What is Sustainability?
Sustainability is "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainability is the successful management of Earth's supporting ecosystems, while enhancing the well-being of humanity. Environmental sustainability refers to the carrying capacity of ecosystems, by tending to its limitations through protecting raw materials and the planet’s alternate species. The key to sustainability lies between a balance of all of these factors and ensure the future of ecological, societal and economic systems. Recent technological regime shifts have signified a movement in sustaining the environment through biotechnology, genetic modification, and efficient transport. Modifications have been introduced to encourage to energy-efficient consumption methods, ultimately altering the science, education, manufacturing and transport systems to reduce humanities environmental impact.
The environment is influenced by a number of systems - namely social, economic and ecological - all of which contribute to the promotion or reduction of environmental stability. For social and economic sustainability to occur, there needs to be a sustainable environment, it is a prerequisite for the maintenance of life support systems, not only human life but the diversity of each and every species. Human beings are part of the biosphere, but we are rapidly depleting the environment, as our species is currently consuming and abusing more than Earth's ecosystems can withstand. Time is running out; the adaptation of technology is urgent and humans must take the step to be the custodians of the earth as we hold the key to resolving the issues of environmental sustainability.
The systems of ecological, social and economic are interlinked, as they all affect the progression or regression of the environment. There is a continuous focus on the economy rather than the concerns of the environment, ecologists disregard earth’s finite resources and are considered to be egocentric just to gain capital wealth and enhance the economic system. There is an underestimation of the environmental crisis we face and we forget that ‘with how many species is humanity willing to share the earth, or should all other species be sacrificed to make room for more and more of the single human species. This statement verifies that the management of resources is not only for human benefit, but for all other species that roam the earth which ultimately provide us with the essential ingredients that keep our species alive.
Economic Sustainability refers to the ‘maintenance of capital,’ without depleting earth’s natural resources adhering to the overall limitations of the environment. There are three forms of capital being natural, social and human and this is becoming increasingly important as the stability of the economy will be embedded in the functionality of our environment.
The world has surpassed 415 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and this is the highest it’s been in human history. Ever since the industrial revolution we have drastically altered our planet's atmosphere by increasing our CO2 emissions, which is the chief temperature regulating compound of our climate. This is causing a chain reaction of biodiversity loss, damaged ecosystems, worldwide epidemics and an increasing frequency of natural disasters. This is affecting Earth's environment and countless species that rely on it, including us. The crisis involves a number of aspects that have an overall impact on the world's functionality. What is happening to our climate is another indicator of where we are going wrong socially, politically and economically.
The climate emergency is a threat to all species on earth, including humanity. It is exacerbating the rate of biodiversity loss and we are influencing the earth systems far more than we know. The earth functions in a delicate balance that stays within the threshold of operation. We are pushing the earth and its ecosystems to the verge of collapse. We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction.
In addition to the climate crisis, air pollution is a daunting factor in cities around the globe. Humans have never had to deal with air that is this polluted and we are digging the holes to our graves. The increase in air pollution has been shown to cause lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, higher rates of allergies and asthma. A study in 2015 found that 9 million people died prematurely from pollution-related diseases, accounting for 16% of all deaths worldwide. This is a profound number, especially knowing that the amount of pollution and harmful gases are exponentially increasing each year. A study from the World Health Organization expressed that Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease claimed 3.0 million lives in 2016, while lung cancer (along with trachea and bronchus cancers) caused 1.7 million deaths.
Society is part of the biosphere, we influence changes in the environment, as our species is currently exploiting and diminishing more than Earth's ecosystems can withstand. With rapidly growing urban areas and global population size of approximately 7 and a half billion, our consumption rates are increasing exponentially. We are depleting Earth's resources rapidly resulting in an environmental and ecological emergency. Simultaneously increasing greenhouse gases, which is impacting the balance of global weather systems. Causing erratic weather and extreme natural disasters, such as heat waves, typhoons, floods and droughts. This drastic change in the global environmental nexus will disrupt humanities ability to thrive let alone survive.
The exponential growth of the human population means that the increased consumption rates are transforming the biota of ecosystems breaking their thresholds and exploiting their availability for resources. Social sustainability is the cohesion of a community sharing what is referred to as ‘moral capital,’ being a system of shared values and rights. This system needs to ensure basic human needs and well-being, whilst managing to maintain social order. Social sustainability is rare in third world countries, as they often have high levels of inequality along with a struggling economy. This makes it difficult for society to share equal values and often brings about disputes between the rich and poor, increasing the difficulty of maintaining a balance of well-being and social order. The primary focus of social sustainability is to reduce poverty and promote equity of society. This can be achieved through qualitative development, redistributing resources and ensuring that the rights and needs of every human being are fulfilled.
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The management of ecosystems utilizes maintenance methods to sustain the diversity of species and ensure that it is kept within the limit of its threshold. Each ecosystem is liable to a certain degree of waste called the ‘assimilative capacity,’ which allows the exploitation of that biome, but not past the extent where it cannot function in order to sustain its homeostatic capabilities. Once an ecosystem has passed its threshold it can no longer revert back to its original state. We are pressuring a number of ecosystems beyond their functional capacity and are exacerbating our anthropogenic impact on the environment exponentially.
The primary concern is the scarcity of natural capital, as human social and economic subsystems are destroying the environment by depleting its resources and adding excessive pollutants into the atmosphere. Ecological systems such as the ozone and atmosphere are being altered by these emissions, which is increasing ultraviolet b radiation that affects the growth of biota, such as crop yields and in turn affects the issue of food security. The constant use of the earth’s ecosystem has resulted in exhaustion of its resources of topsoil, groundwater, tropical forests, fisheries and overall, its biodiversity.
The current global crisis requires significant change to maximize efficiency and management of resources. Equal allocation of resources is needed to promote equality and proficiency of the products that are exploited through the environment. Recent trends have been implemented into agricultural, production and transport processes to reduce the effects humans are having on ecosystems and to promote its sustainability. These changes come with the primary goal of reducing the overall consumption rates to maintain and begin the restoration process of each biome.