Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Laws of Sustainability

These may not be laws, because if you violate them, you don't get arrested, and no one goes to prison or even to hell. But it's safe to say that if we as a civilization ignore them, we do so at our own peril. They come from an article from the venerable Albert Bartlett.

First Law
Population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained.

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.

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.

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 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).

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.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boy, we pretty much break all of the laws, don't we?

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jan. 31, 2008

There are no wild assertions in any of Mr. Bartlett's claims that I can find. It is just a well done organization of the blunt truth.

8:14 PM  
Blogger matthew said...

I would very much like to put this up at Wikipedia under "Laws of sustainability" so I need to know if this is all Barlett (from his lecture). And in any case (I will attribute and link to you): but are you happy to lose i.e. give away copyright for most of it?
My user name there is "Mattjs" when I bother to log in...
Regards Mattjs and looking forward to your response...

5:21 PM  

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