Sustainability is Destroying the Earth

24Don’t talk to me about sustainability.  You want to question my lifestyle, my impact, my ecological footprint?  There is a monster standing over us, with a footprint so large it can trample a whole planet underfoot, without noticing or caring.  This monster is Industrial Civilization.  I refuse to sustain the monster.  If the Earth is to live, the monster must die.  This is a declaration of war.

What is it we are trying to sustain?  A living planet, or industrial civilization?  Because we can’t have both.

Somewhere along the way the environmental movement – based on a desire to protect the Earth, was largely eaten by the sustainability movement – based on a desire to maintain our comfortable lifestyles.  When did this happen, and why?  And how is it possible that no-one noticed?

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Teaching Students to Preserve the Environment

23Every year on April 22 people across the globe take part in Earth Day. Communities, governments, and schools acknowledge that our earth needs to be preserved and protected. This year more than a billion people will take part in Earth Day by getting involved and participating in Earth Day activities.

Here are a few activities and ideas to teach your students about preserving our earth, while learning about our beautiful planet.

Endangered Earth

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The World We Avoided by Protecting the Ozone Layer

22What Might Hav Been

In the new analysis, Newman and colleagues set out to predict ozone losses as if nothing had been done to stop them. The team started with the Goddard Earth Observing System Chemistry-Climate Model, an earth system model of atmospheric circulation that accounts for variations in solar energy, atmospheric chemical reactions, temperature changes and winds, and interactions between the stratosphere, where ozone is found, and the troposphere, the layer of atmosphere closest to Earth. Their “world avoided” simulation took months of computer time to process.

The researchers let global emissions of CFCs and similar compounds in the model world increase by 3 percent per year, the rate at which they were growing before regulation in the late 1980s. Then they let the simulated world turn from 1975 to 2065. By the simulated year 2020, 17 percent of global ozone is destroyed, and an ozone hole forms each year over the Arctic as well as the Antarctic. By 2040, the ozone “hole”—concentrations below 220 Dobson Units—is global. The UV index in mid-latitude cities reaches 15 around noon on a clear summer day (10 is considered extreme today).

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Can Technology Spare the Earth?

21Technologies have enabled us to expand our range and transform the earth. In 1909 Peary sledded to the North Pole, and in 1911 Amundsen reached the South. Improved navigational aids and ships that could withstand the pack ice made the poles accessible to men and dogs. Less than a century later we worry about the environmental purity of the polar regions and the ozone that shields them. My fundamental question is whether the technology that has conquered the earth can also spare it. To answer this question, I shall examine secular trends in what technology does with four paramount resources: energy, materials, land and water. I focus on the evolving efficiency of use of these resources. Economists call such resources “factors of production,” along with labor and capital.

Customarily, technology’s relation to environment is considered by evaluating lists of devices and machines: cars, oil tankers, nuclear power stations, windmills, wastewater-treatment plants, spray cans and chain saws. My approach is more basic. I ask whether technology enables us to obtain services more efficiently and, if so, at what rates. The answers indicate the feasibility of greatly diminishing our environmental burdens by increasing the productivity of our resources.

Analysts, eager to assimilate the latest information, live life on the tangent, extrapolating brief fluctuations to eternity. To counter this tendency, I search for stable signals amid the noise of the daily news. The historical analyses shared here, many contributed to an ongoing project at The Rockefeller University on technological trajectories and the human environment, seek the inherent lifetimes of processes of technological development, which can extend generations and centuries. Recognizing and formally analyzing incomplete developmental processes and the rhythmic patterns of processes permits confident prediction.

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Humans Are Turning the Earth Into an Immense Pile of Filth

20The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bio-accumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.

These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the Earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the Earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.

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