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March 16, 2005


Vinay Gupta

One thing I notice on re-reading this is that I didn't make a critical point clear. Here it is:

"Sustainability is a natural result of current trends towards resource and energy efficient business processes. This means that *eventually* we will reach sustainabiilty through greater efficiency."

That's important. *IF* we survive is a provisio which may or may not need to be stressed, but the idea that in 2600AD, we'll have such efficient devices that umpteen-billion human beings can share the rock without straining the planet's resources is important. It means that we're negociating a difficult adolescence, rather than staring death in the face. We can take pride in the idea of getting to sustainability faster, rather than poindering if is possible at all.

It's all about that GDP per Unit of Environmetal Impact number. It keeps falling and falling and falling as our energy and resource intensity falls...

We're going to be fine.

Vinay Gupta

And, thank you so much for the subscription to the GBL. So much content per issue!

I really like this small-challenge type stuff - I wonder if it would be worth posting all the other ideas somewhere (a wiki?) so that people could see them together and pick bits from one and another to improve them?

Erzebet Bathroy

You seem to have confused advocacy with explanation. What is described is not an explanation of sustainability but an indoctrination to an ideology.

Indeed, one of the key linchpins is a Green version of Pascal's Wager.

If that is what lies behind sustainability, then it is indeed as bankrupt as the nay sayers claim it is.

Hank Woollard

I'd like to add a definition we used with Martin County, Florida's Sustainability Demonstration Project. Sustainability is:

The ability of the current generation to meet its needs, without compromising the abiliity of future generations to meet theirs.

Gil Friend

I don't know what Pascal's Wager was, but I want to quibble with your selection, Joel. It's a great _lecture_, but I read your request as looking for something more: "a one-hour activity that would engage students to learn and possibly apply some of the fundamentals of sustainability." I'm not sure it's presentation of facts that makes that difference. The more experiential approaches of the "where does it come from, where does it go" will, in my experience, do more to shift thinking and action.

My personal favorite (no prize, please; I missed the deadline fair and square :-): the "spaceship" exercize we often use in Natural Step workshops.

First people brainstorm a list of things to take on a 3-day jaunt around the moon; easy and fun. Then the brainstorm a list of things to take on a 100-year spaceflight. Every single group winds up constructing something like a sustainable ecosystem within the spaceship, and every group realizes they've described the conditions of satisfaction for sustainable ecosystems here on earth.

(The most striking case: employees of a major chemical company who realized, to their surprise, that the shopping list included absolutely nothing that their company made -- which led to a bit of soul-searching about "what business are we really in.")

jeff stevens

I think the "inputs and outputs" exercise is the best able to communicate the concept in relation to how we live (to quite different levels of sustainability). In an MLA program I went through they had us map inputs and outputs from our house and in a separate exercise see how in nature there is no such thing as waste. Getting our inputs and outputs closer to that of the nature model becomes the goal and it becomes very clear that natural processes are sustainable and our inputs and outputs need to be altered dramatically in order to be even just a little more sustainable.

Aaron Vallejo

Sustaining not Sustainability.

Creating a sustaining world requires we respect economy, equity and ecology using the Triple Top Line of business strategy. Where we eliminate the concept of waste. This is healthy, circular industrial production powered by the sun. This is Cradle to Cradle Design.

Google "Reversing Global Warming"

Paul Fowler

The New York Times has a button you can click that says PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION.
Your article is great, but I need a little larger print, and, the entire page should be used and not so narrow. Can you help with this?

Nancy Staus

I teach an introductory biology course for non majors at a community college in Oregon, and last quarter I did a lecture/lab on sustainability and human impact on the planet. It took us about 2 hours but the exercise could be shortened if necessary. I found the easiest way to discuss sustainability was in the context of ecological footprints--how much land area does it take to sustain a certain lifestyle and how much area is there on the earth? We started by discussing the Biosphere 2 experiment and deciding what should be included in a biosphere to sustain 8 human lives indefinitely. I told them the area of the Biosphere was 3.2 acres which translates to .4 acre/person. I then had them all calculate a simple ecological footprint using a formula available at http://www.mec.ca/Apps/ecoCalc/ecoCalc.jsp?FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=619029

Most of my students had footprints greater than 10 acres! So we figured out whether this footprint was sustainable given the current world's population and total area of productive land on the planet. Given the earth's 22 billion acres of productive land and its 6 billion human inhabitants, the average ecological footprint should be about 3.7 acres per person if we assume that land use should be distributed equitably. Thus footprints greater than 3.7 acres (i.e. all of my students) are not sustainable if everyone is to have equal amounts of land. My students were quite shocked at the results and it really gave them a concrete way of visualizing sustainability that cannot be communicated solely by lecturing about GDP, Energy/Resource intensity and other vague concepts that are basically meaningless to the average 20-something. Also, they were fascinated by Biosphere 2 (which many of them had never heard of!!) and some of them did their own out-of-class research on it (unheard of in most community college classes) to learn more.

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