FOUNDATION CONCEPTS: What Is Sustainability?
Published Mar 15, 2012
As a contribution to this ongoing refinement of the concept, I recently formulated five axioms (self-evident truths) of sustainability. My goal was simply to distill ideas that had been proposed previously and put them into a concise, easy-to-understand form.
The First Axiom
Any society that continues to use critical resources unsustainably will collapse. Exception: A society can avoid collapse by finding replacement resources. Limit to the exception: In a finite world, the number of possible replacements is also finite.
Archaeologist Joseph Tainter, in his classic study The Collapse of Complex Societies (1988), demonstrated that collapse is a frequent if not universal fate of complex societies and argued that collapse results from declining returns on efforts to support growing levels of societal complexity using energy harvested from the environment. Jared Diamond's popular book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005) similarly makes the argument that collapse is the common destiny of societies that ignore resourse constraints. This axiom defines sustainability by the consequences of its absence—that is, collapse.
From the Post Carbon Institute/Watershed Media Book:
The Post Carbon Reader
Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises
about The Post Carbon Reader
How do population, water, energy, food, and climate issues impact one another? What can we do to address one problem without making the others worse? The Post Carbon Reader features essays by some of the world’s most provocative thinkers on the key issues shaping our new century, from renewable energy and urban agriculture to social justice and community resilience. This insightful collection takes a hard-nosed look at the interconnected threats of our global sustainability quandary and presents some of the most promising responses.
Contributors to The Post Carbon Reader are some of the world's leading sustainability thinkers, including Bill McKibben, Richard Heinberg, Stephanie Mills, David Orr, Wes Jackson, Erika Allen, Gloria Flora, and dozens more.
Published by Watershed Media, October 2010
552 pages, 6 x 9“, 4 b/w photographs, 26 line illustrations
$21.95 paper 978-0-9709500-6-2