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The end of sustainability

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We need to reexamine and move past the concept of sustainability, argues Melinda Harm Benson, associate professor at the University of New Mexico, and Robin Craig, William H. Leary Professor of Law at the University of Utah.

This article originally appeared on Ensia.

The time has come for us to collectively reexamine — and ultimately move past — the concept of sustainability. The continued invocation of sustainability in policy discussions ignores the emerging realities of the Anthropocene, which is creating a world characterized by extreme complexity, radical uncertainty and unprecedented change. From a policy perspective, we must face the impossibility of even defining — let alone pursuing — a goal of “sustainability” in such a world. It’s not that sustainability is abad idea. The question is whether the concept of sustainability is still useful as an environmental governance framework.

In general, “sustainability” refers to the long-term ability to continue to engage in a particular activity. “Sustainable development” reflects a broader goal about how development should proceed — namely, with sufficient consideration of the environment to ensure the continued availability of natural capital. The international community embraced sustainable development at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, incorporating it into both the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21.

The idea of sustainable development developed in an era of emerging concern about climate change. The pursuit of sustainable development goals, however, has not resulted in either sustainability or effective mitigation of climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption patterns have continued to increase. In anticipation of Rio+20, the UN Environment Programme released a report concluding that as human pressures on the planet accelerate, critical global, regional and local thresholds are quickly being approached or, in some cases, have already been exceeded.

Despite this alarming and unpredictable situation, policy discussions remain framed by the goal of sustainability, ignoring the fact that the concept has failed to meaningfully change human behavior.

By definition, sustainability assumes that there are desirable states of being for social-ecological systems, or SESs, that humans can maintain indefinitely. In practice, sustainability goals proved difficult to achieve in many SESs even before climate change impacts became noticeable. With climate change, we face a future in which we have no idea what we can sustain. Therefore, we must begin to formulate environmental governance goals by some metric other than sustainability.

The concept of resilience holds promise as a new way of addressing the challenges ahead. While not inherently incompatible concepts, resilience and sustainability are not the same. The pursuit of sustainability assumes that we a) know what can be sustained and b) have the capacity to maintain stationarity (i.e., keep the system operating within an unchanging envelope of variability). In contrast, resilience thinking acknowledges disequilibrium and nonlinear, continual change — often as a result of crossing a “tipping point” or threshold — and offers a tool for assessing the dynamic relationships between systems, which is a facet of SESs that will become increasingly important given current rates of globalization and increasingly complex socio-ecological challenges. It also has the potential to be more helpful than sustainability when examining social justice and other human development concerns because it requires an assessment of not only what we value but also the extent to which those values are reflected in our policies and approaches.

Shifting the governance focus from sustainability to resilience is not admitting defeat. It re-orients us to focus on coping with change. Research to develop baseline data is still important —not as a guide for what we can “sustain,” but instead to identify tipping points that might provide insight into future systems change and help to identify critical ecological thresholds.

Unfortunately, while the concept of resilience is gaining the attention of natural resource managers and policy makers, it is already in danger of becoming — like sustainability — a rhetorical device with little influence on actual decision making. Adaptive governance and adaptive management offer promise in terms of putting these ideas into practice but, to date, they have not yet been integrated into legal and regulatory frameworks in enforceable ways.

What we need are new policies and institutions that accommodate uncertainty and anticipate nonlinear change, both of which are realities of the Anthropocene. Scientists, policy makers and others must work together to design and implement environmental policies that promote and build adaptive capacity while also providing stronger, more legally enforceable and institutionally supported goals — goals that reflect the adaptation strategies necessary to negotiate our complex and rapidly changing world.

Melinda Harm Benson is an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of New Mexico, focussing on environment and natural resource management challenges.

Robin Craig  is the William H. Leary Professor of Law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, where she is also affiliated with the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment.

Photo: docentjoyce via Flickr 

Further reading:

All consuming: the real problem is what we do

Sustainability as a business benefit in the commercial property sector

Sustainable business is simply ‘doing business in a better way’

We need more people with complete sustainability literacy

Survey: CEOs see opportunites within sustainability, but not immediate benefits

Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

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Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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Energy

Top 5 Changes You can Make in Your Life to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

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Saving money and reducing your carbon footprint? What isn’t to love? - Image from Shutterstock - https://www.shutterstock.com/g/thodonal88

In a world, where war rages and global warming threatens our very existence, the inhabitants of earth need to be extra vigilant in their efforts to go green. This includes reducing your carbon footprint on the earth and leading a more sustainable life.

Many homeowners feel perplexed by all of the options available to reduce their carbon footprint. They may even feel (falsely) that making their household more green will fail to make that much of a difference in the fight to save our planet.

Even a single home going green has a massive impact on the environment. We can win this battle on home at a time. If you’re interested in accepting the challenge of making your household a green home, read on below for a few of the top changes you can make in your life to reduce your carbon footprint. We all stand to benefit from making the earth safer for future generations – and your wallet won’t complain when you start to see the savings in annual energy costs.

Switch From Dirty Energy to Clean Solar

The ION Solar reviews tell it all–solar is the best way to go. Whether your goal is to slash your energy bills, or to reduce your carbon footprint, the sun is a fantastic source of renewable energy.

It’s important to get past the hype from solar installers. Instead, listen to the plethora of impartial customer reviews that mention everything from a $20 energy bill, to the incredible feeling of knowing that you are doing your part by going green and minimizing harmful emissions in to our atmosphere.

The average investment is $15,000 to $30,000 for installation and purchase of solar panels. Optional battery power packs can help provide consistent power during both night and day. And many government agencies provide federal, state or local grants to help offset upfront investments in clean energy.

Depending on which installed you choose, your household may qualify for low-interest or zero interest loans to cover the up-front cost of your installation. And the loan payments are usually less than your current monthly power bill.

It really is a win-win, as home buyers are looking for homes that feature this technology – meaning solar power installation improves the resale value of your property.

Home Modifications

And there are a number of additional home modifications that can help improve the energy efficiency of your home. A programmable thermostat can better manage energy consumption from home cooling and heating systems while you’re away from home. And weather stripping your doors can help keep cool air in during the summer, and warm air in during the winter.

Of course, energy conservation starts at home. And this includes setting a powerful example for your kids. Teach your children how to close windows, strategically keep doors open or closed based on airflow, and encourage them to leave the thermostat alone – opting for adding or removing layers of clothing instead.

Unplug Appliances and Shut Off Electronics

Unplugging your appliances when they aren’t in use, such as the toaster and the coffee maker, has more of an impact than you might think. Set your TVs and stereos on sleep timers, instead of letting them run around the clock. The cumulative impact of wasteful electronic device usage is horrible for our environment – putting unnecessary strain on our electrical grid.

Recycle

One of the simplest and easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is by recycling. You are already throwing this stuff away anyway, right? It doesn’t take much more effort to just put recyclables in a separate container to be recycled, now does it?

Oh, and did I mention that you can earn money for recycling? Yes! Many cities and towns have recycling centers that will purchase your clean plastic and glass bottles for reuse.

Minimize Your Water Usage

Water is one of the easiest things to forget about when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint. Preserve water by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Shorten your shower by a few minutes and turn down the heat on that water heater. You’ll be surprised at how much lower your water bill and your energy bill will be.

Saving money and reducing your carbon footprint? What isn’t to love?

These are just a few of the top ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint and start living a greener lifestyle. And we aren’t factoring in all of the advantages that we’ll reap from public investments in a smarter energy grid.

From decreasing your water usage, to switching to solar for your home’s energy needs, you will feel good at the end of the day knowing you are doing your part to save the future of this planet for generations to come!

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