Sustainability ~ Do We Have It Right? Dr. Jacquie McNutt ~ CPBIS

Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
Dr. Jacquie McNutt ~ CPBIS
PaperCon ’08
Dallas, Texas
May 7, 2008
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
Sustainability is recently receiving much needed
focus in many circles ~ yet there are two key
questions requiring our full attention ~
• Do we have our focus on sustainability right in
terms of embracing a needed comprehensive
global view of this major issue; and
• Are we considering effectively all major aspects of
the sustainability kaleidoscope required to assure
needed, effective, & constructive outcomes across
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
The quality, depth, & breadth of current global
efforts to try to effectively address the
complex topic of Sustainability are
extraordinarily constructive considering the
evolving pressures & demands of mankind
on our planet earth . . .
And with many efforts targeted to seek a
balance across social, cultural, business,
economic, consumer, technological, &
political arenas ~ these initiatives have a
direction that is mostly positive
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
But before we rush on too fast & pat our
collective backs ~ maybe we need to take a
step back here and ask ourselves ~ do we
really do have it right yet?
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
Addressing this objectively is hard ~ Turning back the clock to
other times/ events helps shed constructive light ~
• With Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in 1962 we were
issued a major wakeup call . . .
• Clearly political & societal systems responded ~ even if
economic and consumer ones did not ~ at first blush
• In fact a Google hit on Carson’s book yields 2,010,000 hits
• A “Silent Spring” focus was water & air quality as related to
pesticides ~ among other pollution related topics ~
• In fact we can trace the creation of our own Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) right here in the USA . . .
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
After nearly 50 years since “Silent Spring” & an enormous
amount of world-wide effort and focus ~
 Controversies still rage over “how to get that one right”.
• This is a many sided coin fraught with successes, failures,
blind alleys, & clear mistakes ~
 Many mistakes are grounded in failure to initially realize
effective responses to issues Carson raised must embrace
the complex marriage across social, cultural, business,
economic, consumer, technological, and political arenas ~
in a global context
• Fixing it ~ such as in the US & Europe ~ is clearly not
enough either ~ for example ~
 Banned DDT led to reductions in DDT related cancer deaths,
especially in developed regions ~ such as the US & Europe
 But least we forget ~ deaths‟ increases from diseases (e.g.,
malaria) in developing countries absent DDT access far
outweigh cancer reduction benefits elsewhere
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
And as noted, in the current initiatives around
Sustainability we have
Learned from the past to a degree, and
 Are seeking to embrace a more balanced view
toward this complex multi-discipline marriage ~ at
least in the developed economies
But do we have it right yet globally?
From this perch ~ we still have miles to go before
we sleep ~
We have yet to effectively consider true
implications of decisions/ directions across all
aspects of this complex marriage of arenas as
well as within the developing economies ~ where
by the way nearly 80% of the world‟s population
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
And speaking of developing countries ~
How many are aware 55% of all trees cut for a
purpose today are cut for wood to energy supply
in ineffective, highly polluting open flame
systems, and that nearly 90% of that takes place
in developing countries?
 And, how many are further aware transient
agriculture leads to wasteful burning of forest
areas to match those cut with a purpose each
year in developing countries?
 How many of us are aware we are on the verge of
technologies to generate energy supplies directly
from trees more effectively/ efficiently than
generated from petroleum, coal, & other agriiproducts?
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
Why this seemingly unrelated transgression?
 Simply to create another lesson to be learned from when we
think we have it right.
 A key underpinning of the Sustainability Movement is found
in perceptions (and realities) related to needs to sustain
global resources and systems to assure our planet‟s (and
 Yet in just one natural resource area ~ forests ~ most of us
do not have a clue as to the realities of this resource, its
uses, potential; new uses, balances and directions.
• Do we have that one right? Arguably far from it ~ and if we
do not have that one right ~ there is a major driving force
behind Sustainability we likely will need to reassess to fully
understand implications of our well intended and well
designed efforts there ~ especially as pertaining to
developing economies
• In essence we have a lot to learn before we can even begin
to think we have it right . . .
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
With a longer look back in time ~ these
words, by Reverend Thomas Malthus in
1798 in his “Essay on the Principle of
Population”, were core to his economic
philosophy addressing the then
developing conflicting views on the future
direction of the peoples of the earth; and
of the earth's capacity to meet their ever
expanding needs . . .
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
“The theory on which the truth of my (sic) position depends
appears to me so extremely clear, that I feel at a loss to
conjecture what part of it can be denied. That
population cannot increase without the means of
subsistence is a proposition so evident that it needs no
illustration. That population does invariable increase
where there are the means of subsistence; the history of
every people that have ever existed will abundantly
prove. And, that the superior power of population
cannot be checked without producing misery or vice, the
ample portion of these too bitter ingredients in the cup
of human life, and the continuance of the physical
causes that seem to have produced them, bear too
convincing a testimony.”
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
Contemporary writers/ philosophers contemplating
today's population & resource utilization
pressures have invoked similar sentiments to
Malthus to support warnings we face a type of
“Ecological or Natural Resources Armageddon'„
• Yet contrary to popular beliefs ~ Malthus was
not a 1790s ecological alarmist, nor doomsayer
predicting catastrophic end of civilized life as
known in his day
• He was an insightful economist who very early
understood some of the critical issues of
balancing systems of demand, productivity, and
resources sustainability ~ a key fact of life we
still face, here in our new millennium
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
Malthus‟s two model points focused on ~
 Growth in human population as a proxy for demand and
resources’ utilization factors, and
 The then perceived limits to the earth's potential to sustain
this population and its needed resources.
• His belief was ~ when earth's potential to provide resources
to meet human population's needs is stressed, the solution
will be found through corrections of population levels via
the proliferation of misery and vice ~ including disease, war,
famine and other widespread catastrophes
• Malthus did accept advancement of technology is a partial
solution, but not at the heart of his main thinking . . .
 He did not get it right
 Technology played an enormous role for needed global
balances ~ and Malthus essentially ignored needs of/
potentials emanating from the then developing world ~
which by the way for the 1700s British included the US . . .
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
Our lesson here today should then be that ~
We are not so very special as to get something
right that has eluded the brightest minds in the
world for centuries
Are we doing better ~ I wonder what Thomas
Malthus would tell us if he were here to counsel
us today?
I think he would tell us we are getting better, we
are making progress, but do not let the firmness
of our seemingly clear thinking cause us to
believe we have it right yet
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
In closing, let‟s take one more example much
closer to home in time and space ~
There is hardly a literate person now unaware of
the massive initiatives around the global warming
arena ~ and in part this is also directly related to
the Sustainability Movement
 Our thinking is that man-made exhausts and
pollutants have created a greenhouse effect of a
certain level and direction that will lead to
temperature changes of +5 degrees Celsius (or
so) during the current century ~ with disastrous
implications for mankind.
 But, how many of us have heard about and
understand what the scientists are now calling
“global dimming”?
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
Global dimming is ~
Largely, man-generated atmospheric particulates
cause a shielding effect from the sun that has led
to about a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature drop in
the past 50 or so years ~ that is masked by the
temperature increase from the global warming
 The problem ~ those who think they have got it
right on global warming have solutions that will
also lower man-generated particulate levels and
actually aggravate, not help resolve the global
warming trends we are now trying so very had to
deal with.
• This is a very complex topic to get right ~ but so
is Sustainability . . .
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
The lesson again is ~
That no matter how well we believe we have
addressed a very difficult global issue ~
 We
must sustain a mindset that we do not have it
right yet because the consequences to the contrary
could very easily be worse than those that would
have evolved had we not tried at all . . .
 However, if we keep our minds open and are ready
to take different directions as we learn, then we will
be closer to getting it right than if we let our egos
tell us we have it all figured out ~ that we have got
it right . . .
Sustainability ~
Do We Have It Right?
Our world deserves
an 80% solution ~
Let‟s get it right!!