1 Sustainability and Discontinuity
1.2.1 Preconditions of Environmental Sustainability The starting point of our discourse is the banal, but often forgotten observation that our society, and hence the lives of our and future generations, depends on the long-term functioning of the complicated ecosystems that we happen to simply call nature, on their quality and productive capacity (and in turn, on their capacity to produce food, raw materials and energy). And for us this has fundamental importance, that from this simple but important observation we can introduce the concept of environmental sustainability. The term environmental sustainability refers to systemic conditions where neither on a planetary nor on a regional level do human activities disturb the natural cycles more than planetary resilience2 allows, and at the same time do not impoverish the natural capital3 that has to be shared with future generations. These two limitations, based on a prevalently physical character, will be aligned with a third limitation, based on ethics: the principle of equity states that in a sustainable framework, every person, including those from future generations, has the right to the same environmental space4, that is, the right to access the same amount of natural resources. Any serious consent to these sustainable requirements will expose immediately the actual division between the production窶田onsumption system in contemporary industrial society and sustainability. The signs of this division are for example the unwise use of renewable resources (over-exploitation of some, like fish, and underemployment of others, like solar energy), the similarly unwise consumption of nonreproducible resources (fast exhaustion of many reserves and corresponding accumulation of waste), dispersal of a growing number of synthetic substances into nature, potentially noxious, unknown by nature and therefore non-naturalisable.
1.2.2 Ten Times More Eco-efficient Production System It is perhaps useful to give an intuitive clue about the extent to which such a division is possible and to present a compendious image, which, despite inevitable simplification, allows us to gain an idea about the destination we have to head 2
Resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to overcome certain disturbances without irrevocably losing the conditions of its equilibrium. This concept, extended across the planet, introduces the idea that the ecosphere used by human activities has limits on its resilience that, when surpassed, give way to irreversible phenomena of deterioration. 3 Natural capital is the sum of non-renewable resources and the environmental capacity needed to reproduce the renewable ones. But it also refers to natural diversity, to the amount of living species on this planet. 4 Environmental space is the quantity of energy, territory and primary non-reproducible resources that can be exploited in a sustainable way. Also, the term ecological footprint has been used, which indicates the available amount of resources needed to live, produce and consume on a personal, national or continental level without surpassing the sustainable level (Wackernagel and Rees, 1996; Rees, 1992; Friends of the Earth, Wuppertal Institute, 1996; Chambers et al., 2000).
Published on Nov 17, 2010
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