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Re: Further Changes: Pt.1 of 2; 'sustainable'

by David MacClement

03 October 1999 01:52 UTC

**  Dealing with Eric's questions about these statements of mine: 
>>    I currently believe that if everyone on earth was living like me, 
>> we 6 billion humans would be using/wasting almost nothing, and our
>> impact would be so small that all other species still living would be 
>> able to flourish. ... sustainable, measured by: (1) virtually no
>> reductions in biodiversity, (2) no net anthropogenic global warming 
>> (allowing some cooling), and (3) most of the livable land area 
>> on earth being unaffected by the existence of homo sapiens. 
>> (Obviously, humans would then be living within bounded spaces, 
>> similar in some ways to modern zoos.)

** As most on this list know, I am on the fringes of deep ecology, so if
you're looking for 'a sense of place', 'rejoicing in being with Nature',
don't get yourself irritated by reading the rest of this or my next.

<[my understanding of "sustainable": ]>
    Note that I won't be specifying anything; Betsy's right about that.
**  Now and in the future we should be able to measure "sustainable" by
numbers like the three I describe above, though I suspect those are more
stringent than is actually required, and something may have to be added to
**  I would expect that at least one of the examples below would fulfil my
more general criterion:
"humans having no greater impact on other species than is the typical
effect of one species on those around it". 
(I use 'typical' to exclude humans and the eucalyptus tree species.)

**  Back on March 18-19 I wrote (lightly edited):
 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
 ... 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).

** 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.

<[description: ]>
** The large-scale meaning is the most reliable. 'Sustainable' here can
mean continuing into the indefinite future, 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.

** The small-scale meaning, used by most people, 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.

I apply the word 'sustainable' to all these examples:

<[examples: ]>
(i) the hundreds of millions of years when the saurians (and even the
dinosaurs) were the family that had the major effect on the earth's living
(ii) the several hundred thousand years when the homo group were
(iii) the several thousand years, about 36,000 to 40,000 years ago, just
after the Australian Aborigines arrived in what is now Australia, when they
hadn't yet over-used fire. After that was a non-sustainable transition
period, followed by perhaps 10-20,000 years of sustainable living
controlled by cultural taboos, climate etc., that meant that the remaining
species fluctuated in size (no. of individuals) but stayed nearly constant
in number (of species);
(iv) the thousand years or more at about 4-5000 BP when agriculture-based
"civilization" was centred on the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Indus and Yangtse
rivers (but the human population there hadn't yet increased to an
unsustainable level), and most other humans were practising
slash-burn-plant-harvest-move-on agriculture and/or fishing; 
    _and_ (knowing the last two to be debatable):
(v) the several hundred years at around 900 AD when plagues (& other common
illnesses), wars in China, the Arab world and the Americas, and lack of
food, meant the death rate nearly balanced the birth rate and the human
population hardly changed, so its impact on other living things was again
about constant; and lastly (though I'm having doubts about this most recent
(vi) a period spanning my birth-date (1936), from when my father was born
to about 1950, where people had the Great Depression to focus the mind on
what is essential in life, and the range of consumption was (I think)
tolerable, so _if_ the human population and its consumption had been kept
stable no further inroads into the living-space of the rest of the world's
species need have occurred.

** As you can see at the end of (iii), I regard the occasional loss of a
species as normal for world ecology, so long as, over nearly a million
years, the number of new species about balances the lost species. Yes, the
world is a little different at the end of those million years, but that is
part of sustainable life on earth, IMO.
 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

David. {Part 2 (Eric's specific points) to follow}
(David MacClement) d1v9d @ bigfoot.com (remove spaces)

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