Lecture 03 Class Notes

Framing the Nature of the Course: Decision-Making Tools

  1. This is not an introduction course to a single discipline, but instead a course to give you a toolbox to use in relation to social issues in environmental problems.
  2. In this class, we are showing a lot of tools for decision making and governance in the social arena. Some are very conceptual, some are more applied.
  3. This class is so diverse that the instructors cannot know what will be useful to us—that’s our job, to figure out what is useful.

Sustainability
In this class, we’re taking a broad brush of environmental governance and decision making. On Monday, Parson developed IPAT as an accounting identity that helps evaluate where we are and helps project into the future. Because we have some idea of impact, we can have an idea of where the leverage point is, of how to reduce the impact.

In projecting the future, we not only want to know where we’re going, but we also need to know where we want to go. So even in environmental governance, we can’t escape the question of goals. When you talk about goals, you can’t help but talk about values.
- see Meadows article on goals and values

  1. Sustainability as a broad social goal: uses of this term (used and abused frequently)
    1. Indicated by no human impact (preservationist)
    2. When humans use a resource, they use it in a way in which it can be continued to be use
      1. i.e. forestry— maximum amount of lumber obtained over time (sustained yield); use it fully for human usage, but in a way that the use is perpetual
    3. Sustainable communities/cities: equity, justice, clean air/water, safety. Overall about quality of life issues
      1. Some would say that Ann Arbor is a sustainable community, because the quality of life is very high.
    4. Sustainable Business: generally means accounting for environmental impact and/or trying to reduce environmental impact
      1. e.g. Erb Institute. When talking about sustainable business/enterprise, that generally means counting for environmental impacts (see Gibbons article), and/or trying to reduce environmental impact.
    5. Sustaining growth in the economy while reducing environmental impact
      1. Sustaining growth in GDP, while leveling off or decreasing the energy/material flow. There is a decoupling of GDP from material flow in this concept.
      2. Other uses:
        1. Sustainable pavement/parking – permeable to water
        2. Sustainable globalization
        3. Sustainable ceasefire in Iraq
        4. Sustainable disaster relief in Haiti
        5. Sustainable auto sales in Detroit
  2. Sustainability is one of, if not the biggest, social goals of our time
    1. Our challenge is not to throw out this concept of sustainability, but to refine and refit a goal to the needs/circumstances of our time (i.e. peace, sustainability)
  3. What are our particular circumstances?
    1. Global
      1. Hallmark of today’s environmental problems; requires unique solutions
      2. Geographic
      3. problem-solving (a situation in which any environmental problem, even local, will bump into global issues – “we are all downstream”)
        1. i.e. waste flows out of Toronto => global waste industry.
        2. i.e. water: if you draw down your water supply, you can’t go to the next watershed, because someone is already using it. The world is full; there is no other frontier.
    2. Ecological
      1. In the biophysical (nonhuman) sense (energy and nutrient flows; the systems/cycles)
    3. Crisis
      1. 2 components:
        1. dramatic change: i.e. dramatic change in the West (Cadillac Desert)
          1. Solving local problems is not enough. Tinkering around edges is not enough. Need some drastic change.
        2. opportunity: maybe we can make a better world on some dimensions
    4. All three are interconnected and must be dealt with concurrently.
  4. What is sustainability?
    1. Sustainability term posed about 1980; has persisted for 30 yrs with growing evidence of crisis.
    2. Should be thought of as a big idea along the lines of peace and democracy, with an inherently stretchy definition, but one that needs to be refined.
    3. Don’t aim for a single right definition of sustainability: this can be largely frustrating & futile. Other end of spectrum is: “however they want to define it”
    4. If the concept is unique to this historical juncture, then it should have some unique distinguishing features.
      1. In order to be useful, must be operationally distinct
  5. 3 Distinguishing features of sustainability:
    1. Long Term
      1. A few generational cycles of relevant organisms, nutrients, water
      2. Geologic sense
        1. How much did we have in the past?
        2. How much is going to be gone in the future?
      3. Look far into the past and far into the future
      4. Look at key species involved to get a time estimate (their life spans determine if something is long or short term)
      5. Indefinite future: Make sustainable indefinitely
    2. Systems Perspective
      1. Biophysical and social systems’ intersection
        1. Need positive feedback loops to keep things moving
        2. Need negative feedback loops to control
        3. Needs an intersection between the two systems
      2. Entire system needs to work effectively
    3. Scale
      1. Scale of questions and scale of activity
        1. local-global
        2. optimal (large system (earth) is closed, small systems are open but need to be proper size)
  6. 3 questions to discern others’ meaning of sustainability:
    1. Sustain what?
    2. For whom?
    3. For how long?
      1. i.e. sustainable pavement:You can find out if this is being used as a buzzword, or if they are using it in a global, ecological, crisis-sensitive way.
        1. what are they sustaining? Perhaps the water flow through the pavement, decrease the run-off.
        2. For whom? For anyone wants to park there or for the members of the watershed?
        3. For how long? Depends on how long the parking lot is suspected to last.
  7. What is not sustainable?
    1. mining (irreversible loss)
      1. Draining aquifers (more than the recharge rate): “mining” water
    2. Environmental improvement - an improvement may not be sustaining
  8. Are “sustainability” and “sustainable development” interchangeable?
    1. Yes, in today's literature