Sustainable Living – Part I

This will be a series of (hopefully) short articles on sustainable living, what it is, what it means and how to do it.

Sustainable living, in laymens terms, is living from natural, renewable resources without excessive expenditures. Renewable resources are replenished at a rate equal to or lower, then their consumption.

Civilizations around the world have over-consumed their natural resources resulting in their eventual collapse. Modern living has harnessed the energy from the Sun to mechanically support civilizations present levels of overconsumption. This has resulted in the consumption of a great many non-renewable resources (oil, coal, gas, minerals). This has also created a negative feedback loop in overpopulation. These non-renewables are running out. Sustainable living then, limits, recycles or avoids altogether, their use.

No modern civilization today is sustainable. Encroachments upon the few surviving ancient indigeneous civilizations have made even many of these technically non-sustainable. No one knows if these older civilizations could “revert” back to their sustainable ways if they tried. The point is probably moot anyway, as it is our civilization that needs to learn the concepts and principles of sustainable. It is our civilization that is creating the largest impacts, threatening the future survival of all species.

Modern living is much the same as ancient living; food, clothing, water, shelter, with the added components of industry, economics and trade. All seven of these categories in the modern world are at the present time, unsustainable, even the renewables resources such as water, because of overconsumption and current rates of depletion.

What the entire world needs to learn how to do, is to recognize the finite limits of both renewable and non-renewable resources and reshape the components of civilization to live within these limits. This is a monumental task, but necessary, as the world’s population continues to run up against these “resource walls” that cannot be breached.

Food production today is largely dependent upon petrochemicals and mechanization, all possible with increasing levels of oil consumption. Current population levels could not be maintained without such advantages. Very little is being done to change this, and population levels are still rising.

Clothing production suffers from the same problems of dependency, petrochemicals and oil. Cotton is renewable, but requires these additional non-renewable inputs at current consumption levels. Wool, cotton, hemp and rayon (cellulose) and silk are natural fibers, but in mass production, they require vast amounts of electricity and machinery. Synthetic fibers such as nylon, polyester and acrylics do too with many harmful chemicals and are not sustainable.

Water forms from the evaporation cycle, requiring plants, solar energy and heat. While renewable, current rates of depletion of fresh water resources and their supporting forests are unsustainable. Aquifers, river systems, streams and creeks are being rapidly depleted beyond their recharge rates. Vast sections of forests, including the Amazon are being decimated, drastically interupting the evaporation cycle.

Shelter construction for homes, businesses and industries include renewable and non-renewable resources. Very few designs in the developed world are using entirely sustainable technologies, and even the very few of these are limited to personal dwellings. Limited sustainable and renewable heating and cooling sources for these shelters are being utilized.

Most Industry technologies and methodologies are in non-renewable fields, usually involved in removing, manufacturing and processing non-renewable resources. Almost all forms of transportation, many forms of power generation, and even necessities such as communications utilize non-renewable resources.

Economics utilize both renewable and non-renewable resources as it concerns itself with the consumption and utilization of goods. Modern economic theory is oriented about infinite production and consumption, which contradicts natural law and finite resources. Economics governs modern civilization at the nth degree, but has little regard for concepts such as sustainable, especially were continued profits are a concern.

Trade is included here because civilization is highly dependent upon trade. A subset of economics, trade today is global and requires huge inputs of non-renewable resources. Trade, in essence, supports industry, which is governed by economics. Trade also provides almost all of the rest, food, shelter, clothing and even water in some cases. It can be said that trade in renewable resources is not sustainable, because trade on a macro scale requires non-renewable resources in turn. Trade on a micro scale (local) can be sustainable, but is more rare then common.

These components, and all of their many subsets and offshoots, comprise modern civilization. In order to have a sustainable modern civilization, every single one of these components and how they are utilized, recycled, distributed and traded needs to be rethought and re-implemented in a sustainable fashion. That, is a monumental task, fraught with many hurdles, not the least which is simply education to overcome the bias and economic preferences.

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One thought on “Sustainable Living – Part I

  • December 2, 2006 at 9:59 am
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    Yes. Re-structuring our society towards a sustainable one is a monumental task. As of today, there is little evidence on an individual or leadership level, that we are striving to achieve this.

    Instead, our present goals are still; bigger gov’t, bigger houses, more energy so we can get more things, and more people. It is considered wrong thinking in our society to stray from the norm of wanting more and more.

    Average consumers say they want sustainability, but don’t know what it entails. They think that recycling some cans and sending a few bucks to Greenpeace will save the planet.

    A few years ago, I thought that world governments were going to start taking the first small baby steps toward sustainability in Kyoto. Even back then, the implementation of this plan may have been too late. Now we are way past those earlier targets.

    It seems evident to me that we have the intelligence to realize we are headed towards the cliff. But, we lack the will to control our animal instincts to save ourselves. Nature will do this for us. The pain will be greater than if we could have done this on our own.

    I always look forward to reading your posts. Thanks for taking the time to do these.

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