Making Sense of Sustainability

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Note: This project, Project One, is a prerequisite for Project Two

The book ‘Making Sense of Sustainability: a breakthrough in understanding the workings and appraisal of sustainability‘ is yet to be finished. I am seeking crowd-funding to help make that happen. The book’s purpose is to explain the logic of sustainability in a new and simple way, by extending already established theories and adding some deductions. It will offer methods for evaluating the sustainability of systems, point to principles that need further research. and most importantly, offer a basic framework for developing sustainability in the context of everyday life. 

Sustainability is a question that looms large over humanity. It is a question which is getting ever-increasing attention. It also may have been the very question that confounded Darwin. While it was clear that evolution and extinction were linked any efforts to combine them into a single theory at the time were premature. Not only was the concept of sustainability unknown, but so was the maths needed to unlock its deeper logic.

Considering its overall importance our popular notions about sustainability are surprisingly ill-defined. As the Environmental Law Institute noted recently,

… the term sustainability was introduced in environmental policy discourse over 30 years ago”, when the World Commission on Environment and Development published Our Common Future. In addition to charting a path for future development, the lengthy report – which was released in conjunction with the United Nations in 1987 – is recognised as defining ‘sustainability’ as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Our Common Future puts forth what is largely considered to be the first definition of the term. However, as the leaders of the Environmental Law Institute note, sustainability, as a term and as a practice, still “suffers from the ambiguity that must be overcome if governmental and private-sector decision-makers are to optimize the concept’s potential.”
In other words: ‘sustainability’, along with other terms such as – ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘ethical’, ‘responsibly-made’, and in many cases, even ‘upcycled’ – lack concrete, uniform definitions with foundations in law that brands and consumers can observe.

A better definition

So the world has become saddled with the notion that sustainability is somehow partnered to development. The most popular explanation is even based around the idea that our economy, society and environment are the ‘three pillars of sustainability‘. This is the upside-down speak: painting the tail to look like the head with no foundation in science. The notion that the attribute of sustainability is somehow supported by those three, or arises in some virtual space of their imagined overlap, is nonsense. In reality sustainability is not an add-on to be supported and marketed, but the very ground on which these so-called pillars are stood up on.

In my book I define sustainability in a totally different way, as:

A measure of the ability of a self-perpetuating process, or
nest of processes,
to persist over [ a defined period of ] time.’

Key points of this definition

  • sustainability could be quantifiable,
  • sustainability applies to process-dependent systems.

If and once the process outcomes of a sustained system reach equilibrium then there are characteristics patterns which can be identified. These are found throughout the natural environment but are not confined there. My book will argue that there is a universal template, the Core Logic of Sustainability (CLS), which can be applied to non-environmental systems as well.

What is new about this?

book cover

Sustainability needs a more scientific in orientation. The theory of sustainability in my book has its roots in the insights of both Darwin and Mandelbrot. It proposes a number of key principles, and areas for further research. It is not intended as a treatise on the matter, but rather as a theoretical platform for asserting a much needed change of direction.

To write and distribute this book, is but the first step towards public education about 100% sustainable living, agrarian self-reliance, and cooperative growth. Any overflow of funding for this project will be used to move the larger process ahead.

In his documentary film One Man One Cow One Planet, Peter Proctor[2] notes how often it happens that in solving one problem two more are created elsewhere.  This is all well and good for stimulating economic growth and technological innovation… until the problem to be solved gets to be one of hiding undesirable side-effects.

Deception through the public media is a common practice[3] but nature is not fooled. The social cost and environmental risks from ‘progress’ have escalated into a real burden both on nature and society alike. It’s time to climb down off the branch of market-driven solutions back to where sustainability can be re-affirmed. Better forms of progress are possible reality can be mapped in healthier ways.

How you can help

Prepare for launch: The next step for this project is the Kickstarter launch. That will be announced in Feb’20.  Kickstarter project only get 40 days. To be successful means reaching 15-20K people in that period.
Everyone on our newsletter list will be notified at the time but we’d also like you to spread the word through your contacts. For large mailing lists, a subscriber circulation, or a relevant facebook page, please check out this page What’s next?

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1 : Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission –

2 : One Man One Cow One Planet – Peter Proctor, (2007)

3 : Manufacturing Consent (revisited) – Noam Chomsky, (2018)

About Editor

Ross Scholes —    BSc.(Earth Sci.); PGDip.(Nat. Res.): PGDip.(Devpt. Stud.)          • Assoc, Editor, Soil & Health magazine ( 6 ) • Development Consultant, Solomon Is. ( 8 ) • Organic gardener, ( ~50 )

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