Is Sustainability Still Possible?

Sustainability

Every year the Worldwatch Institute releases their annual State of the World report covering such previous topics as consumerism, climate change and food security.  In 2013, State of the World turns its attention to a popular topic, the concept of sustainability.

The report looks at the definition and use of the word sustainability, whether the concept has outlasted its usefulness and, if not, how we can measure sustainability? Practical approaches and policies for achieving sustainability, including geoengineering and corporate transformation, are investigated along with ways of coping with drastic environmental change and resource depletion, should we fail.

The term “Sustainability” is used frequently in our language today and with a myriad of different meanings, something the President of the Worldwatch Institute, Robert Engelman, calls “Sustainababble”. Its definition, in its original form is “capable of being maintained in existence without interruption or dimunition,” but since the release of the Brundtland Commission’s report in 1987 it has been used to mean ‘green’, ‘environmentally friendly’ or just ‘slightly less damaging than the conventional alternative’. The fear is that overuse of this term will result in the loss of meaning and impact, as well as an acceptance that if something is said to be ‘sustainable’ then it must be implicitly good. But good for what?

As we know the human population has surpassed a size and lifestyle that fits within environmental planetary boundaries. We consume more than Earth can provide. The new State of the World report asks the questions, have we gone so far that recovery is impossible and is it too late to change our future? “Has humanity already overshot the carrying capacity of the Earth so badly that we are doomed to a horrible crash after oil, or freshwater, or topsoil, or fish, or the ozone layer, or many other things –after one or all of them run out?” [Read more…]

Marine Fisheries

As stated in Chapter 14, most of the world’s wild fish stock harvest is stagnant or declining. The global harvest captured in the oceans and inland waters has peaked in 2000 at 96 million tons and subsequently fallen to 90 million tons in 2003, remaining at that level until 2009.

Fisheries, like rangelands discussed in Chapter 10, can be conceptualised in terms of a range of possible carrying capacities and sustainable yields, depending on the objectives. If preservation is desired, for example of the world’s whale stocks, an ecological carrying capacity can be sought; it is also possible to maximise the production of high quality sport fish, or of small ‘industrial’ fish. The recent history of the world’s marine fisheries has been an accelerating trend towards industrial fishing, harvesting smaller and smaller fish, not for direct human consumption but for feed. 20 per cent of world production now consists of small pelagic species used for making fishmeal which, in turn, is used in pig and poultry production and in salmon and shrimp aquaculture.

Despite the apparent stability of the oceans, their fish and other populations are as much subject to fluctuation as are rangeland cattle. One of the most productive fisheries in the world, providing 20 per cent of the world’s fish landings in the 1960s and 1970s, is generated by upwellings of cold, nutrient rich waters off the coast of Chile and Peru. [Read more…]