Re: Sustainability

Wed, 8 Jun 1994 10:01:01 -0400

>"Sustainability" is a word bandied about a good bit of late.
>Archaeologists are beginning to show the unexpectedly far-reaching
>environmental impacts of even small-scale societies long ago. I wonder
>if there ever has been a truly sustainable human adaptation, even in
>terms of physical environment.

How long does something have to be sustained in order to be 'sustainable'
according to your criteria, Bob? If the period of expected time is "from
prehistory until the present," I agree, finding examples of such
adaptations will be difficult. But ones that last a couple centuries might
be good. I would think that sustainability is a relative index, rather than
an absolute one. Societies operating on solar energy are more sustainable
than societies operating on fossil fuels. But that doesn't mean that, in
the real long run, we won't run out of silicon, or even sunlight...

> In terms of social environment, it is
>all too clear that living in small societies at low densities was a
>strategy doomed by surrounding societies whose numbers, and
>resource-utilization, made them far *less* sustainable in the long run
>than were the small societies they overwhelmed.

This is a problem examined, to some degree, by Andrew Bard Schmookler, in
the Parable of the Tribes... the larger societies were stronger, and less
sustainable, than their neighbors...

>If there is such a
>thing as a sustainable cultural adaptation, how would we know it when we
>saw it?

It makes a reasonable effort to preserve the existing resource base.
Sure, renewable energy, recycling, and tree replanting are not 100%
effective (to take some modern examples), but they are *relatively* better
than fossil fuels, production for immediate obsolescence and disposal, and
And it is an adaptation (could be social, rather than having to deal
with the physical environment) that is aimed at preserving both the present
and future existence of the society...

>And how could we guarantee that it would not be destroyed from

Based on this criterion, no adaptation could ever be identified. Surely all
kinds of adaptations, from the sustainable to the ludicrous, are subject to
destruction by outside invasion... except, perhaps, increasing
militarization and arms buildup?

> I question, then, the attainability, identifiability, and
>*survivability* of sustainability. --Bob Graber

I think it can be identified. I think it may be attained and may survive,
but it will take work. (Doesn't everything?) The real question -- which I
think is the one you are trying to raise -- is the *desirability* of
sustainability as a choice, because there are trade-offs...

>PS: P. Clay's post makes sustainability an even fishier concept than
>I had thought.


Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
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