea of sustainable development" by J. Robinson. Ecological Economics. Volume 48, Issue 4, 20 April 2004, pp. 369-384. 
 

Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability, Part 2 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability

Part 2 - Methods and Markers for Sustainability

For the past several decades, we have come together to map out the methods and markers needed to sustain our common future. The population and environmental challenges we face, beg our attention. Trans-boundary needs will require trans-boundary creativity, and the transfer of ideas and actions, as we score the successes and the failures in meeting the challenges that are upon us. An unplanned future is full of risk, and good ideas can change a negative trajectory. A global partnership in meeting the needs of our common future, can help all nations to a safer and more prosperous tomorrow.

Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, was an astronaut on the space shuttle Discovery in 1985. At age twenty-eight, he carried the distinction of being the youngest astronaut ever. Of his experience and his international crewmates he wrote:
"The first day or so, we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day, we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth."

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Keywords

Reading

  1. Our Common Future/Brundtland Report, United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (1987). From One Earth to One World: An overview by the World Commission on Environment and Development (pp. 18-36)
 
Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability, Part 3 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability

Part 3 - Sustainable Development

In the late 20th century, “sustainable development” emerged as the appropriate pattern of resource use to guide economic and physical development, within the context of long-view thinking about environmental and social imperatives. While there are no immediate answers or action plans that will insure global, national or even local sustainability, there are central organizing principles that can better guide development in a more sustainable direction. Sustainability requires enhanced management of the capital resources we have in our society and on the Earth. The three major types of capital are Natural Capital, Economic Capital, and Social Capital. In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development, also known as the Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as “meet[ing] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. 

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Keywords

Reading

  1. "Sustainable development in a post-Brundtland world" C. Sneddon, Howarth, R.B. and Norgaard, R.B. Ecological Economics, Volume 57, Issue 2, 1 May 2006, pp 253-268.

(Introduction adapted from the work of Wendy McClure, 2010)

 
Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability, Part 4 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability

Part 4 - Resilience Thinking in the 21st Century

Resilience is the ability of a system to respond to change without altering the structure and function of the system. We live in coupled social-ecological systems, where human environment interactions are dialectical, reciprocal and nonlinear, with feedbacks and unintended consequences. The environmental and social problems we are facing are incomparable in magnitude and complexity to those we have seen throughout human history. Resilience thinking arises at an important time. Our historical and current models of science and management are limited and reductionist in the context of the large and wicked, social and ecological problems we are experiencing. Resilience thinking helps to conceptualize human and ecological systems as coupled systems, and to reframe management objectives to reprioritize systems over component parts, and to embrace scientific uncertainty.

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Keywords

Reading

  1. Understanding the Complexity of Economic, Ecological, and Social Systems. (2001) C. S. Holling. Ecosystems 4: 390–405 DOI: 10.1007/s10021-001-0101-5
  2. The Resilience Alliance
  3. Sustainability and Global Seafood. (2010) Smith, M.D., Roheim, C.A., Crowder, L.B., Halpern, B.S., Turnipseed, M., Anderson, J.L., Asche, F., Bourillon, L., Guttormsen, A.G., Khan, A., Liguori, L.A., McNevin, A., O'Connor, M.I., Squires, D., Tyedmers, P., Brownstein, C., Carden, K., Klinger, D.H., Sagarin, R., and Selkoe, K.A. Science 327:5967 pp. 784-786.
 
Chapter 2 -Standards of Sustainability, Part 5 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability

Part 5 - The Precautionary Principle

In German, the word "forsorge" means "foresight," and this concept began a movement towards an alternative approach for addressing the potential for risk and harm called, "The Precautionary Principle." This Principle is a dominant feature in the regulatory arena of many governments, primarily in the European Union. The Precautionary Principle, also known as the Precautionary Approach, is defined as a policy and decision making tool for taking preventative measures to avoids risks to public health and the environment, even in the absence of scientific proof (WHO, 2004).

Several US bodies of law and regulation, such as the management of pesticides and drugs, take a precautionary approach, however many industrial chemicals in common use in everyday applications are not treated in this fashion. In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for a revision in the US regulatory approach to managing the potential for risk and harm from hazardous chemicals to better protect children, pregnant women, and the general population.

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Keywords

  • precaution
  • forsorge
  • risk
  • harm
  • hazard
  • clastogenic
  • mutagenic

Reading

  1. "The Precautionary Principle" (2005) World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), UNESCO, pp 7-15 and 35-42
 
Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability, Part 6 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 2 - Standards of Sustainability

Part 6 - Emergy

green plant growing on decaying forest litterIn our description of differences in pathways for sustainability, we are often bound into the dilemma of the frustrating consequences of the idiom “comparing apples and oranges.” What then are our options, especially as it applies to sustainability, when we would like to compare two or more processes or products, which at face value are difficult or impossible to compare, with an acceptable degree of objective validity? For example, how can we create a valid argument for paper or plastic grocery bags, or neither, or answer the question of whether the energy and environmental inputs, fully accounted, to extract and process an energy resource, truly yields a significant energy benefit. Can we fully explore what economists call “the externalities” in such a comparison, especially when those externalities, often natural capital, are embedded in the product or process in such a fashion that they escape traditional economic analysis? 

A relatively new tool to help with these types of comparisons is called “emergy.” Emergy is a versatile assessment tool, like common transfer functions or derived indices that facilitate the reduction of complex systems into terms that are more readily compared, analyzed, or understood. A common example of a similar approach is the use of pH to indirectly measure the acidity or basicity of a solution.

As defined, emergy is “the available energy of one kind, previously used both directly and indirectly, to make another form of energy, product, or service.” Starting with the base concept that energy comes to the Earth from the sun, emergy might be thought of as energy memory, as the available energy based in a solar photon is transformed into potential and kinetic energy on Earth, often with plant life serving as a major reservoir of chemical energy storage. 

The concept of emergy, based on energy systems theory, quantifies relationships between economy, environment and culture using a common metric, allowing these different aspects of the whole system to be related. Emergy provides a way to understand things such as aesthetic and symbolic values, and their relation to human willingness to pay. It can also assist in determining the overall sustainability of an approach, and whether long term economic growth will be helped or hindered. 
We have a continuing need to evaluate new technologies as they arise to determine their feasibility, the first test being that they provide net emergy to society, which is a more stringent criterion that simply net energy.

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Keywords

  • emergy
  • Howard T. Odum
  • emergy flow
  • energy systems theory
  • emjoule
  • energy memory
  • transformity
  • emdollar

Reading

  1. "Emergy and Its Importance" Daniel Campbell (2008) USEPA Environmental Research Brief. EPA/600/S-08/003. 2 pages.