Gibson Reading

Robert B. Gibson, “Sustainability,” in Specification of sustainability-based environmental assessment decision criteria and implications for determining “significance” in environmental assessment, 2001, pp. 6-17.

  1. Basic Concepts:
    1. Sustainability as a critique, a set of principles implying positive objective and a focus on strategies for change
    2. Conflict between conventional development, helping the poor, and helping the world
    3. Two pillars of sustainability: ecological and human concerns
    4. Three pillars: ecological, economic and social concerns
    5. Five pillars: ecological, social, economic, cultural and political
      1. Building viable change over the long haul might require these other ones
  2. Pillars or circles are used to identify areas where damage must always be avoided and improvements are always sought
    1. Persistent negative effects means the possibility of sustainability is compromised
    2. Pillars can pit goals against each other, like ecology and economy
  3. Proposal: instead of pillars, start with a list of key changes needed in human arrangements and activities if we are to move to long term viability and well-being
    1. Integrity
      1. Maintain the integrity of biophysical systems in order to maintain the irreplaceable life support functions upon which human well-being depends (life support functions)
      2. Help systems keep abilities to deal with stresses and capacity to adjust or reorganizes to retain key life support functions
      3. Natural and human systems
    2. Sufficiency and opportunity
      1. Ensure that everyone has enough for a decent life and has opportunity to seek improvements in ways that do not compromise future generations
      2. Protect environment while lifting up current people
      3. Appropriate decision making—How to define future needs?
    3. Equity
      1. Ensure that sufficiency and effective choices for all are pursued in ways that reduce gap between the rich and the poor
      2. Includes more political power
    4. Efficiency
      1. Reduce overall material & energy demands & other stresses on socio-ecological systems
      2. Doing more with less, optimizing production with decreased energy and material inputs, cutting waste outputs through redesign and reuse
      3. Economic expansion with reduced environmental demand
      4. Have to be sure the savings don’t just go to more consumption and that this is the solution that people go to instead of making harder choices
    5. Democracy and civility
      1. Build our capacity to apply sustainability principles through a better informed and better integrated package of administrative, market, customary, and personal decision making practices
      2. Some very effective economic actions came from consumer mobilization based on informed, personal moral choice
      3. Good education system, equitable empowerment, local knowledge
  4. Precaution
    1. Respect uncertainty, avoid even poorly understood risks of serious or irreversible damage to the foundations for sustainability, design for surprise and manage for adaption
    2. Confident understanding and reliable prediction are only possible in narrowly defined areas
    3. Finding back up alternatives, mechanisms for effective monitoring and response
  5. Immediate and long term integration
    1. Apply all principles of sustainability at once, seeking mutually supportive benefits
    2. All areas are linked—can’t just do some
    3. Integration, rather than balancing—not about sacrifice
  6. Four limitations
    1. General statements—need specifics and elaboration
    2. More sophistication than humans demonstrate with real world time, resource and institutional restraints
    3. Compromises and trade-offs are unavoidable
    4. Only part of the solution