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Ecologists, from Eugene Odum onwards, knew differently. These founding principles of sustainable economics are rotten to the core and completely unscientific. The earth is not a closed system, quite the opposite. Ask the dinosaurs if you don’t believe me. Oh hang on, you can’t, because they are all dead. When our atmosphere was filled with dust after a huge comet the size of Mount Everest struck Mexico, the sun was blocked and life quickly began to die. The biosphere relies on a vast fleet of gold-filled trucks arriving from the sun each day, bringing the energetic currency needed to run a debt ridden natural economy. The natural economy is not self-sustaining, in fact it is profligate, generating huge amounts of waste and requiring vast external funding in order to maintain some semblance of order in an entropic universe. Thinking that we can build a human economic model on the principles of nature is a ridiculous idea. The laws of thermodynamics (and the dinosaurs) testify to this. The waste-is-food argument sounds great. Recycle everything. However, simultaneously, these same ideologists tell us that we should aim for zero waste. Yet waste-is-food (industrial symbiosis) relies on waste. You can’t recycle your cake and eat it. Another school of thought posits the extended life concept, where products last longer, reducing the manufacturing and increasing the service sector. Again this is not a natural principle. Nature relies on rapid turnover, not slow turnover. A bamboo chopstick is a lot more sustainable than a plastic chopstick, because it quickly recycles and does not need technological nutrients to make it.

The final potentially fatal flaw in modern sustainable thinking is our fixation with carbon. It is all about carbon. Carbon, carbon, carbon (spoken as in a Monty Python sketch). Yet there are three horsemen of the modern apocalypse, not one. In addition to climate destabilization, we have death by fertilizer (eutrophication), and habitat destruction. These latter two pose just as big a threat to planetary life support as carbon does, but we only talk about the big C. Replacing one corroded link in a chain will do us no good if two others snap. We need to take our place on the seesaw of social, ecological, and economic sustainability, preparing to be sub-optimal for the sake of overall balance, and to practice bioparticipation, not biomimicry. More fundamentally, we need to incorporate science fact, not science fiction. “This ain’t no spaceship” (last words of T-rex; RIP). c Author - Dr. Keith Skene is director of the Biosphere Research Institute ( and a former Australian Rhodes Scholars Association Scholar. He lives in eastern Scotland with his wife, son, and numerous foster children. He is co-author, along with Prof. Alan Murray, of Sustainable Economics: Context, Challenges and Opportunities for the 21st-Century Practitioner. Greenleaf Publishing, available via Stylus Publishing LLC: ( SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS MAGAZINE


Sustainable Business Magazine  

Issue 03/15