/ Sustainability

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The Ice Doctor - on 16 Oct 2016

This word is banded about by businesses and governments, but when I look at the majority of economic behaviour I find it incredibly hard to view it as anything but sustainable.
Can you kindly remind me of living examples of actual sustainable living that you have experienced recently. (Can you contradict my conclusion that the percentages of sustainable behaviour are actually very, very small)
For example do you know anyone who lives off grid?
Post edited at 21:31
Dave Perry - on 16 Oct 2016
In reply to The Ice Doctor:

Wonderful question. I've seen it included on just about everything.

wbo - on 16 Oct 2016
In reply to The Ice Doctor: Yes I know someone who is, apart from mains electricity ,. now effectively living off grid and has been for over a year. I don't think she intended to, but sometimes things happen.

Coincidentally I get regular emails from LinkedIn with linked to articles. I've just read through a couple of those and my thoughts afterwards are really about just how artificial and unsustainable the lifestyles of those featured are, but are considered as role models



The Ice Doctor - on 16 Oct 2016
In reply to wbo:
If she is reliant on mains electricity she is not off grid.

Perhaps you can post a link, so I can understand how living off grid can be artificial and understand your comment.
Post edited at 22:12
ian caton on 16 Oct 2016
In reply to The Ice Doctor:

A small part of your post I know, but you can buy electric from renewable sources on grid, at least I do.

wintertree - on 16 Oct 2016
In reply to The Ice Doctor:

Sustainable - To be able to be maintained at a certain rate or level

> Can you kindly remind me of living examples of actual sustainable living that you have experienced recently.

Hinkley-C. Nuclear fission is sustainable for the foreseeable future.

> For example do you know anyone who lives off grid?

I do. I don't however see it as being relevant to sustainable living for the masses however, as most people don't live next to a clean mountain spring, don't have space for a wind turbine, and don't have an outhouse for the batteries, reserve generator and bloody big diesel tank. We looked at buying another house in a similar situation as well.

Being off-grid has little-to-nothing to do with sustainability - they are orthogonal concepts; the grid brings economies of scale that reflect in increased efficiency and therefore sustainability and will continue to do so until the resource and economic cost of batteries have dropped more than tenfold from current levels. You can for example be unsustainable and off-grid (big diesel generator, high energy usage) or highly sustainable and on-grid (low energy usage, solar/wind, load balancing via the grid to capitalise on existing infrastructure instead of requiring capital and resource intensive batteries.)

I try and make our family lifestyle more sustainable by maintaining a lower domestic energy usage (less than half the national average for a comparable household), by keeping our commutes short, by cycling instead of driving where I can, by avoiding long trips, by avoiding rampant consumerism, and the big one - having only one child.

I'm also working towards making the household off-grid capable but that is not driven by sustainability so much as a lack of faith in our energy grids over the next few decades.

> (Can you contradict my conclusion that the percentages of sustainable behaviour are actually very, very small)

The bicycle sheds at my workplace are bursting to the seems during the work day.
Post edited at 22:53
galpinos on 16 Oct 2016
In reply to wintertree:

> Hinkley-C. Nuclear fission is sustainable for the foreseeable future.

Nuclear fission yes, an EPR delivered by EDF/Areva, hmmmmm not so sure!





Edradour - on 16 Oct 2016
In reply to The Ice Doctor:

As others have said, 'off-grid' isn't necessarily as sustainable as one might think. The fact of the matter is that, to sustain the worlds population, we need vastly more people to be 'on-grid' than 'off-grid'in every respect, from energy to agriculture.

Sustainable doesn't mean giving up current standard of living, it means coming up with ways to maintain your lifestyle in a way that doesn't remove the opportunity for future generations.
Dax H - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to wintertree:

Is having only one child sustainable?
It has taken 2 people to produce one, if everyone did that the population would halve each generation.
inboard - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to The Ice Doctor:

Interesting question. Sustainability is problematic, because it's important, but everybody uses it, and means different things by it. It's used in 'greenwashing' corporate communications when actually many organizations may be quite far from serious socially and ecologically appropriate sustainability. Hence sustainability is overused word that means different things to different people, and discussions about it inevitably end up with lots of energies going into definitional debates, as is starting to happen on this thread.

One way to move on from that could be to think about unsustainability. From this perspective, we're living in an unsustainable society (that is contributing to/ perpetuating things like climate change, dwindling biodiversity and other material resources, national, international/ intergenerational injustices etc). It's easier to agree on what is wrong, then work out how to respond to it, than agree on solutions to abstract problems that are often presented as intractable 'global' issues.

For me (I research/ teach in this field) one thing that is an important contributor to unsustainability is economic growth - exponential economic growth in all sectors of the economy are not sustainable, in a finite world. Yet, our current society is wholly organized around growth and (as we're finding) things become problematic when growth doesn't happen as expected. So a big question for me is what a less unsustainable post-growth society looks like. That's a question that needs input not only from economists (I'm not one) but also the full range of humanities and social sciences - what are the ways of being, doing, having and thinking that we, as individuals in an ecologically constrained world, need to have? Growth is not essential, although political decisions can be made about prioritising certain sectors of the economy (or geographic regions) to grow for a while, for particular reasons. Thinking differently about growth can help us move away from over-consumption and waste and many of the physical, psychological, and environmental issues associated with these.

If you're interested there are various places to explore some of this sort of stuff - Naomi Klein's 'This changes everything' is quite good. There are lots of examples of people pursuing less unsustainable lives around Britain, Europe, and elsewhere.

summo on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to Edradour:

> As others have said, 'off-grid' isn't necessarily as sustainable as one might think.

I don't think it matters if you live 90% or even 'just' 50% sustainably. The problem is a large proportion of the planet aren't living even 1% sustainably, a few people growing all their own food is meaningless when you have supermarket chains selling ready peeled oranges in plastic containers.

Rather than try and change society from the top down, aiming for 100%, better to start at the bottom up and fix the elements which are just truly wasteful.
Clint86 - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to summo:

The beauty of living 'sustainably' is that it is intrinsically satisfying to grow your own food, travel slowly for example.
Clint86 - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to inboard:

I thought Naomi Klein's book was a good read in that it clearly told me how we have got into this mess. It didn't give me so many clear ways out of it, yet I do like the slogan 'to change everything we need everyone'.
wintertree - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to Dax H:

> Is having only one child sustainable?

Given that almost every problem facing humanity is a result of having more people on the world than we are able to support sustainably, yes.

> It has taken 2 people to produce one, if everyone did that the population would halve each generation.

It would only halve once per generation if life expectancy was fixed and people bred shortly before they died. The decline is much slower as people live several times as long as the average breeding age. The decline is also lessened by increasing life expectancy globally,

I'd like to see the global population decline significantly over my lifetime. There will be economic challenges but the same is true about an ever rising and unsustainably large population.
Post edited at 08:47
wintertree - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to inboard:

I generally agree with you and I see many of the problems as a result of people expecting continual growth in standards combined with continual population growth. However...

> exponential economic growth in all sectors of the economy are not sustainable, in a finite world.

You make and do not state an assumption here. Continued growth is possible in a sustainable way with sufficient technological development, particularly in energy production. Consider the current global population, unthinkable a few centuries ago.

One day far in the distant future, everyone will have access to 10x the energy Brits have now, at a fraction of the cost, and with no emmisions. Maybe 50 years away, maybe 500. With sufficient energy there are no limits to recycling, 3D farming, even transmutation. What will limit growth then?
Post edited at 08:54
RyanOsborne - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to The Ice Doctor:

On a practical / personal level, I think Dick Proenekke is probably the closest I've seen https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Proenneke (but even he had stuff dropped in by float plane occasionally). That style of living in the wilderness, using the natural resources in a sustainable way is probably the most sustainable way for an individual to live, but obviously that wouldn't work for the whole population of the world so you can't really extrapolate it to everyone.

Also, these guys are quite interesting:

http://www.sailinguma.com/uma/#youtube

Living on a sailing yacht, with an electric backup engine powered by solar panels. Obviously they have a plastic boat and will need oil based resources over time as well as some land grown food, but on a day-to-day basis, they're doing pretty well.

inboard - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to wintertree:

Yes, apologies I was not explicit about that assumption.

However,'sufficient technological development' is a key turning point of these debates; specifically whether it is possible to make the developments your argument requires, within the restraints of precautionary principle etc. It's very easy to continue assuming that continued technological development will get us out of the mess as it has (sort of) in the past - but will it this time? Particularly when it's possible to argue that many of our current problems are technologically driven.

I am not advocating what some may characterise as a return to cave-dwelling, but I do think we need to be very careful to avoid fetishising technology as the solution. (Note that I'm not saying that's what you're doing).
wintertree - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to inboard:

Oh I agree - technology alone isn't the solution. People have always it seems naturally expanded in numbers and demands driven by technology, but always beyond the point that is sustainable without banking on future developments.

The chances are that as we get cheaper and cleaner energy it will enable another population boom until something else limits the population.

Regardless of technology level humanity lives on the wrong side of the growth curve. Almost everything would be much better if they were on the other side. Changing that is a human factor, not a technological one.
stevieb - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to wintertree:

Is Hinkley C really sustainable? I thought that in order to have enough uranium for the future, we either need to build fast breeder reactors throughout the world, or to start extracting uranium from seawater?
Currently nuclear supplies 11% of world electricity, so probably 3-4% of all energy usage, and even at that level of use people talk of 200 years uranium using the existing technology. If nuclear is to be the worlds main energy source, then this figure comes right down.
summo on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to Clint86:

> The beauty of living 'sustainably' is that it is intrinsically satisfying to grow your own food, travel slowly for example.

not suggesting those who do should stop, or doubting the enjoyment. I've been involved in growing, allotments etc.. since I could walk and grow as much as the weather allows now and our new greenhouse built from second hand materials should give me another month or twos growing season.

But, the effort of the few is lost, when 99% of population aren't growing even a tomato for themselves.
2
Clint86 - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to summo:

I'm sure we agree but of course the effort is not lost on oneself. Having said that, if a corner was turned and the masses saw the light then there would be a lot more hope around for all.
summo on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to Clint86:

> I'm sure we agree but of course the effort is not lost on oneself. Having said that, if a corner was turned and the masses saw the light then there would be a lot more hope around for all.

legislation on food packaging would be a good start, might stop peeled fruit in plastic boxes, shrink wrapped plastic around individual veg like cucumber, parsnip etc.. do you really need to buy garlic in little bags of 3 bulbs, why not just sell it all loose. Pointless packaging is everywhere.
wintertree - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to stevieb:

> Is Hinkley C really sustainable? I thought that in order to have enough uranium for the future, we either need to build fast breeder reactors throughout the world, or to start extracting uranium from seawater?

You are right - if we scaled up to supplying a majority of the world's energy with fission, current approaches are not sustainable for very long. The use of breeder reactors is the most likely solution and it would see humanity good for 1000+ years. Ironically perhaps the technology is underdeveloped because there's too much uranium around for current demand, leaving little profit in reprocessing and breeding. The UK could be at the forefront of all this, but instead we fart around with an untested EPR design...

However, there are more uranium resources being discovered on a relatively regular basis, and there is also the thorium cycle which expands the range of fuels usable for fission.

Fission as a large scale energy source only needs to be sustainable for perhaps 100-200 years; a bit more incremental progress with solar-PV cost/efficiency and a couple of breakthroughs in battery technology and we won't even be depending on fusion...
Baron Weasel - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to Dax H:

> Is having only one child sustainable?

> It has taken 2 people to produce one, if everyone did that the population would halve each generation.

Well said that man and one of the reasons I will only be having one. Just psyching up for the snip...
Dave Cumberland - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to The Ice Doctor:

It could be sensibly argued that the only sustainable people are those who create wealth, create jobs, pay plenty of tax, start businesses, companies, and keep their noses out of the public trough and are environmentally responsible about what they do and how they treat people.

The meaning of life is perhaps - that wealth in society has to come from someone's hard work?
DC

1
RyanOsborne - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to Dave Cumberland:

> It could be sensibly argued that the only sustainable people are those who create wealth, create jobs, pay plenty of tax, start businesses, companies, and keep their noses out of the public trough and are environmentally responsible about what they do and how they treat people.

How on earth could that be 'sensibly argued'?
The Ice Doctor - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to RyanOsborne:

Interesting replies, can I just bring it back to living examples of people you actually know? (So far I count one)
Living on a yacht is extreme, admirable but extreme. Growing your own veg is difficult, a specific skill. What we lack are communities that work together on these issues in my opinion. Collective, not individual effort would be far more productive. I know of one town in the UK that is committed to sustainability, whatever happened to the "green initiatives of yesteryear?"
The Ice Doctor - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to Dave Cumberland:

Has the "wealth" been created sustainably? I think not.....
Dave Cumberland - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to RyanOsborne:
> How on earth could that be 'sensibly argued'?

Perhaps by asking, "Are you a net recipient or a net contributor to the government?".
If 100% of people are net recipients - we have no society and no wealth.
If the majority are net contributors, it means the government actually has some money for hospitals, schools, roads and infrastructure.
Is that what you meant?
DC
ads.ukclimbing.com
RyanOsborne - on 17 Oct 2016
In reply to Dave Cumberland:

So providing money to government = sustainability?
Dave Cumberland - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to RyanOsborne:

> So providing money to government = sustainability?

In part you are probably right, but "sustainability" is a fraudulent concept in contemporary life, for example wind farms being described as "sustainable", or importing ship-loads of wood pellets from Kentucky for "sustainable" green energy - ha ha!
We use resources and there is no way of getting away from that fact. It is also a good thing due to the wealth and health the process creates. As stated before, so long as they/we "keep their noses out of the public trough and are environmentally responsible about what they do and how they treat people".
DC
wbo - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to Dave Cumberland: i was going to call you out on the wealth creation stuff you posted earlier but thenthought some more - so your definition of sustainability includes not being reliant on the charity of others to keep you going. You wouldn't be sustainable if you needed a lump of cash to regularly bail you out of trouble?

IM not sure that applies to power generation, wind turbines. Your argument would be that as they're subsidized they're unsustainable , but that's a function of how they're valued in money terms compared to fossil fuels. You can counter argue that fossil fuels aren't being adequately priced to include repairing the damage they do, and so you're not comparing apples with apples. The definition of sustainability isn't purely financial, using the present pricing model.

The money concept is also rather artificial about how it values different jobs, roles in society. How do you value a trained nurse versus someone shunting spreadsheets in the city. One I need to live, perhaps literally, the other less so, but who is paid more?

jimtitt - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to The Ice Doctor:

Nothing human beings has ever done has been "sustainable". My business is 100% renewable energy and exports 500kW to the grid but sustainable, no way.
galpinos on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to Dave Cumberland:

Only if you view sustainability in monetary terms (an artificial construct) compared to, what I believe most people mean, which is the use of the earth's resources.

I would imagine there are few businesses that cross both definitions.
Clint86 - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to jimtitt:

It probably was up until a couple of hundred years ago. Humans have been around a long time.
jimtitt - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to Clint86:

> It probably was up until a couple of hundred years ago. Humans have been around a long time.

That depends on what you call sustainable, there is massive evidence that humans have been making a huge range of animal species extinct for tens of thousands of years and that primitive agriculture left permanent changes on the landscape.
Digging up a flint and smashing it to pieces to make an arrow head isn´ t "sustainable". They are created very slowly
Clint86 - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to jimtitt:

Yes, I agree, it depends on what you call sustainable. We have different understandings of the word.
SenzuBean - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to wintertree:

> I generally agree with you and I see many of the problems as a result of people expecting continual growth in standards combined with continual population growth. However...

> You make and do not state an assumption here. Continued growth is possible in a sustainable way with sufficient technological development, particularly in energy production. Consider the current global population, unthinkable a few centuries ago.

History has shown that efficiency gains never leave us satisfied, and often increase the pressure on the resource. I forget the name for this phenomenon (it's well known and studied). An example is the cotton gin, whereby extracting cotton became vastly cheaper. The unforeseen consequence was a massive demand in cotton pickers, which was picked up by slavery...

Similarly with huge increases in energy efficiency, we'll need vastly more physical resources - which might mean vastly more mining (which will be cheaper because of the cheap energy). In other words, you can't affect just one thing in a complex system and have everything else stay the same.

Secondly even the idea that our planet is finite don't have to be confronted (sadly) as long as the dream of catching asteroids remains alive (which it does). It's quite possible that we'll extinguish this planet just as we gain the capability to live on others, never once being confronted with the idea that our economic models have driven us to unprecedented destruction.
summo on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to SenzuBean:
> It's quite possible that we'll extinguish this planet just as we gain the capability to live on others, never once being confronted with the idea that our economic models have driven us to unprecedented destruction.

at present I doubt it, the space age is still early days. We aren't that good at it. Probes bounce or crash on landing. Rockets explode on take off etc.. The lead in period for new projects is massive. You can also argue that valuable space or rocket time is being used by people like Zuckerberg to spread their cr&ap across Africa.
Post edited at 18:04
wintertree - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to SenzuBean:

> Similarly with huge increases in energy efficiency, we'll need vastly more physical resources - which might mean vastly more mining (which will be cheaper because of the cheap energy). In other words, you can't affect just one thing in a complex system and have everything else stay the same

I think you are flat out wrong. Firstly here it is not about "energy efficiency" but about the quantity of energy the average person can command, which historically increases with our technical development, and how much each unit of that energy damages the environment, which decreases.

With sufficient energy there are no resource shortages because raw materials can be reclaimed and reprocessed from used goods. The limits to this presently derive from the cost of the energy needed to do so making the acquisition of fresh raw materials cheaper.

Asteroid mining doesn't have to come in to the equation if you have sufficient cheap energy - not enough heavy metals on Earth? Build an industrial scale transmutation plant or ten, although I imagine increases in materials technology will continue to reduce dependence on such metals.

Yes that's a long way off in the future but the economics you cite applies only to a regime where energy is itself one of the limited resources. It won't apply when that changes.

Probably many lifetimes away, but the thing about scientific breakthroughs is their unpredictability. We would be - and are - fools to count on future technology saving us from making a real mess in the mean time.
Post edited at 18:29
Jon Stewart - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to Dave Cumberland:

> Perhaps by asking, "Are you a net recipient or a net contributor to the government?".

Isn't that a stupid, simplistic way to look at society?

How does one define what is a net contribution? Does a teacher's work contribute more than they receive in wages and use of public services? Does a carer on benefits contribute more with their work, given how much the government would have to pay out were their loved one abandoned?

Under this view, someone who does nothing productive, but who doesn't get ill and dies early is a lot more use to society than someone who works hard, contributes a lot, and then takes it all back when they require years of hospital treatment and social care.

Is this really how we should be judged?

SenzuBean - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to summo:

> at present I doubt it, the space age is still early days. We aren't that good at it. Probes bounce or crash on landing. Rockets explode on take off etc.. The lead in period for new projects is massive. You can also argue that valuable space or rocket time is being used by people like Zuckerberg to spread their cr&ap across Africa.

I doubt it too - but it won't stop people from putting eggs into that basket! The first space mining company will make the first zillionaire - a very shiny golden carrot.
1
summo on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> Isn't that a stupid, simplistic way to look at society?

We are all net beneficiaries, by the age of 2 or 3 we have all had vaccinations that cost more to develop than any normal person could afford. So we all benefit from societies collective efforts.

I would argue its the thought that counts, if you work, pay some tax and bring any kids up responsibly, that is just as worthy as the self made millionaire who pays oodles of tax.

Dave Cumberland - on 20 Oct 2016
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> Isn't that a stupid, simplistic way to look at society?
> Is this really how we should be judged?

No, it is not stupid or simplistic, and it is not judgemental on public services. It is called "the bottom line", and ultimately it is about living within one's means either in a family or on a corporate scale - all scales in fact.
Wealth creation is the oxygen for society.
Please refrain from guttersniping and try and raise the level of the argument.
As climbers we have a unique view of the World, because we understand risk better than most, so these big issues about sustainability, business, society etc are of interest to us as much as the rock in front of our nose.
DC
timjones - on 20 Oct 2016
In reply to The Ice Doctor:

> This word is banded about by businesses and governments, but when I look at the majority of economic behaviour I find it incredibly hard to view it as anything but sustainable.

> Can you kindly remind me of living examples of actual sustainable living that you have experienced recently. (Can you contradict my conclusion that the percentages of sustainable behaviour are actually very, very small)

> For example do you know anyone who lives off grid?

About the best thing that I can say about sustainability is that it's a great word to have on your bu//$hit bingo card ;)

However, I doubt that it is possible to find 2 people that can agree on what you need to measure in order to evaluate it.

In simple terms at an individual level until the human body becomes 100% efficient then none of us are sustainable. There is no perfect equilibrium and our mere existance will always alter your surroundings.
Jon Stewart - on 20 Oct 2016
In reply to Dave Cumberland:

> No, it is not stupid or simplistic, and it is not judgemental on public services. It is called "the bottom line", and ultimately it is about living within one's means either in a family or on a corporate scale - all scales in fact.

"The bottom line" applies to single units of commercial activity, i.e. companies - society does not and cannot operate on the principle of "the bottom line". To think that it does is both stupid and simplistic.

It's quite an interesting question, philosophically, what "the bottom line" for society might mean. If you were to take the view that it's GDP, then you'd end up in a very very bad world - if GDP was the end in itself, we would just kill off anyone who wasn't contributing, i.e. the elderly, sick, etc. We don't do this, so obviously GDP is not "the bottom line", GDP is something we try to increase so that we can get some other benefit that is more important. This is, presumably, "wellbeing" - some measure of overall wellbeing is, I would conclude, society's "bottom line". But of course we don't or can't actually measure it, since the whole principle of the "bottom line" is erroneous here.

> Wealth creation is the oxygen for society.

That's a lovely sounding metaphor, but it doesn't actually mean anything. It's not information, it's just some words.

Wealth creation is one vital function in a capitalist society. But it's only one function. A society in which everyone fulfilled this function would collapse, because we also need public goods (and I mean that in the technical, economic sense) in order to have the infrastructure for society to exist. There is no wealth creation without infrastructure, the relationship is symbiotic: you can't have everyone just working on the provision of public goods because there'd be no money to pay for them, and equally, you can't have everyone in private enterprise because there'd be no roads or electricity.

> Please refrain from guttersniping and try and raise the level of the argument.

I don't know what you mean. Your position is really unclear and what I can make out just seems to be nonsensical - I'm trying to explain why.




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