ecostory 67-2007
A "programme" towards sustainability?

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This is a contribution to an internet forum debate on sustainability: "Mind over Matter", of 1996.
My proposals are reproduced unmodified (apart from some explanations within []). They are radical but I can still adhere to them.
One can sometimes hear that it's too easy to criticise - that one should also bring solutions.
That demand, however, is apt to evade the questions in the first place.
The solutions below are sketchy. Application will require enormous changes in laws, regulations and societal structures.
They will entail huge power shifts, that many will find difficult to swallow, especially those leaders who love their familiy in private surroundings but work against sustainability and survival in their business environments.
It is the task for all of us to devise the practical ways to restructurte society into a low material-throughput mode. The scores of economists, who presently do nothing more than theorize on and promote growth, could be given part of this task, under close supervision.
From: IN%"" 17-APR-1996 22:33:16.47
To: IN%"" CC:
Subj: Re: The Sustainability World Wellington, 17 April 1996

I agree with Bill McKibben's (Buzzles Buzzword's author) view on the use of "sustainability".
However, technology and unwise use of technology ARE at the core of most environmental problems (plus population growth).

Examples are easily found: Way back in history, as well as today, the unwise use of the axe is the simpliest technology ( -> erosion, depletion, population growth).
The steam engine was the "great leap forward" ( -> depletion, pollution, population growth).
Today, genetics is the most "advanced" technology that contributes to increase environmental degradation ( -> further depletion, pollution, population growth).

Technology DOES create "global warming, destruction of habitat", and some other, like epidemic-size killing and mutilation by traffic accidents.
SOME technology alleviates certain environmental problems temporarily.

Projections of current consumptive and population trends into the year 2050 (only half a lifetime from today) usually leads to quests for ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY in order to meet DEMANDS.

Trying to meet demands is the direct road to environmental collapse. Instead, we are forced to [= we will have to] make our DEMANDS MEET THE CARRYING CAPACITY.

Technology plus population size led to the present worldwide tenfold, twentyfold (?) over-use (over-impact) of the earth's carrying capacity.

If the usual aim of life is happiness and satisfaction, other TECHNIQUEs must be applied than using technology and procreation, if the factor ten (facor 20?) applies worldwide, and 40 for Europe and 80 for the USA, (the recent Mind over Matter conference announcment claims solid evidence showing that a factor twenty reduction is required), and if each of us individually has the responsibility to decrease his/her personal impact accordingly, then I question:

a) HOW can I do this? How can others do this? (Bearing in mind that there is a 75:25% population to 20:80% consumption ratio gap between overdeveloped and poor countries, and a worldwide possibly 5:95% population division between the wealthy and those who just meet (or not meet!) their daily needs in accordance with the local standard of living)
b) HOW can I measure my impact reduction? (And my neighbour, who may not have "academic" knowledge)
c) What TECHNIQUES/POLICIES should society (=we) apply to achieve the required impact reduction within let's say 15 years? (preparing for and fighting the second world war took only 12 years!)

Tentative answers for me are:

in general:

ALL technology requires resources. Therefore, as long as price reflects the amount of technology put into the production of a (consumer) article (be it a supermarket carrot, a car, a coffin, or a classroom theory), my consumption measured in dollars reflects my impact. Thus my reduction factor can be measured as a percentage of my consumptive expenditure.

ad question a) and b)
I am an academic who meets his daily needs on a below average level (I have no car and am a low-scale consumer and vegetarian. I am renting a room in a small town house. I'm not a martyrer though.) But how to reduce further? Turn the lights further down? Shower only each second day? Walk to Uni instead of taking the bus? Swim back to Europe instead of flying? Switch the computer off and stop participating in ecol-econ?
What I'm trying to say is that for a large majority there are just as real PRACTICAL LIMITS to REDUCTION as there are PHYSICAL LIMITS to GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT (in the real world always leading to increased impact).

ad question c)
Some almost instantly usable politics for enormous impact reduction are:
- reduce speed ( -> less energy, infrastructure, accidents, etc)
- decrease financial efficiency (--> more labour-intensive, less resource-intensive production: this is both more environmentally friendly AND creates jobs)
- increase resource efficiency by outlawing throw-away items, and increasing the lifetime of durables (quality, repairability)
- localise production (in the Netherlands many workers and students commute more than 200 km EACH DAY. Commuting must be restricted to distances that can be mastered easily by bicycle, generally up to 5 km, equalling 20 minutes ride one way)
- abolish free world trade (only trade what can not be produced locally)
- abolish outdated and no longer working models which say that investment and growth and free trade and (financial) efficiency create jobs (they kill jobs and the environment)
- abolish subsidies for high-impact activities (like tax-free aircraft fuel, agri-business, etc.)
- stop investment in new construction (especially completely stop all investment in traffic, except bicycles. Use existing roads. Stop development of higher speed means of transport. Use ship for long distance traffic. Ban air cargo.)
- redirect investment in maintenance of existing facilities, restructuring/localisation of production - stop operating atomic power stations
- convert to bio-agro (no pesticides etc. [factory-farming to be outlawed])
- cut down on meat/fish/fowl consumption
- promote low-impact sports, play, gambling, theatre and other non-productive activities
- use low impact technology
- promote cooperation in stead of competition (competion on a world scale is a zero-sum "game")
- impose [advocate] one-child families

Finally, WHY should WE, and our present opinion leaders and power elite adhere to and implement the above proposed measures?
Because NOBODY will be excluded from the sufferings that the impending environmental crash will inflict. All chief executive officers, every shareholder, all housewives, or at least our children and children's children will be affected. (Present trends project a crash within 30 - 50 years. I am 54)

HOW to achieve this: by political, democratic will that accepts realities, by explaining the hard facts to the opinion leaders, by giving the example of personal action.
(Alternative fuels, future technologies, and "sustainablity ["sustainable development"]" are evading basic causes. The facts I know of ask for precautionary action NOW.)

The real doomsayers say we cannot.

I'm an optimist: we can do it.

Kind regards, Helmut
On Tue, 16 Apr 1996 wrote:
> I am very much in agreement with the contents of the article in the
> New York Times April 11 forwarded to the list by Duncan Noble, the
> essence of which I find expresses in the following two paragraphs: >
> But the largest environmental problems - global warming, destruction
> of habitat - are essentially caused by economic and population growth,
> not by faulty technology.
> To deal with such troubles in the next few decades, the world will
> need not only bicycles and energy - efficient mass transport, it will
> need a new way of thinking. Our societies will have to voluntarily
> stabilize, if not reduce, the size of their economies and populations. >
> But my concern with this thinking is, that even if we in the
> *industrialized countries* would "mature", as said in the article, and
> decide to volontary stabalize, abstain from further growth in
> material consumption, global consumption still would grow
> considerably, causing major environmental problems, unless resource
> efficiency is improved correspondingly. >
> In my posting to the list January 21 I showed the following estimate
> of the growth in global consumption up to the middle of next century:
>                         Now   popfac  consfac  anno 2050 
> Indus. countries         75       1       2        150 
> Devel. countries         25       2       4        200 
> World                   100                        350
> Here 'popfac' is the growth factor for population and 'consfac' the
> growth in per-capita consumption, and the present global consumption
> is taken to be divided with 3/4 in the industrialized countries and
> 1/4 in the developing. The estimate shows a growthfactor of 3.5 for
> global consumption, but since the underlying assumptions are pretty
> much on the low side I wrote, that global consumption must be assumed
> to grow with at least a factor 4 until the middle of next century. It
> should be noted, that a doubling in per-capita consumption in the
> industialized countries over the period considered, is assuming a
> considerable restraint in growth compared to the past 50 years.
> As can be seen, consumption in the developing countries alone will
> amount to twice the global consumption of today. And that figure could
> very well become higher. Even with zero growth in the consumption in
> the industrialized countries, the index year 2050 would be 275,
> corresponding to a growthfactor in global consumption of about 3.
> The conclusion of this is, that even if we should mature in the
> industrialized countries and put an end to our growth in material
> consumption we would stil have a major global problem bringing factor
> T in I=PAT down to 1/3 of its present value. Increased resource
> efficiency would still be a major challenge.
> Harald Agerley E-mail:
> Phone: +45 74426313
> Mail: Skovbrynet 16 - DK 6400 Sonderborg - Denmark
> ================================================== *********************************************************
Helmut Lubbers, 111-A Grafton Rd, Wellington, New Zealand
Phone: ++64-4-3846632, Email:
************ Qui bono? - To whose advantage? ************
  • 2008 Alliance for Global Sustainability Meeting
  • Fossil Fuel, Climate and Anti-Capitalism
  • collapse and die-off.

    Helmut Lubbers, 20.4.1996; comments and webmounted 8.7.2007
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