Laws Relating To Sustainability

Garrett Hardin’s Three Laws of Human Ecology

Boulding’s Three Theorems, Abernethy’s Axiom, and

Sent in by Lonewolf (thank you) and emphasis and [comments] mine:

First Law

Population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained. [While this should be self-evident, it’s not as shown by the constant demand for consumerism and economic ‘growth’ (planned destruction)].

A) A population growth rate less than or equal to zero and declining rates of consumption of resources are necessary conditions for a sustainable society.

B) Unsustainability will be the certain result of any program of “development,” whether or not it is said to be “sustainable,” that ignores the problem of population growth and that does not plan the achievement of zero or a period of negative growth of populations and of rates of consumption of resources.

C) The research and regulation programs of governmental agencies that are charged with protecting the environment and promoting sustainability” are, in the long run, irrelevant unless these programs address vigorously and quantitatively the determination of optimal population sizes that can be carried indefinitely and unless the programs study in depth the demographic causes and consequences of environmental problems.

D) Societies, or sectors of a society, that depend on population growth or growth in their rates of consumption of resources, are unsustainable.

E) Persons who advocate population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources are advocating unsustainability.

F) Persons whose actions directly or indirectly cause increases in population or in the rates of consumption of resources are moving society away from sustainability. (Advertising your city or state as an ideal site in which to locate new factories indicates a desire to increase the population of your city or state.)

G) The term “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron.

Second Law

The larger the population of a society, and/or the larger its rates of consumption of resources, the more difficult it will be to transform the society to the condition of sustainability.

Third Law

The response time of populations to changes in the total fertility rate is the length of time people live, or approximately fifty to seventy years (The consequence of this is called “population momentum”).

A) If we want the population sizes to be reduced or at least stabilized by the mid-twenty-first century, we must make the necessary changes in the total fertility rates before the end of the twentieth century. [Which means it’s much too late now, die-off is unavoidable by whatever means it takes shape].

B) We live in a time of short time horizons.

C) It will be difficult to convince people to act now to change course, when the full results of the change may not be apparent in those people’s lifetimes.

Fourth Law

The size of population that can be sustained (the carrying capacity) and the sustainable average standard of living of the population are inversely related to one another.

A) The higher the standard of living one wishes to sustain, the more urgent it is to reduce population size. [Although this should also be self-evident, it’s not either. The U.S. standard of living for example, is being done because of the population exploitation and reduction now occurring in the third world.]

B) Reductions in the rates of consumption of resources and reductions in the rates of production of pollution can shift the carrying capacity in the direction of sustaining a larger population.

Fifth Law

Sustainability requires that the size of the population be less than or equal to the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for the desired standard of living.

A) Sustainability requires an equilibrium between human society and stable ecosystems.

B) Destruction of ecosystems tends to reduce the carrying capacity and/or the sustainable standard of living.

C) The rate of destruction of ecosystems increases as the rate of growth of the population increases.

D) Population growth rates less than equal to zero are necessary, but are not sufficient, conditions for halting the destruction of the environment.

Sixth Law: (The lesson of “The Tragedy of the Commons”) (Hardin, 1968):

The benefits of population growth and of growth in the rates of consumption of resources accrue to a few individuals; the costs of population growth and growth in the rates of consumption of resources are borne by all of society.

A) Individuals who benefit from growth will continue to exert strong pressures supporting and encouraging both population growth and growth in rates of consumption of resources.

B) The individuals who promote growth are motivated by the recognition that growth is good for them. In order to gain public support for their goals, they must convince people that population growth and growth in the rates of consumption of resources are also good for society. This is the Charles Wilson argument: If it is good for General Motors, it is good for the United States.* (Yates, 1983). *”What is good for the country is good for General Motors and vice versa!” Cited in Yates, 1983, p. 123.

Seventh Law

Growth in the rate of consumption of a non-renewable resource, such as a fossil fuel, causes a dramatic decrease in the life-expectancy of the resource.

A) In a world of growing rates of consumption of resources, it is seriously misleading to state the life-expectancy of a non-renewable resource “at present rates of consumption,” i.e., with no growth.

B) It is intellectually dishonest to advocate growth in the rate of consumption of a non-renewable resource while, at the same time, reassuring people about how long the resource will last “at present rates of consumption.”

Eighth Law

The time of expiration of non-renewable resources can be postponed, possibly for a very long time, by (i) technological improvements in the efficiency with which the resources are recovered and used; (ii) using the resources in accord with a program of “sustained availability” (Bartlett, 1986); (iii) recycling; (iv) the use of substitute resources.

Ninth Law

When large efforts are made to improve the efficiency with which resources are used, the resulting savings are easily and completely wiped out by the added resource needs that arise as a consequence of modest increases in population.

A) When resources are used more efficiently, the consequence often is that the “saved” resources are not put aside for the use of future generations, but instead are used immediately to encourage and support larger populations.

B) Humans have an enormous compulsion to find an immediate use for all available resources.

Tenth Law

The benefits of large efforts to preserve the environment are easily canceled by the added demands on the environment that result from small increases in human population.

Eleventh Law: (Second Law of Thermodynamics)

When rates of pollution exceed the natural cleansing capacity of the ecosystems, it is easier to pollute than it is to clean up the environment.

Twelfth Law: (Eric Sevareid’s Law)

The chief cause of problems is solutions. (Sevareid, 1970)

A) This law should be a central part of higher education, especially in engineering.

Thirteenth Law

Humans will always be dependent on agriculture.

A) Supermarkets alone are not sufficient.

B) The central task in sustainable agriculture is to preserve agricultural land. The agricultural land must be protected from losses due to things such as (i) erosion; (ii) urbanization and development; (iii) poisoning by chemicals; (iv) salinization; and (v) waterlogging.

Fourteenth Law

If, for whatever reason, humans fail to stop population growth and growth in the rates of consumption of resources, nature will stop these growths.

A) Nature’s method of stopping growth is cruel and inhumane.

B) Glimpses of nature’s method of dealing with population that have exceeded the carrying capacity of their lands can be seen each night on the television news reports from places where large populations are experiencing starvation and misery.

Fifteenth Law

Starving people do not care about sustainability. If sustainability is to be achieved, the necessary leadership and resources must be supplied by people who are not starving.

Sixteenth Law

The addition of the word “sustainable” to our vocabulary, to our reports, programs, and papers, and to the names of our academic institutes and research programs, is not sufficient to ensure that our society becomes sustainable.

Seventeenth Law

Extinction is forever.
[It is clear that our denial of these immutable laws are the reasons why we are now in such trouble as a species. We are now dealing with the results of our gross violations of natural law.]


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4 thoughts on “Laws Relating To Sustainability

  • December 30, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    Of Boulding’s Three Theorems, I ‘select’ Utterly Dismal.

    Second Theorem: “The Utterly Dismal Theorem”
    This theorem ‘states that any technical improvement can only relieve misery for a while, for so long as misery is the only check on population, the [technical] improvement will enable population to grow, and will soon enable more people to live in misery than before.
    The final result of [technical] improvements, therefore, is to increase the equilibrium population which is to increase the total sum of human misery.”

  • December 30, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    I once heard of a ‘tribe’ at the North or South Pole that was discovered by scientist-explorers. The shocked scientists saw this unclothed tribe and knew they must be clothed like all civilized and comfortable societies. The entire tribe died after the introduction of warm clothing.
    Which brings up this dictum. “Societies that possess technology and a ‘high’ standard of living believe that all societies must be brought to an equal level to be civilized, comfortable and happy.”

  • December 31, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Lonewolf hits on a concept that I’ve been wrestling with for some time.

    Essentially we have two sides of a dreadful divide.

    On one side, we have the idea that we should use all technical means at our disposal to ensure that those now living are as comfortable as possible. Of course, this means two things: first, the level of comfort for the population increases at a smaller, slower level with each increase in technology because more people on the planet means a more diffuse result. Secondly, it also means that population will increase to overcome these gains — an arms race. At this point in the equation, population growth is such that our quality of life is in the one step forward, two steps back phase. General well-being declines on the whole, but population increases. Eventually the house of cards will collapse and the carnage will be immense.

    On the other side of the divide is population reduction. This general term is misleading. There is no clean way to reduce the population. Some societies will reduce willingly, but most will expand and collapse. We need to reduce population, but to do so, we need full-control of the population. That means some level of increased tyranny. For some, they would rather the planet fall to the other side of the divide rather than allow a government to tell them when and how to procreate.

    Well, and truly, we are between a rock and a hard place.

    Ultimately, nature will do its merciless thing and cull our cancerous asses, this I know, but, damn it, I wish we could somehow institute some sort of rational method, some way to save the biosphere for a culled planet.

    Perhaps the only way we can ensure that some future iteration of technology doesn’t arise to burn up the remaining fossil fuel is to burn it up in the first go round. Perhaps it is our duty to destroy ourselves so that no other species can evolve to do so.

    Sigh. Sad, sad monkey.

  • December 31, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    I’ve attempted tried to shorten, aka rephrase, Bartlett’s 17 Laws and added a couple of ‘my own’

    First Law: No growth (of anything) can be sustained in a finite environment [and every environment is finite].

    Second Law: Population level and the rates of resource consumption matter (determine the timing and rate of decline).

    Third Law: Population momentum means we ‘live’ off [at the ‘expense of] the world 50-plus years hence

    Fourth Law: The higher the ‘standard of living’ the less people can be sustained over a given (fixed) time interval.

    Fifth Law: Sustainability requires that the size of the population and consumption rates be less than or equal to the carrying capacity of the ecosystem [the planet].

    Sixth Law: Population growth and growth in the rates of consumption of resources accrue to relatively few individuals; while the costs of population growth and growth in the rates of consumption of resources are borne by every life form and individual – human or otherwise.

    Seventh Law: The faster a resource is consumed, the briefer the time span it will last.

    Eighth Law: Efficiency in and scale of resource usage determines it’s longevity.

    Ninth Law: Increase in population levels nullifies or reverses every increase in resource use efficiency.

    Tenth Law: Increase in population levels nullifies or reverses effort to protect/conserve the environment.

    Eleventh Law: It is easier to destroy than it is to create/preserve – the environment, life, or anything.

    Twelfth Law: “The chief cause of problems is solutions.” (Eric Sevareid, 1970)

    Thirteenth Law: Humans will always be dependent on agriculture – including soil, nutrient and the weather.

    Fourteenth Law: If [since] humans fail[ed] to stop population growth and [reverse] growth in the rates of resource consumption, nature WILL stop (kill) us. Guaranteed.

    Fifteenth Law: Starving people do not care about sustainability. [Desperate people do not care about you or ‘our’ collective future].

    Sixteenth Law: Repeating the term “sustainability” as some new-age mantra will not be in any way be sufficient to slow much less prevent the extinction of humans.

    Seventeenth Law: Extinction is forever. [Entropy always ‘wins’.]

    Eighteenth Law: Individually, humans are ruled by fear, arrogant pride (ego) and selfish greed – period. Full stop. Collectively, humans are suicidal [aka insane].

    Nineteenth Law: What goes (is) up must fall down. [What is will not be (aka die).]

    Twentieth Law: “Sustainable ” is an oxymoron. Get used to (over) it – already.

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