I bring it up here, because it represents an attempt to bring a scientific
standard to sustainability. According to the information in the workshop,
at least, there has been extensive scientific review of the orginal
documents. At the same time, the basis has been framed in terms that, while
setting a very high standard, also make common sense.
My information is at home, but here are the "Four Conditions" as far as I
1. Substances extracted from the earth's crust (e.g. fossil fuels, metals,
other minerals) should not be extracted, dispersed, or used up at a faster
rate than they are being deposited.
2. Man-made substances should not be produced at a rate faster than they
can be broken down and incorporated into living ecosystems.
3. The quality of existing ecosystems should not be systematically degraded.
4. Existing resources should be used as efficiently and equitably as
I am sure that these are not the exact words, but I think they convey the
basic ideas. The consideration of social systems, Hal, is limited to the
word "equitably" (which may not even be the right word) in the last
condition. In the workshop I attended, considerable time was spent
emphasizing the fair and equitable distribution of resources.
As I am sure you can imagine, the devil is in the details, but even the
Swedish organic farmer felt that this is very challenging, but ultimately
necessary standard to reach.
Maybe I can write more, and more accurately, next week. I am out of time
From: Hal Hamilton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Sanet <email@example.com>
Date: Thursday, September 02, 1999 10:54 AM
Subject: Is sustainability a useless word?
>Dale writes: "Sustainability" is a political code-word, useless for
>about biology, cultural practices, or ethics.
>What do you all think? Clearly the word sustainability is politically
>loaded. That is, if powerful sectors of our economy, led by powerful
>people, and supported by powerful politicians, are engaged in activities
>that are unsustainable, then the concept of sustainability has political
>meaning. That doesn't make it useless, but it does add multiple layers of
>meaning and import. I'd argue that the concept also has analytic
>usefulness, although definitions are tough. The Natural Step folks have one
>that I don't think has a social dimension. We could at least agree that
>humankind shouldn't be using up resources faster than they can be
>regenerated and that we should not be polluting more than can be absorbed.
>I'm a layperson in these matters, lacking precision I'm sure. And I don't
>really care whether we lump social concerns within or without the concept
>sustainability. I care about equity regardless, for example. But that's
>Center for Sustainable Systems
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