"sustainable"

Fri, 19 Mar 1999 08:56:46 +1300
David MacClement (davd@geocities.com)

I regard words and language in general as a major method of communicating
ideas, rather than as blocks with which to build a reliable structure, in
the way premisses and logic are used to build a theorem.

** In particular, after this discussion, I now realise there are three
meanings (at least) for the word "sustainable"; I've implied two of its
uses, and Mike I believe, means something quite different.

** Many people require things like the meanings/definitions of words to be
either right or wrong, true or false. I regard discussing such points as
nearly useless and certainly a waste of energy and time. For me, the goal
of a discussion is to open up new ideas for consideration, some of which
(usually after modification) will be included in the discussors' mental
equipment, increasing their ability to understand and their wisdom.

** For example, I now know Mike was right when he said some time ago
something like: "You have a very fuzzy idea of what sustainable means".

** From his: "Loss of species is a HARM, and therefore is NEVER
sustainable. I say 'sustainable' is a lifestyle that can be continued
forever without causing harm to the ecosystem. Loss of species is a type of
harm ..", it is clear to me that his 'sustainable' has a clear meaning but
so restricted that it cannot be used to apply to ordinary life on earth.
I am particularly able to address this point since my lifestyle is
specifically chosen to find what is the minimum impact a human can have,
while buying all their needs. _I_ regard my life-style as unsatisfying but
clearly sustainable (I live on less than US$900 per year), and yet my
continued existence does cause some harm to my (sub-tropical New Zealand)
ecosystem.

** In contrast, my two uses-of/meanings-for the word 'sustainable' require
scale to be specified. Time, and numbers of individuals. Also, as with
(nearly) all real life cases, there is a natural error, uncertainty,
fluctuation-range involved - not precision.

** The large-scale meaning is the most reliable. 'Sustainable' here can
mean continuing into the indefinite future (I don't use 'forever'), and
refers to an ecosystem, which can include humans. There will be change
involved - an ecosystem is dynamic, with numbers and location of
individuals changing day by day for animals, and season by season for
plants. I include the rare possibility of a species going extinct, and a
roughly equal probability of a new one arising. Thus sustainable includes:
having no recognisable trend, over a time-scale of thousands (or at least
hundreds) of years, and almost certainly longer.

** The small-scale meaning, used by people on this and the Positive
Futures list I am still on, refers to humans in their environment, and most
times means the answer to: "what life-style can I adopt for the rest of my
life, that (if all in the world adopted it) would enable the world we know
(i.e. including within living memory) to continue with only slow change
(tolerable by our environment) if any?" A common component is to have only
local impacts, so that you yourself have some chance of keeping track of them.

** Mike insists on a definition - I refuse to do more than this.

David.
** http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/6783/index.html#top
David MacClement <davd@geocities.com> , or davd@tao.ca for secure mail
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/3142/index.html#top