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Enlarge / An artist’s rendering of what a 24-hour solar thermal plant at Tamarugal plant could look like.

Using Australia as a case study confirms that it’s hard to have it all.

The idea of sustainability is pretty simple: Manage our resources such that they can continue to support us indefinitely. And, for an individual resource, sustainability is simple. Avoiding something like depleting our groundwater means that future generations have access to as much water as we do and don’t face the consequences of sinking soil.

But sustainability gets complicated when you start considering multiple, competing uses. Cutting back on water usage may influence things like agriculture, energy production, and more, making them less sustainable.

Just how complicated does all of this get?

Lei Gao and Brett Bryan of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) decided to use their home country as a test of sustainability goals, and the results are disheartening. While moving any aspect of land use into the “sustainable” column is possible, the more aspects you try to push into that column, the harder it gets.

Setting priorities

To look into sustainability in a concrete manner, the authors started with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. There are 17 of those, but Gao and Bryan focused on land use, which determined their priorities: sustainable food production, clean water, clean energy, limiting climate change, and maintaining biodiversity. The authors translated these into specific targets for 2030 and 2050 Australia at three levels of what they call “ambition.”

(A weak target might be “slow the rate of groundwater depletion,” a moderate target could be stop groundwater depletion, while getting ambitious might berestore groundwater levels to those prior to European arrival.”)

SDG_logo_with_UN_emblem– The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets under Agenda 2030 of the United Nations1, 2 map a coherent global sustainability ambition at a level of detail general enough to garner consensus amongst nations3. However, achieving the global agenda will depend heavily on successful national-scale implementation4, which requires the development of effective science-driven targets3 tailored to specific national contexts1 and supported by strong national governance.

The authors have a computerized modeling system, called Land-use trade-offs (LUTO), that can project where things will be in response to a combination of economics, environmental constraints, and policy decisions. Given the constraints of policy and the environment, LUTO allocated land use based on what will provide the owners with the greatest return. Gao and Bryan also considered a variety of potential future scenarios, including different levels of climate change (and attempts to address it), as well as changes in Australia’s population growth.

All these scenarios and considerations led to a dizzying array of potential results. So the authors analyzed them in terms of pathways—if you prioritize food production and start down that pathway, does it preclude anything else?

The answer is yes.Simultaneous achievement of multiple targets is rare,” the authors conclude, “owing to the complexity of sustainability target implementation and the pervasive trade-offs in resource-constrained land systems.” It’s possible to achieve more only by lowering your standards and accepting some of the weaker sustainability goals.

Competing interests

To give a sense of the trade-offs, we can start by looking at the scenarios in which addressing “climate change” is a “priority.” This leads to policies that promote reforestation, which can offset carbon emissions. New forests can also help with biodiversity, although complex ecologies takes a while to develop, so some of the benefits would be outside the time period being studied. Unfortunately, reforestation would also make water use less sustainable and, not surprisingly, displace agriculture. In fact, any serious attempts to address climate change involved reforestation and tipped water use into unsustainable territory.

Agriculture was also problematic in many pathways. To meet food production targets, there needed to be continued productivity improvements; without them, food started competing with other types of land-use priorities. Only eight percent of the pathways achieved biodiversity goals, typically when government policy prioritized it.

As a result of all these competing priorities, only a quarter of the pathways managed to hit two targets when the ambition was set to moderate. Ten percent hit three of them, and another 3.5 percent hit three. A full 18 percent of the pathways achieved none of the goals.

The easiest combo to hit together involved food, water, and biofuels. That’s in part because the unused portions of food crop plants can be shunted into biofuel productions, assuming government policies prioritize the creation of the facilities to process them. But you’d only be prioritizing biofuels if you cared about climate change, and these pathways don’t end up addressing that effectively.

None of this means that meeting goals is ultimately impossible. Solar and wind power prices have plunged so much that we have blown past a variety of goals that once seemed optimistic. But the CSIRO study (Finding pathways to national-scale land-sector sustainability) does highlight that real sustainability requires solving multiple problems at once while balancing competing priorities. It may be a wicked problem, and no two countries are likely to end up with the exact same solutions. But that doesn’t mean sustainability isn’t a problem worth tackling.

 

 

 

 

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References:

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Download references

Extended Data Figures:

  1. Extended Data Figure 1: Schematic structure and scenario specification summary of the LUTO model. (225 KB)
    This figure is reproduced, with permission, from figure 2 in ref. 6 (CSIRO). Marinoni et al. refers to ref. 38; GCM, global climate model; Mha, million hectares. The integration of the range of environmental and socio-economic data and models that combine to parameterize the LUTO integrated land systems model. ASRIS is the Australian Soil Resource Information System, ANUCLIM is a spatial climate modelling tool from the Australian National University, LCA is Life-Cycle Assessment, 3-PG2 is a forest stand growth model, APSIM is the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator crop model, and the Budyko framework enables the calculation of water use by trees. On the right are the various outputs possible from the model.

  2. Extended Data Figure 2: A detailed illustration of the M3 central pathway, a single, mid-range pathway for Australia’s agricultural land from 2013 to 2050. (214 KB)
    The central settings6 are detailed in the middle of the map. The map indicates potential land-use in 2050. The leftmost graphs show modelled trajectories for key LUTO model input variables including global carbon price; projected price multipliers for crops, livestock and oil; national electricity price projections; and mapped changes in temperature and rainfall. The rightmost charts show key LUTO model outputs including changes in the projected area of land-use and the six sustainability indicators used in this study over time. Weak (W), Moderate (M), and Ambitious (A) targets are also plotted for each indicator with the up- and down-arrowheads indicating whether target achievement occurs above or below the marker. Sustainability target achievement for 2030 and 2050 at all three levels of sustainability ambition is presented in the dot matrix in the middle of the map. Similar figures are available online for all 648 scenarios (https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.4269650.v6).

  3. Extended Data Figure 3: Potential future land-use pathways for Australia’s agricultural land-use. (195 KB)
    Graphs show the area of land-use on an annual time step from 2013 to 2050 as calculated by the LUTO model under all 648 future pathways, broadly coloured by global outlook (L1, M3, M2, H3). The maps show the average frequency of occurrence of each land-use in each grid cell at 1.1-km2 spatial resolution, calculated as the number of years the land-use occurs in each grid cell across all 648 modelled future pathways, expressed as a percentage of the total number of modelled years and pathways (that is, 38 years × 648 pathways). Grey indicates that the land-use did not occur in the grid cell. The full dataset is available online12.

  4. Extended Data Figure 4: Number of future pathways for Australia’s agricultural land in which six national-scale sustainability targets were achieved by 2050. (173 KB)
    (Bioenergy is not shown.) Horizontal bars indicate the total number of pathways in which each individual target was achieved. Vertical bars indicate the total number of pathways in which each possible combination of the six targets were achieved. The matrix of coloured dots indicates specific target combinations, with achievement (at Weak, Moderate and Ambitious levels) increasing from 0 to 6 targets, left to right. Active (not grey) dots indicate targets achieved in the combination, while inactive (grey) dots indicate targets not achieved in the combination. A total of 648 pathways was modelled.

  5. Extended Data Figure 5: Parallel set plots of the option space for achieving Weak, Moderate and Ambitious targets by 2030 for the six sustainability indicators under future pathways for Australia’s land-sector. (823 KB)
    The sustainability indicators are economic returns to land, food production, water resource use, biofuels production, emissions abatement, and biodiversity services. For each target, the orange lines indicate specific combinations of global outlook, domestic land-use policy, and key uncertainties under which target achievement occurs. The percentage for each dimension (in parentheses) and the horizontal thickness of the orange lines represent the number of pathways under which the corresponding targets were achieved, expressed as a proportion of the total number (648) of pathways.

  6. Extended Data Figure 6: Parallel set plots of the option space for achieving Weak, Moderate and Ambitious targets by 2050 for the six sustainability indicators under future pathways for Australia’s land-sector. (882 KB)
    As for Extended Data Fig. 5.

Extended Data Tables:

  1. Extended Data Table 1: Mapping of land-use contributions to sustainability targets (242 KB)
  2. Extended Data Table 2: Detailed specification of the various dimensions of the 648 pathways for Australia’s land-sector assessed in this study (220 KB)
  3. Extended Data Table 3: Parameters used to specify Weak, Moderate, and Ambitious targets for biofuel production in 2030 and 2050 (39 KB)
  4. Extended Data Table 4: Parameters used to specify Weak, Moderate, and Ambitious targets for land-sector emissions abatement in 2030 and 2050 (52 KB)

Figures:

10.1038/nature21694

About DOIs

Finding pathways to national-scale land-sector sustainability : Nature …

Dr Lei Gao – csiro.au

Brett Bryan (Principal investigator) – Research Data Australia

Meeting multiple targets for sustainability at the same time comes with ..

Australian land-use and sustainability data: 2013 to 2050

Land use and sustainability trajectories – CSIRO

Tamarugal

Three solar thermal plants in Chile could generate electricity 24 hours …

Plans for a 24-hour solar thermal plant earn environmental … – xBlogs

CSP — SolarReserve

These Three Solar Plants in Chile Could Change the Solar Energy …

Australian National Outlook 2015 – CSIRO

Exploring the Cost Effectiveness of Land Conservation Auctions and …

CSIRO: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research ..

Ars Technica

A nexus perspective on competing land demands: Wider lessons from ..

Sustainable development goals – United Nations – un.org

Groundwater Foundation

Scholarly articles for stop groundwater depletion

Groundwater :Depletion,Contamination and the prevention

DEEP: What we can all do to reduce groundwater pollution – CT.gov

The Issue of Water Depletion: Who Can Stop It and How?

Pumped Dry: The Global Crisis of Vanishing Groundwater – USA TODAY

Groundwater depletion, USGS water science – USGS Water Resources

Ground-Water Depletion Across the Nation – USGS

Causes, Effects and Solutions of Groundwater Depletion – Conserve …

Water Table Drawdown and Well Pumping

California Struggles with Groundwater Depletion Following End of …

First study of California’s deep groundwater sparks debate | Science …

Groundwater Declines Seen, Even in Wet Climates: Studies(1 …

An integrated model of land-use trade-offs and expanding … – MSSANZ

Heat death of the universe

apocalypse – How to survive the heat death of the universe …

Earth Science

A Glossary of Ecological Terms – Terrapsychology

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  1. The balancing of these complex and competing goals seems like the perfect starting point for the next big sim game.

    10 posts | registered 11/13/2014

  2. Would be interesting in seeing such models tested against other regions:

    – Australia clearly has a water constraint. Can that be traded into an energy constraint, through more extensive desalination ? That would seem to be a key local question for the future.

    – Western Europe has a space constraint. Is that easier or harder to address than a shortage of water ? I suspect easier actually, but again, one would love to be able to comeback in 100 years and see how the problem has been addressed.

    217 posts | registered 6/6/2011

  3. RajivSK wrote:
    The balancing of these complex and competing goals seems like the perfect starting point for the next big sim game.

    This. They’ve creating Civ for adults.

    720 posts | registered 3/7/2010

  4. Quote:
    As a result of all these competing priorities, only a quarter of the pathways managed to hit two targets when the ambition was set to moderate. Ten percent hit three of them, and another 3.5 percent hit three. A full 18 percent of the pathways achieved none of the goals.

    Probably meant to say four there in the bolded part?

    22102 posts | registered 7/1/2000

  5. I believe evolution is the ultimate manifestation of the sustainability of the grand scheme of things. Landscapes come and go, ecosystems come and go, species come and go, something old perish, something new emerge, the game goes on.

    Our notion of sustainability is preservation of the current state (for human existence and dominance) indefinitely, Nature may have other ideas.

    37 posts | registered 2/19/2009

  6. RajivSK wrote:
    The balancing of these complex and competing goals seems like the perfect starting point for the next big sim game.

    Only it’s not a game. We get to see it play out in real life.

    14842 posts | registered 10/6/2012

  7. RandomBits wrote:

    I believe evolution is the ultimate manifestation of the sustainability of the grand scheme of things. Landscapes come and go, ecosystems come and go, species come and go, something old perish, something new emerge, the game goes on.

    Our notion of sustainability is preservation of the current state (for human existence and dominance) indefinitely, Nature may have other ideas.

    Evolution, by definition, takes place over many generations. Degradation of the environment can be much quicker, and often happens at a pace that evolution cannot keep up with.

    If we don’t pay attention to sustainability, we may produce a future world that cannot sustain even current populations of humans and wild things.

    Australia is now seeing that in a big way with bleaching of its coral reefs, which could lead to a massive reduction in sea life on its continental shelf, which in turn could lead to big problems for people. All thanks to burning fossil fuels, by the way. That’s what’s poisoning the coral.

    Last edited by Shavano on Sat Apr 15, 2017 9:45 am

    14842 posts | registered 10/6/2012

  8. A large part of Australia receives very little rainfall while some parts are definitely tropical and receive regular rainfall.

    A large amount of rainwater falling in the urban areas ends up draining to the sea via sewage canals. There must be a practical way to collect all that fresh water.

    In my country the Philippines, i have diverted the rainfall on my roof to a piece of my lot (instead of going into the municipal sewage system)and let the water pool there since it does drain into the soil and im hoping that in my own little way i can contribute to replenish the underground water table.

    670 posts | registered 1/11/2009

  9. Australia and sustainable at modern Civ levels? sounds like they decided their first playthrough would be at Hard Core Iron Man.
    Australia like many other places on this earth, is not even remotely ideal for having a full range of resources to create a sustainable ongoing Civ. This is why merchant shipping is so important on the international scale.

    380 posts | registered 12/15/2010

  10. “Unfortunately, reforestation would also make water use less sustainable”

    How so? That’s not at all clear to me. Forests use up water through evaporation?

    But don’t forests also capture more rainfall that might otherwise run off or evaporate rapidly?

    Either way, if it’s reforestation, that intuitively suggests that it can’t be worse than it was before people cut down the trees, no?

    1111 posts | registered 5/1/2006

  11. bongbong wrote:

    A large part of Australia receives very little rainfall while some parts are definitely tropical and receive regular rainfall.

    A large amount of rainwater falling in the urban areas ends up draining to the sea via sewage canals. There must be a practical way to collect all that fresh water.

    In my country the Philippines, i have diverted the rainfall on my roof to a piece of my lot (instead of going into the municipal sewage system)and let the water pool there since it does drain into the soil and im hoping that in my own little way i can contribute to replenish the underground water table.

    During the last big drought the plan was to add more dams and link up most of those eastern seaboard dams via pumps, so we’d be both more drought and also flood resistant. People got all NIMBY and the drought broke so problem solved.

    As for diverting roof water, rain water tanks are pretty common here depending on where you live. They’ve been banned for being unsightly in some areas though.

    1955 posts | registered 2/13/2001

  12. Civilization is a heat engine.

    6 posts | registered 10/21/2010

  13. now, leap ahead some 2000 years, consider the population increase (less those lucky ones who have exited to those lovely exo planets and refuges on X-Resorts Unlimited of Uranus) scatter them among the slim available slots of semi arid land, hand them a spade, maybe a HDPE jug of recovered water and let them ‘live off this land’……. (taken from Ron Reagans snappy quip to them Ruskies)

    Last edited by Hapticz on Sat Apr 15, 2017 10:42 am

    869 posts | registered 4/14/2010

  14. I remember an ecologist years ago claiming that Australia was already unsustainably populated by around a factor of two, and I’ve often repeated that claim and sometimes copped scorn for being naive (especially with the implied consequences for immigration this is a politically thorny subject), but this article suggests that that ecologist was on to something. Indeed, foreigners are often surprised how few people live in such a vast territory, but it really is mostly desert – a world away from the fertile European pastures in their minds.

    167 posts | registered 12/9/2008

  15. show nested quotes

    During the last big drought the plan was to add more dams and link up most of those eastern seaboard dams via pumps, so we’d be both more drought and also flood resistant. People got all NIMBY and the drought broke so problem solved.

    As for diverting roof water, rain water tanks are pretty common here depending on where you live. They’ve been banned for being unsightly in some areas though.

    lucky you. some regions of Calipornica USA, have strict restrictions regarding ‘watta from heven’. put in a rain barrel and you get a visit from the county watta enforcement thugs. no joke!

    869 posts | registered 4/14/2010

  16. bongbong wrote:

    A large part of Australia receives very little rainfall while some parts are definitely tropical and receive regular rainfall.

    A large amount of rainwater falling in the urban areas ends up draining to the sea via sewage canals. There must be a practical way to collect all that fresh water.

    In my country the Philippines, i have diverted the rainfall on my roof to a piece of my lot (instead of going into the municipal sewage system)and let the water pool there since it does drain into the soil and im hoping that in my own little way i can contribute to replenish the underground water table.

    Just to nitpick, in Melbourne at any rate, the drains are separate to the sewerage system, as drain water is not treated before being discharged into rivers or the sea. However that reminds me of another water-saving measure that has had some negative consequences, which is that by reducing the amount of water entering the sewerage system (by for example reducing the volume in each toilet flush) the sewers don’t flow as well, potentially causing blockages!

    167 posts | registered 12/9/2008

  17. it is ironic that attempts by humans to improve on natural systems that evolved over millennia turn out to be unproductive or even damaging, despite observation of short-term benefits.

    Suppressing forest fires leading to overgrown forests susceptible to disease and increased fire risk, humans congregating in areas that don’t have enough proximate resources to support the new population (but are pretty [California] or have lots of dead dinosaurs underground [Dubai]), growing food that is desirable, but not necessary, and uses water in excess of availability (such as Almonds @ 2,100 gal./lb., vs. ironically Watermelon @ 31 gal./lb.), introducing invasive, non-native species such as Kudzu for idealistic or commercial reasons without understanding the gaps in natural limiting factors in the receiving ecosystem.

    Given the number of variables operating in any single ecosystem, it is surprising that humans think they can alter only a handful of parameters without causing long-term sustainability problems, despite the apparently positive short-term gains that accompany many decisions.

    One wonders if ecosystem modification simulations would require more or less computing power than weather prediction; humans have gotten much better at weather prediction over the past century, but very few people would bet their lives on a prediction that it will be sunny 20 days in the future, what makes us think that terraforming is less complex?

    2331 posts | registered 8/31/2012

  18. Hapticz wrote:
    now, leap ahead some 2000 years, consider the population increase (less those lucky ones who have exited to those lovely exo planets and refuges on X-Resorts Unlimited of Uranus) scatter them among the slim available slots of semi arid land, hand them a spade, maybe a HDPE jug of recovered water and let them ‘live off this land’……. (taken from Ron Reagans snappy quip to them Ruskies)

    If that’s the base SOL of people in 2000 years, forget about it. We’re done. We either move up or out, and that’s about all we can do.

    Archologies, ecunomopoli, those are our future if we want to be anything like sustainable. In truth, it’s all about the amount of energy our civilization can produce and how fast we can get to Kardashev 2+.

    202 posts | registered 4/24/2011

  19. Actually, the reason for this is pretty simple. The current population of 6 Billion is not sustainable. Don’t know what number is but I’m sure it’s well short of 6 Billion. And, the only country that practices population is China and we know what they have to do to maintain population control. I would venture (just off the top of my head) that the sustainable population control is somewhere between 4-5 Billion. So, why don’t we just start a world war and knock off a couple of billion and the rest are allowed to live. BTW, overpopulation is one of the main contributors to climate change since most of the 3rd world nations rely on fossil fuels (especially coal) to produce electricity (if they can at all) or very often just to stay warm and cook their food.

    39 posts | registered 2/18/2009

  20. Uxorious wrote:

    it is ironic that attempts by humans to improve on natural systems that evolved over millennia turn out to be unproductive or even damaging, despite observation of short-term benefits.

    Suppressing forest fires leading to overgrown forests susceptible to disease and increased fire risk, humans congregating in areas that don’t have enough proximate resources to support the new population (but are pretty [California] or have lots of dead dinosaurs underground [Dubai]), growing food that is desirable, but not necessary, and uses water in excess of availability (such as Almonds @ 2,100 gal./lb., vs. ironically Watermelon @ 31 gal./lb.), introducing invasive, non-native species such as Kudzu for idealistic or commercial reasons without understanding the gaps in natural limiting factors in the receiving ecosystem.

    Given the number of variables operating in any single ecosystem, it is surprising that humans think they can alter only a handful of parameters without causing long-term sustainability problems, despite the apparently positive short-term gains that accompany many decisions.

    One wonders if ecosystem modification simulations would require more or less computing power than weather prediction; humans have gotten much better at weather prediction over the past century, but very few people would bet their lives on a prediction that it will be sunny 20 days in the future, what makes us think that terraforming is less complex?

    We’re still in the early stages of really learning about our environment. Saying nay, haha, or whatever right now is like saying stuff like that to a kid that’s making mistakes as they’re still learning about the world around them: not particularly productive and inductive to creating bad habits. We need to develop good habits, including some degree of stewardship, but that will be a matter of time and effort on our part not really helped by the inherent negativity and scolding of a particular subset of individuals.

    While there are certainly people that see only the short-term and are completely incapable of dealing with the long, and their behavior is having very negative long-term effects, scolding them is going to no more useful than scolding trainees for making mistakes. Even less so, as they’re likely to start ignoring you completely.

    Those who are dealing with the long-term must be positive if they are to overcome the very real limitations we as people have right now in our thinking about the future. That means we look for solutions to not only the problems we’ve created, but also to the inherent problems placed on us by thermodynamics and general behavior.

    If everything I’ve written in this thread reads weird, I’d like to point out that I’ve been navel-gazing into the abyss and the abyss has navel-gazed back at me, and that’s boring so right now I’m trying out different arguments for things like why our species (and the universe as a whole) should continue to exist, and how it might do so.

    Or maybe I’ve always been bummed about the occlusion of Earth by Sol and the eventual heat-death of the universe.

    202 posts | registered 4/24/2011

  21. Quote:
    To give a sense of the trade-offs, we can start by looking at the scenarios in which addressing climate change is a priority. This leads to policies that promote reforestation, which can offset carbon emissions

    There are plenty of good reasons to preserve forests, and also to promote reforestation, but forests don’t offset fossil fuel emissions; they’re in steady-state balance with atmospheric CO2. In addition, the future of forests under current warming conditions is very iffy – look at the Canadian forests as an example. The Canadian government tried to claim that their forests were offsetting tar sands emissions, but then this happened by 2009:

    Quote:
    In an alarming yet little-noticed series of recent studies, scientists have concluded that Canada’s precious forests, stressed from damage caused by global warming, insect infestations and persistent fires, have crossed an ominous line and are now pumping out more climate-changing carbon dioxide than they are sequestering

    There really is no practical economic way to offset fossil fuel emissions; we just have to stop digging up ancient fossil fuel deposits and pumping their carbon into the atmosphere. One could theoretically pull billions of tons of CO2 out of the air and convert it to carbon fiber or carbonate rocks, but the energy costs would be monumental. It’s far, far cheaper to just transition to renewables.

    689 posts | registered 2/17/2016

  22. khoadley wrote:

    Would be interesting in seeing such models tested against other regions:

    – Australia clearly has a water constraint. Can that be traded into an energy constraint, through more extensive desalination ? That would seem to be a key local question for the future.

    Dumping coal power plants would be a good start on saving water.

    18712 posts | registered 7/2/1999

  23. “None of this means that meeting goals is ultimately impossible.”

    Uhh, surely step one of that is stating what those goals ARE?
    Chanting “sustainable” is not stating a goal. Is the goal
    – maintain today’s lifestyle for a particular population?
    – allow the population to grow as it will and reduce lifestyle to compensate?

    THAT is the issue no-one wants to clarify. The best you get is vague fudges like “well, population growth seems to be slowing so that problem will solve itself”.
    OK, that’s your sustainability plan, hope that things will just work out?

    (BTW Australia’s population growth rate ~1.4% or so for the last 50 years or so, with no obvious decline.)

    Am I irritated by this? You’re damn right I am. Exactly how does it help the situation to keep publishing articles like this that all, uniformly, refuse to admit the existence of, and consequences of, the elephant in the room?

    4189 posts | registered 11/18/2003

  24. Shavano wrote:
    show nested quotes

    Evolution, by definition, takes place over many generations. Degradation of the environment can be much quicker, and often happens at a pace that evolution cannot keep up with.

    If we don’t pay attention to sustainability, we may produce a future world that cannot sustain even current populations of humans and wild things.

    Australia is now seeing that in a big way with bleaching of its coral reefs, which could lead to a massive reduction in sea life on its continental shelf, which in turn could lead to big problems for people. All thanks to burning fossil fuels, by the way. That’s what’s poisoning the coral.

    You are missing his point.
    His point is that the language of recycling, sustainability and so on, is a language that serves human goals, it is NOT a language expressing some sort of universal moral principle that applies to the whole universe.
    We talk about “wasted water” when it affects us, but we don’t say that the Amazon is “wasting” massive amounts of water by moving it from the center of Brazil straight to the ocean.

    It’s fine to use this waste/recycle/sustain language in human contexts, because we are, after all, humans. But there are definitely some who get so carried away by this particular religion that they lose sight of the bigger picture.

    4189 posts | registered 11/18/2003

  25. Ultimately we don’t need sustainability as the universe has provided us with a near infinite supply of resources. That being said, we need to plan for sustainability such that critical resources are not depleted in a manner detrimental to the greater good while enriching a few. Resource requirements change as technology advance.

    5055 posts | registered 9/10/2012

  26. harmless wrote:

    “Unfortunately, reforestation would also make water use less sustainable”

    How so? That’s not at all clear to me. Forests use up water through evaporation?

    But don’t forests also capture more rainfall that might otherwise run off or evaporate rapidly?

    Either way, if it’s reforestation, that intuitively suggests that it can’t be worse than it was before people cut down the trees, no?

    That’s what I was wondering too. I thought agriculture is supposed to be the bane of water sustainability.

    Aren’t we supposed to have free access to Nature articles?

    5332 posts | registered 7/30/1999

  27. Hapticz wrote:
    show nested quotes

    lucky you. some regions of Calipornica USA, have strict restrictions regarding ‘watta from heven’. put in a rain barrel and you get a visit from the county watta enforcement thugs. no joke!

    I call bullshit. Provide a reference or shut up.

    https://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroo … water.aspx

    There is a concern with these systems if they are inappropriately designed so that they become mosquito breeding grounds, but that’s a totally different issue.

    4189 posts | registered 11/18/2003

  28. Hapticz wrote:
    show nested quotes

    lucky you. some regions of Calipornica USA, have strict restrictions regarding ‘watta from heven’. put in a rain barrel and you get a visit from the county watta enforcement thugs. no joke!

    In my area of Virginia, you get a tax credit for installing and using rain barrels. All the public housing units on the other side of town have giant rain barrels at the end of each building.

    I use them for watering plants, but my house runs off a well, so it’s moot.

    58 posts | registered 4/13/2012

  29. RandomBits wrote:

    I believe evolution is the ultimate manifestation of the sustainability of the grand scheme of things. Landscapes come and go, ecosystems come and go, species come and go, something old perish, something new emerge, the game goes on.

    Our notion of sustainability is preservation of the current state (for human existence and dominance) indefinitely, Nature may have other ideas.

    Science has a very different idea: doom. No heat, no movement, no life, no nothing.

    Some of us like to think a super natural being will save us, others think science will save us, not knowing that it is the very science they have faith in that guarantees our doom.

    137 posts | registered 9/19/2012

  30. Uxorious wrote:

    it is ironic that attempts by humans to improve on natural systems that evolved over millennia turn out to be unproductive or even damaging, despite observation of short-term benefits.

    Suppressing forest fires leading to overgrown forests susceptible to disease and increased fire risk, humans congregating in areas that don’t have enough proximate resources to support the new population (but are pretty [California] or have lots of dead dinosaurs underground [Dubai]), growing food that is desirable, but not necessary, and uses water in excess of availability (such as Almonds @ 2,100 gal./lb., vs. ironically Watermelon @ 31 gal./lb.), introducing invasive, non-native species such as Kudzu for idealistic or commercial reasons without understanding the gaps in natural limiting factors in the receiving ecosystem.

    Given the number of variables operating in any single ecosystem, it is surprising that humans think they can alter only a handful of parameters without causing long-term sustainability problems, despite the apparently positive short-term gains that accompany many decisions.

    One wonders if ecosystem modification simulations would require more or less computing power than weather prediction; humans have gotten much better at weather prediction over the past century, but very few people would bet their lives on a prediction that it will be sunny 20 days in the future, what makes us think that terraforming is less complex?

    To be fair, 1lb of almonds contains 2600 calories vs 136 calories for 1lb of watermelon (20x more) so the almonds are actually only consuming 3.5x the water on a per calorie basis.

    Almonds also store/preserve substantially better than a watermelon that would rot fairly quickly, so you’d be willing to pay a water efficiency penalty for a longer-lasting (and thus logistically simpler and less prone to wastage) food source.

    661 posts | registered 2/11/2010

  31. RandomBits wrote:

    I believe evolution is the ultimate manifestation of the sustainability of the grand scheme of things. Landscapes come and go, ecosystems come and go, species come and go, something old perish, something new emerge, the game goes on.

    Our notion of sustainability is preservation of the current state (for human existence and dominance) indefinitely, Nature may have other ideas.

    Science has a very different idea: doom. No heat, no movement, no life, no nothing.

    Some of us like to think a super natural being will save us, others think science will save us, not knowing that it is the very science they have faith in that guarantees our doom.

    Talking about what will happen in 20 billion years to people who are interested in what’s going to happen in 20 years is not a useful contribution to the discussion.

    4189 posts | registered 11/18/2003

  32. 737 Pilot wrote:
    Actually, the reason for this is pretty simple. The current population of 6 Billion is not sustainable. Don’t know what number is but I’m sure it’s well short of 6 Billion. And, the only country that practices population is China and we know what they have to do to maintain population control. I would venture (just off the top of my head) that the sustainable population control is somewhere between 4-5 Billion. So, why don’t we just start a world war and knock off a couple of billion and the rest are allowed to live. BTW, overpopulation is one of the main contributors to climate change since most of the 3rd world nations rely on fossil fuels (especially coal) to produce electricity (if they can at all) or very often just to stay warm and cook their food.

    I’m just going to leave this here. Be sure to turn on CC if you have trouble with the speech impediment.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAJeYe-abUA1

    202 posts | registered 4/24/2011

  33. Stories like this are just sad and pointless.
    We are living in a burning house and no one will talk about the fire or do anything to keep it from burning out of control. In fact people are encouraged to spray gasoline around the house by their family, friends, and TV.”But.. but.. BABIES! Everyone needs to make more cute cuddly babies! Make them NOW! Babies babies BABIES! More more more! Aren’t they cute?! Babies are a basic human right, you need to make some or you aren’t human!!!!!”If all child births stopped on the planet for 1 decade we, would have 7 billion people sucking up resources and generating waste at the end of the 10 years. Extend that to 2 decades and we would be down to ~6.5 billion hungry mouths. A sustainable level is what half that?
    When does the oil run out? Last projection I saw was ~2038. Now new technologies are out there that might help a bit with growing and moving food but can’t help with the by products of the ~10 billion people we will have in 2038.
    There are an estimated 8 billion rats on the planet. We are getting close to the point that not everyone on the planet can have their own rat.There is no fixing this because most humans are emotional responders and not critical thinkers. So the first wall you hit is that they go through “the 5 stages of problems” when you tell them something unpleasant.
    1. denial
    2. Anger
    3. Bargaining
    4. Depression
    5. Acceptance.
    They do not go through for just grief, loss, and dying. They go through it for all unpleasant problems.
    So most will just tell you “there is no overpopulation”. You can point out the dead spots in the sea from over-driving crop production on land or how we have eaten almost all the big fish in the sea and they will keep telling you “there is no overpopulation”. Facts cannot beat feelings for the emotional responder.
    The other problem is that most of the species are emotional responder and they will never vote in anyone who is interested in population control. Heck if you suggest it, they may attack or even kill you for it.
    By the time they get past denial it is far far too late.So what do we give up for “Babies babies BABIES!!!”
    The huge one is we can’t do serious research into life extension and immortality. So everyone has to die because the next batch of crying human lotto tickets is surely better than the current humans. Have a baby now and help kill billions in the future.

So that is all folks. We are putting tiny Bandaids on huge sucking chest wounds and decapitations.
Time to sit back and grab a beer and watch our species die. You tried but you were just too outnumbered.

19977 posts | registered 6/20/2001

  • Stories like this are just sad and pointless.
    We are living in a burning house and no one will talk about the fire or do anything to keep it from burning out of control. In fact people are encouraged to spray gasoline around the house by their family, friends, and TV.”But.. but.. BABIES! Everyone needs to make more cute cuddly babies! Make them NOW! Babies babies BABIES! More more more! Aren’t they cute?! Babies are a basic human right, you need to make some or you aren’t human!!!!!”If all child births stopped on the planet for 1 decade we, would have 7 billion people sucking up resources and generating waste at the end of the 10 years. Extend that to 2 decades and we would be down to ~6.5 billion hungry mouths. A sustainable level is what half that?
    When does the oil run out? Last projection I saw was ~2038. Now new technologies are out there that might help a bit with growing and moving food but can’t help with the by products of the ~10 billion people we will have in 2038.
    There are an estimated 8 billion rats on the planet. We are getting close to the point that not everyone on the planet can have their own rat.There is no fixing this because most humans are emotional responders and not critical thinkers. So the first wall you hit is that they go through “the 5 stages of problems” when you tell them something unpleasant.
    1. denial
    2. Anger
    3. Bargaining
    4. Depression
    5. Acceptance.
    They do not go through for just grief, loss, and dying. They go through it for all unpleasant problems.
    So most will just tell you “there is no overpopulation”. You can point out the dead spots in the sea from over-driving crop production on land or how we have eaten almost all the big fish in the sea and they will keep telling you “there is no overpopulation”. Facts cannot beat feelings for the emotional responder.
    The other problem is that most of the species are emotional responder and they will never vote in anyone who is interested in population control. Heck if you suggest it, they may attack or even kill you for it.
    By the time they get past denial it is far far too late.So what do we give up for “Babies babies BABIES!!!”
    The huge one is we can’t do serious research into life extension and immortality. So everyone has to die because the next batch of crying human lotto tickets is surely better than the current humans. Have a baby now and help kill billions in the future.

So that is all folks. We are putting tiny Bandaids on huge sucking chest wounds and decapitations.
Time to sit back and grab a beer and watch our species die. You tried but you were just too outnumbered.

Or to put it differently:
One child was good enough for God. Why do you think you need more?

4189 posts | registered 11/18/2003

  • SiberX wrote:
    show nested quotes

    To be fair, 1lb of almonds contains 2600 calories vs 136 calories for 1lb of watermelon (20x more) so the almonds are actually only consuming 3.5x the water on a per calorie basis.

    Almonds also store/preserve substantially better than a watermelon that would rot fairly quickly, so you’d be willing to pay a water efficiency penalty for a longer-lasting (and thus logistically simpler and less prone to wastage) food source.

    While the flesh needs to be eaten quickly – watermelon seeds store well when dried, are edible, are more calorie dense than the flesh and have lots of protein. Watermelon rind can be preserved by pickling.

    18712 posts | registered 7/2/1999

  • harmless wrote:

    “Unfortunately, reforestation would also make water use less sustainable”

    How so? That’s not at all clear to me. Forests use up water through evaporation?

    But don’t forests also capture more rainfall that might otherwise run off or evaporate rapidly?

    Either way, if it’s reforestation, that intuitively suggests that it can’t be worse than it was before people cut down the trees, no?

    I suspect the issue (as land use seems to be the main theme here) is that reforestation means converting farmland back into forests, not empty desert expanses.

    The same environment conductive to forest growth (water and fertile soil) is also going to make the same land the most viable farmland – at least in Australia. Taking away that farmland decreases food independence (the famine stalking Yemen is a graphic example of situations where reliance of imports of staples can be undesirable).

    Furthermore, certain species are helped/adapt more easily to the land being repurposed for agriculture use and will be correspondingly negatively affected if the use is changed again (migrating waterfowl fattening up on the various grain fields they overfly in North America for instance).

    Then there is the question of what type of agriculture will be affected. High-margin industries like vineyards are going to have a much higher economic opportunity cost in terms of government tax revenue and jobs. Cutting back on farms that cultivate fresh produce can have health repercussions if people start eating less fruits and vegetables because of the cost.

    Then there’s the carbon emissions associated with the increase in shipping (whether air or surface). Depending on the forest and the volume of shipping needed, reforestation may end up trading biodiversity directly against climate change reduction.

    Last edited by chanman819 on Sat Apr 15, 2017 2:49 pm

    373 posts | registered 10/8/2009

  • show nested quotes

    During the last big drought the plan was to add more dams and link up most of those eastern seaboard dams via pumps, so we’d be both more drought and also flood resistant. People got all NIMBY and the drought broke so problem solved.

    As for diverting roof water, rain water tanks are pretty common here depending on where you live. They’ve been banned for being unsightly in some areas though.

    Where I live, they were banned until last year because of concern (or concern trolling, probably) about impact on streamflows. (Here in Colorado, we’re at the head of rivers that impact millions of people.)

    But it was always legal to direct whatever water fell on your roof directly into your garden, so :confused:

    We’re now limited to total storage of 110 gallons per home. Cisterns are right out. But ranchers have always built stock ponds that capture rainwater. My impression is that this is often (and perhaps most often) a violation of somebody else’s water rights.

    14842 posts | registered 10/6/2012

  • RandomBits wrote:

    I believe evolution is the ultimate manifestation of the sustainability of the grand scheme of things. Landscapes come and go, ecosystems come and go, species come and go, something old perish, something new emerge, the game goes on.

    Our notion of sustainability is preservation of the current state (for human existence and dominance) indefinitely, Nature may have other ideas.

    We humans are the only species in the known universe with the capacity of forethought, creativity, complex problem solving…. we evolve. But we no longer require thousands of generations, we evolve ourselves and the universe around us.

    We’ve modified the temperature of the planet through nearly two centuries of putting carbon dioxide (and thousands of other chemicals into the atmosphere), only we can change it.

    Last edited by arcite on Sat Apr 15, 2017 1:56 pm

    13528 posts | registered 3/13/2004

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