A Sustainable Scale Synthesis
Existing global scale problems are reviewed in terms of their current status, the adequacy of current steps being taken to deal with them, and what else is needed to achieve and maintain sustainable scale.
Responses are provided for those who either challenge the idea that sustainable scale is a serious problem, or who challenge the proposed solutions (Response to the Skeptics
The basic lessons from this review include:
- Scale is about appropriate size - whether the size of one thing is appropriate relative to another
- Sustainable scale is about the physical size of global economic activities relative to the biophysical limits of the ecosystems which contain and sustain them
- A review of scientific evidence indicates there are currently many areas of economic activity in which sustainable scale is being exceeded - i.e. the throughput is overwhelming the ecosystems’ capacities to regenerate the sources and sinks upon which the economic activities depend (see Areas of Concern)
- In addition, the production and consumption cycles associated with these specific levels of throughput are also degrading the ecosystems’ capacities to continue providing a variety of critical life supporting services
- In aggregate, global economic activities are overshooting the living planet’s ability to support human civilization as it currently exists (see Ecological Footprint, and Millenium Ecosystem Assessment)
From the perspective of human well being and happiness, the current economic paradigm and its consequences are both ecologically unsustainable, and morally unjust. Limits to material throughput are required for ecological sustainability (A Sustainable Scale Perspective
). Redistribution of the wealth generated by ecosystem services is required for social justice. It is unlikely that ecological sustainability is possible without social justice.
A wide variety of approaches are available to achieve sustainable scale; these include:
It is clear that there are a variety of Attractive Solutions
to dealing with the existing sustainable scale problems we face. It is also clear that if these issues are not resolved soon, it will become increasingly difficult and costly to deal with them in the future. Unresolved, they will eventually lead to the collapse of human civilization as we know it.
It is also clear that the high levels of material throughput which characterize developed countries are not necessary for human well being and happiness - they are both wasteful and harmful.
The overriding obstacle to achieving sustainable scale is political will. While many technical and social challenges exist, there is considerable reason for optimism if the solutions available are implemented. An informed and supportive public is badly needed.
Ultimately, it is up to each of us to not only adjust our own lifestyles to be compatible with sustainable scale, but to lobby governments and decision makers at all levels and sectors to implement sustainable scale policies and practices. Our future depends on it.