Unsustainable Ratios

In order to be sustainable, we must find ways to meet the basic needs of today’s population without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own basic needs. I feel that when most people think sustainability, their minds immediately relay to carbon emissions and global warming. The fact is that biodiversity loss could be an even greater issue for humanity than climate change, and even more difficult to deal with. Biodiversity in marine, freshwater, terrestrial, and invertebrate species are on an astonishing decline according to the Living Planet Index:



Soil degradation and loss of our global forests are also issues that warrant major concern. It is inevitable that this loss will continue if changes are not made, that is, if meaningful sustainable development does not take place.

Meeting the needs of the population today is perhaps the most important goal we must strive to achieve. Our planet is governed by positive and negative feedback loops that work toward and against maintaining the status quo. In my sustainable development class, we discussed how financial crash caused by economic mismanagement causes ecological crash due to increased logging and harvest of other natural resources. Positive feedback that results from the use of natural capital during periods of economic distress, or by the poor and disenfranchised as an attempt to meet their basic needs can lead into an uncontrollable vicious cycle that only leads to further loss of natural resources and distress. If we take steps to ensure basic needs are met across the planet, sustainability is likely to follow much easier. The key is meeting the needs of people all over the world, which is a far cry from today’s reality, where one billion people lack access to clean drinking water and five billion children dies of starvation each year. The gap between the world’s rich and poor is widening, fuelling these vicious cycles that are causing drastic decline in our planet’s biodiversity.

According to these two articles, the key is thinking small changes and developments in order to reap big results.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/11/science/11mit.html?_r=1&ref=sustainabledevelopment

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/29/science/29cheap.html?ref=sustainabledevelopment

90% of product development today caters towards the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population. These articles highlight the importance of developing simple, cheap technologies, goods, and housing that will help the world’s poor, those that live on one or two dollars a day, get ahead and sustain themselves. Things like $35 water pumps that will make it possible for poor subsistence farmers to yield a crop that will maintain the livelihood of their families.  This is a crucial factor of sustainable development, and effort must be made in this area if we wish to achieve sustainability for our planet.

Many ideas, figures, and statistics discussed in this post were taken from my Sustainability Series lectures, delivered by Dr. Chris Ling at Royal Roads University.

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