Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SD--Generation One

Our Common Present

In their 1987 report to the United Nation's General Assembly, titled "Our Common Future", the Brundtland Commission defined 'Sustainable development' (SD) as :
"...the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
While that defintion was clear enough, and agreeable to everyone, the process of just how to go about SD was a source of a controversy...that continues today.

It seems reasonable, that if we are to understand our important role--as the 'first generation' of the SD era--that this controversy should be cleared up. Here in Hawaii, where we have the unique opertunity to set the pace for SD (nationally and maybe globally) it would be helpful if our policy-makers were on the same page--and the "right" page.

Sustainability might come to us peicemeal--bit by bit--and that might be great; but it would also be nice to have a grand scheme...at least a common philosophy...that everybody--including the those in government--can sink their teeth into.

In "Our Common Future", the Brundtland Commission presented a model, sometimes called the "tripple bottom line" approach (or 3BL approach); which can be expressed by the Venn Diagram:

The 3BL approach views the three pertinent parameters: Society, Economy; Environment as a necessarily inter-dependent triad; that must be maintained for sustainability to happen. The gray areas--where circles overlapp--represent the process of "striking a balance between economic, social, and environmental priorities"*, and allows for 'compromise' of each of the three parameters [or 'priorities']. Sustainable development is resolved at the center.

It turns out, this model is difficult to define and regulate; and involves a lot of politicking between various interests.

Actually, while SD calls for an 'all-new approach' to things, the 3BL approach is the way we have been doing buisness for the past fifty years or more. There is nothing new about it, at all.

With man-made environmental threats bearing down upon us, it becomes increaingly evident that the 3BL approach does not address the urgency of the situation. For that reason, this model has (since the Brundtland Report) been recognised as a "Weak Model" for sustainable development.

An alternative model, now called the "Strong Model" of SD, has emerged as a more-promising approach. It is conviently expressed through a 'consentric globe' (or Russian Doll) diagram:

The inner globe is the economy while outer globe, the environment. We--(society) occupy the mid-sized globe. The striking contrast between the two models--'weak' and 'strong'-- is that, in the 'weak model', society is dependent on the economy for its wellbeing. While, in the strong model, only the reverse is so--the economy is dependent on society. In the strong model, we are masters of the economy...not victims of it.

Obviously, in this model, both society and the economy are dependent subsets of the environment. According to this Model, without a vital and stable environment, there is no economy or society...at least, as we know it.

The strong model, then, rejects the ideas of "balance" or "compromise" of pertinent parameters. Instead, current interpritations of the strong model call for "intergration" of environmental policy with all other policies--social and economic.

'Environmental Policy Integration' (EPI), according to prominent theorists, does not guarintee sustainability. It is mearly a 'recommendation'. ** According to the study on sustainable development by the Scottish government:

"EPI has three core goals, namely:
1. to achieve sustainable development and prevent environmental degradation;
2. to remove contradictions between policies as well as contradictions within environmental policy;
3. to realize mutual benefits and make policies mutually beneficial."

EPI approach is clearly more focused on environmental protection than the 3BL approach. Though, like the 3BL approach, it relies heavily on 'hopeful politics'. And as time runs out; and continent-sized ice shelves melt before our eyes; and sea-levels rise, even the EPI interpretation of the Strong Model is appearing 'Weak'.

Under the urgent circumstances, we might ask:
Is our role as 'Generation One' of the sustainability era, really to "intergrate" policy?

But wait.... A second look at the strong model shows no gray areas--where circles overlap; no blurred edges between parameters--like in a rainbow--where colors blend. The distinct borders between 'economy', 'society' and 'environment' show no place for compromise or discussion, of any kind, to take place. We either have a vital environment--for ourselvs and future generations--or we don't. And without that vital environment, according to the Strong model, we have nothing...no useful economy or vibrant society. It's cut and dry...according to this model.

SO! The answer has been right in front of us the whole time. Our role--as "Generation One" of the global sustainability movement, is to assure generations 2, 3, and 4 of a vital natural environment; that they, in turn can pass on to their offsprings. Our job is not to "balance" or to "integrate"...or anything so complicated.

Our only job, as SD Generation One, is to"preserve" the natural environment.
It's that simple.

Now we--the present generation in Hawaii--could busy ourselves with 'ballancing' and 'intergrating', in the name of sustainability; leaving the task of 'preserving' to the next generation. We could be immortalized as the generation that repeated the word "sustainability" so many times in a row--and drove it into the heads of our youth--enough so that they actually got down and took the approach that needs to be taken--protecting the environment at all costs to the current economy.

Certainly, by the time they come into 'power', it should be crystal clear; that they have little choice...but that approach.
Hopefully, it won't be too late.



* From Hi 2050 Sustainability Plan--definition

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Synergetic Development

Bucky Ball 300

Dr. Richard E. Smalley, who shared the Nobel prize for the discovery of carbon-based molecules, called "Fullerenes", (also called 'Bucky balls') concludes, in a more-recent work, that storage of electrical power, on a grand scale--like for an urban community--is impractical. In fact, it's impossible, with today's technology.
Specifically, there is no battery made that can power a city for very long.

Instead, he proposes, that: if each house had its own local battery...suitable to meet its own electrical needs (and perhaps a little surplus), it is, in effect, possible to power a city with a battery.
In other words, in his proposal, 'each house' is a 'power cell' in the urban battery. With this approach, he says, "...the problem becomes vastly more solvable."

Smalley points out that, 'not only is the technology for local power storage already available, but that household power storage can be locally maintained with existing renewable energy technologies--built in (or added) to the design of the home'.

This is a fine example of how principals of synergy apply to sustainable development. Within this frame, sustainable development means 'developing each home, or building, or room, in itself, as 'self-sustaining'--or 'energy independent'--as possible'. In this process, each 'part' is empowered to contribute its maximum potential to the sustainability of the 'whole'.

This idea of 'synergetic development as a productive approach to achieving sustainability' seems obvious enough, when speaking in terms of ' local power storage' or 'energy management'. But, might the same principals of synergy cross-over into other areas of sustainable development; like sustainable ecology, culture, economy, and politics?


Friday, April 25, 2008

The Sustainability Queen

Nature is the master of sustainable development. She has been sustaining life on the planet--through catastrophe after cataclysmic catastrophe--long before we came along.

If it is good practice to learn from the master...then we are behooved to study how Nature does it. And, from what I can tell, Nature does it through synergy. Whether on a cellular level or social level...synergy is the neatest path to sustainability...if not the 'only' path.

Sustainable development necessitate 'Synergetic Development'.