Comments on: “Livable and sustainable societies”


Richard Moore

Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998
To: •••@••.••• [redirected to rn list]
From: Don Chisholm <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Comments on: "Livable and sustainable societies"
Cc: •••@••.•••

rkm had written:
  >Achieving sustainability: there is no single recipe
>To summarize what has been established so far, the fundamental
>characteristics of a livable and sustainable world -- based on the essential
>requirements of livability and sustainability -- are the following:
>     (1) Societal politics is democratic, locally based, and
>     participatory.
>     (2) Accurate information regarding all aspects of societal
>     operations are readily available.
>     (3) Societal systems are monitored at a societal level, robust
>     sustainability is systematically regulated, and the specific
>     arrangements are determined largely by local conditions and
>     preferences.
>     (4) Trade is based on mutual benefit, rather than competitive
>     advantage, and on reliable relationships, rather than temporary
>     gain.
  >     (5) Inter-societal relations are generally collaborative,
  >     harmonious, and based on mutual respect for the principles of
  >     sustainability, self-determination, and self-sufficiency.

These points are all very much in line with my thoughts on the matter. When
writing about the future one has a vast panorama of possibilities to chose
from, and no matter which you choose, you are left open to criticisms
because the issues are so subjective.

 I'll send a couple of other emails which I've written about these issues.
And I'll add a (6) and (7) which I think are of key importance.

(6) Stewardship of the commons will shift to the hands of the local defined
communities.  Contracts with corporations and individuals will be changed
from 'owner' to 'leaseholder'.

(7) Stewardship includes determining the Optimum Population for the defined
communities, and the enabling of procreation guidelines, and also control
over immigration.  Trade considerations with neighboring communities will be
partly determined by Ecological Footprint and optimum population
considerations.  For example, Produce (rural) traded for Products (urban).

(8) Definition of (sketches of possible) political process enabling these
autonomous communities needs to be considered in a separate document.

For info on Optimum population, communicate with:
Boyd Wilcox Origon Opitmum Population organization •••@••.•••
Dennis Phillips Oregon Optimal Population Society (OOPS!)

Richard continues;
>Energy is a resource whose non-sustainability is readily apparent based on
>current usage patterns. xx% of known global oil reserves, for example, were
>consumed between 19xx and 19yy, and at current rates of consumption all
>known supplies will be exhausted by 2xxx. Meanwhile massive highway
>development is being carried out all over the world and xx% of known oil
>reserves are consumed each year by commercial air travel. The management of
>energy in sustainable societies will be dramatically different than in a
>world where maximizing the use of petroleum seems to be the primary global
>energy policy.

To fill in the blanks in the above paragraph, check with Jay Hanson
•••@••.•••, or go to his page,      Jay's data
is technically accurate, I believe.

In a separate email, you asked why I had stated that Canada's 30 million was
beyond Carrying Capacity  (CC).  As a technologist,  a few years ago, made a
study regarding energy usage rates and what global population levels could
be sustained on renewable energy only.  This involved two assumptions:
^^ about expanded use of renewable energy I used a factor of four times
today's renewables, which includes global hydroelectric, (no nuclear), and;
^^ how much less energy a very efficient global civilization might use - I
used a factor of one third of US/Cdn usage per capita today.

This results in a global population of 0.5 billion.  One twelve of today's
6.0 billion.  Since this number is too absurd for general consumption, when
I make reference to target sustainable population levels, I use Dr. Dave
Pimentel's number of about 2 billion.

Dr. Wackerneigle's ecological footprinting process is even a bit more
optimistic about a sustainable global population, because of the way they
deal with energy.  They use carbon dioxide absorption by greens and trees as
the limit to fossil fuel use, rather than NO fossil fuel usage.  This leaves
Canada, with our vast tundra and forests, looking like we are below CC.

The important point is that we must get human population responsibility
built into the basis of governance at every level.  Procreation
considerations must become part of the social psyche - a social
responsibility like to drive only when sober - or to ban smoking in public

Also, about eight years ago, Friends Of The Earth published a little book
called "Life without Oil", which dealt only with Canada (I had the book, but
can't find it now).  The thrust of the book was that no matter how hard we
tried, we Canadians (27.? million at the time) could not survive without
fossil energy.

Currently, our rambling speculation on gaiapc is about the possibility of
formation of a "radical' as Roy Mandoron puts it, party.

Good luck with your book! I think you'er doing a great job. We are on the
same team.

soliarity in Gaia

                    Don Chisholm
          416 484 6225    fax 484 0841
          email  •••@••.•••

      The Gaia Preservation Coalition (GPC)
       personal page:

"There is an almost gravitational pull toward putting out of mind unpleasant
facts.  And our collective ability to face painful facts is no greater than
our personal one.  We tune out, we turn away, we avoid.  Finally we forget,
and forget we have forgotten.   A lacuna hides the harsh truth."   -
psychologist Daniel Goleman


Dear Don,

Thanks for the references, and for the dialog.

You wrote above:
 >These points are all very much in line with my thoughts on the matter. When
 >writing about the future one has a vast panorama of possibilities to chose
 >from, and no matter which you choose, you are left open to criticisms
 >because the issues are so subjective.

My list of five characteristics was not intended to be a subjective list of
"good ideas".  My intent was to analyze the requirements of "sustainability
and livability" and to identify objectively what characteristics _must be
true of all such socieites.

Points (1) through (3), I endeavored to establish, must be achieved or else
the society would not be stable over time and would therefore, by
definition, not be sustainable.  Points (4) and (5), I argued, would
naturally follow from the "sustainability consciousness" that would prevail
among sustainable societies.

As with all objective arguments, there may be faults in the analysis, or
facts inadvertently omitted, and I welcome correction in such cases.

Your points (6) through (8), in my view, are not objectively _required for
sustainability, nor would they necessarily _follow from sustainability.
They are rather _policy proposals that might make sense in particular
circumstances; they aren't general characteristics.

 >(6) Stewardship of the commons will shift to the hands of the local defined
 >communities.  Contracts with corporations and individuals will be changed
 >from 'owner' to 'leaseholder'.

What is "the commons"?  And who says there will always be corporations
involved in every socieity?  Are you proposing that ownership of real
property be outlawed?  That would seem to be politically suicidal,
unnecessary, and I for one would not favor it as a societal policy in the

 >(7) Stewardship includes determining the Optimum Population for the defined
 >communities, and the enabling of procreation guidelines, and also control
 >over immigration.  Trade considerations with neighboring communities will be
 >partly determined by Ecological Footprint and optimum population
 >considerations.  For example, Produce (rural) traded for Products (urban).

"Optimum Population" sounds ominous -- what if the population is far below
"optimum", as with the few remaining hunter-gatherers in rain forests?
Should they be forced to convert to agriculture and accept excess
populations from elsewhere?  The rest seems somewhat reasonable, but
over-detailed for a "short list".

 >(8) Definition of (sketches of possible) political process enabling these
 >autonomous communities needs to be considered in a separate document.

Agreed.  I'll make my contribution to this endeavor in Chapter 5.

re/carrying capacities:
From your various calculations, and from what information I've been able to
access so far, the facts don't seem clear regarding carrying capacities.
More work needs to be done, or at least I have still to discover adequate

For one thing, we would need to discuss a transition period, in which we
convert from current economies to sustainable economies.  During this phase
there would need to be, it seems clear, continued use of fossil fuels at
sizable levels.  Replacement systems take time and energy to develop, and
the wheels of society need to be kept turning, albeit less, during the

The transition period would also be the time to address the problem of
population growth -- education, access to birth control, etc.  Clearly it
would take time for such measures to take effect and show results.

The carrying capacity of different societies, following the transition
period, would depend quite a bit on the nature of the new systems that were
adopted.  There would seem to be a lot of room for creativity here, the
kind of things Bucky Fuller wrote about.  We may not want to live in
geodesic domes, and recycle all our water endlessly, but his investigations
show that sustainably useful results might be achievable if our abundant
scientific and engineering resources were to be applied to the problem.

re/population control:
I have a problem when I see an over-emphasis on population control.  If one
looks at population as something that can be controlled as a separate
variable, without reference to overall sustainability, one enters a
slippery slope.

One can soon find oneself in league with those who would reduce populations
for the very reason that it enables non-sustainable economics to continue

When I see what's happening in Africa, with the IMF destroying economies,
and when I find that US military advisors and weapons have been involved
everywhere civil war is going on, I can't help wondering if perhaps
systematic population reduction through starvation and civil war is not in
fact the covert Western policy in the region.  Genocide against the Third
World, so that the West can continue longer to drive cars and eat
cheesburgers.  Has anything really changed in capitalist ethics or
economics since the Native Americans (and Australians, and New Zealanders)
were killed off to enable development?

The fact is that excessive resources are used by the West, and Western
populations are doing fairly well in terms of population growth.  That
means the first-order-of-business, re/sustainability in the West, is to
drastically reduce per-capital usage of energy and other resources.

In the Third World, it seems to me the first-order-of-business is to take
land away from things like corporate export agribusiness, and put in back
into use for local agriculture.

In both the West and the Third World, therfore, there are more urgent
issues to be addressed than population.  An over-emphasis on population
control at this time, I suggest, is a distraction from the wider political
project that needs to be undertaken.  And it is a distraction that invites
co-option from establishment forces that want to promote Third-World
depopulation for their own reasons.



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