Archive for the ‘Definitions’ Category

And another thing, Economics???

April 5, 2010

What is economics? Modern practices and neo classical definitions would have us believe that growth has no upper limit. This perception seems hard to kill and part of that is the demonstration of that growth for the last century.  The question of course is how is unlimited growth possible when resources are finite. Do we need a new economic model and is sustainability possible with the current one? In addition to the great definition of sustainability that was shared with me by Wilf, he also shared a definition of economics that might work for sustainability too.

“How any system obtains its lowest complexity energy and matter from its environment to satisfy its needs”. (not greeds)

Still digesting this one too but it seems to suggest that best practice is about using the absolute minimal resources to achieve an outcome. Last century could definitely be labeled the century of growth. Growth is the goal of every society. At every level, human beings strive to raise their standard of living by expanding their wealth. Aspiring politicians promise faster growth, and the performance of corporate CEOs is judged by how quickly their firms expand.1.  We started in 1900 with a world population of 1.6billion. It took us thousands and thousands of years, all of human history, to reach that number. in 2010 we sit just a little over 6.9 billion. We have managed to average about 1 billion every thirty years or so since 1900.

The global economy has expanded from an output of 2.3 trillion in 1900 to 70 trillion in 2009. Economic growth has allowed billions of people to live healthier, more productive lives and to enjoy a host of comforts that were unimaginable in 1900. It has helped raise life expectancy, perhaps the sentinel indicator of human well-being, from 35 years in 1900 to 66 years today. Children born in 1999 can expect to live almost twice as long as their great-grandparents who were born around the turn of the century, the top 1/5 at least.

At the other end, nearly 4 billion have never made a phone call, more than 2 billion live on less than $2 a day and 1 billion on less than $1. No electricity or sanitation for more than 2 billion no health care or clean water for nearly 1 billion and 834 million people are malnourished.

We face financial crises on a global scale and doubts about the basic soundness of the global economy are growing. The needs of billions are inadequately met in the best of times and more fundamentally, our current economic model is overwhelming our natural resources.

I know, it sounds bleak but there is hope right. We just have to start thinking a bit differently right?

(cite: state of the world, 1999 A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society. Lester brown)


What is sustainability?

April 4, 2010

Havent had much luck in getting an answer on this one unfortunately. Such a complex topic and all of the definitions that get dredged up as part of any discussion or when someone has to write a paper, usually end up being the one from the 1987 UN World Commission on Environment and Development, “our common future” or the Brundtland Report as it is know which goes

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’

Which is very nice, thankyou Mr Brundtland. But the report is over 200 pages long and even if you read the whole thing there is nothing which offers the guidance required to deliver this definition or substance around questions like how many future generations and what specific needs. So it’s not really a definition so much as a vague concept. If you’re looking for definitions that offer substance, they are hard to find and I have only managed to find one so far, (credit to Andrew ‘Wilf ‘ Wilford here) the definition goes.

“How any system, relates with its environment, and regulates its own activities, to promote enduring health and maintain system viability”

I havent digested it completely but it goes a long way to suggesting that Sustainability has to happen in every system that exists in order to be viable. The human centric approach doesn’t work for me either which is why I like this definition. We seem to try to define everything from a human perspective and as the dominant species that’s probably fair enough. When it comes to this stuff though we are talking about survival of the species.

The planet is fine, we don’t need to save it, we need to save ourselves. A whole system approach seems to be the most viable in addressing the complexity of the topic.