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Supply-Side Sustainability

Supply-Side Sustainability

T. F. H. Allen
Joseph A. Tainter
Thomas W. Hoekstra
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  • Book Info
    Supply-Side Sustainability
    Book Description:

    While environmentalists insist that lower rates of consumption of natural resources are essential for a sustainable future, many economists dismiss the notion that resource limits act to constrain modern, creative societies. The conflict between these views tinges political debate at all levels and hinders our ability to plan for the future.

    Supply-Side Sustainability offers a fresh approach to this dilemma by integrating ecological and social science approaches in an interdisciplinary treatment of sustainability. Written by two ecologists and an anthropologist, this book discusses organisms, landscapes, populations, communities, biomes, the biosphere, ecosystems and energy flows, as well as patterns of sustainability and collapse in human societies, from hunter-gatherer groups to empires to today's industrial world. These diverse topics are integrated within a new framework that translates the authors' advances in hierarchy and complexity theory into a form useful to professionals in science, government, and business.

    The result is a much-needed blueprint for a cost-effective management regime, one that makes problem-solving efforts themselves sustainable over time. The authors demonstrate that long-term, cost-effective resource management can be achieved by managing the contexts of productive systems, rather than by managing the commodities that natural systems produce.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50407-2
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Economics, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. 1 The Nature of the Problem
    (pp. 1-52)

    The issue of sustainability has emerged from problems that have become apparent on a global scale; some are new material configurations and others have emerged as phenomenal now that there are the tools to address them. The view of our planet in its entirety from space has dealt a death blow to flat Earth societies. The British Broadcasting Company had the wit to have a dignitary of a British flat Earth society on its panel of experts commenting on the live coverage of the first Apollo moonshot. It appeared disconcerting to that dignitary, but he was spirited in the explanations...


    • 2 Complexity and Social Sustainability: Framework
      (pp. 55-98)

      Social sustainability depends ultimately on ecological sustainability, but as suggested in chapter 1, it cannot be reduced to biology in a direct or simple manner. Similarly, undegraded ecosystems do not guarantee sustainable societies, for social sustainability depends greatly on what happens within and between societies. Although we know that the soil, water, and air of Russia are badly polluted, for example, no one suggests that this caused the demise of the government of the former Soviet Union. While we see social and ecological sustainability as intertwined, we can achieve clarity by analyzing them in part separately. This chapter and the...

    • 3 Complexity and Social Sustainability: Experience
      (pp. 99-164)

      There was scarcely a solvent government during the twentieth century. In an age when each politician blames an opponent for this universal condition and journalists amplify the deception, it is worth pointing out that it has always been so. As problem-solving institutions that inherently attract challenges, governments have an inevitable tendency toward greater complexity. As complexity rises so do costs, inexorably squeezing all services and functions, and the system that makes them possible. We have discussed one example in the Third Dynasty of Ur.

      Although contemporary experience offers examples of unsustainable governments, as in the former Soviet Union, we noted...


    • 4 The Criteria for Observation and Modeling
      (pp. 167-283)

      It would be convenient if the material world told us the criteria for what to sustain and how to do it, but that cannot happen because definitions and policies must of necessity come from the observer. Even in hindsight, the material system does not tell us whether we made the right decisions; it only gives us results, which are adequate or not, again based on our decisions as managers or scientists. Given the central and inescapable intrusion of human decisions, we emphasize flexibility while being explicit. Being explicit provides a precision of definition and purpose that allows flexibility because choices...

    • 5 Biomes and the Biosphere
      (pp. 284-319)

      The biosphere as a criterion for observation is fundamentally different from other ecological criteria. Unlike the criteria considered in other chapters, the biosphere has a certain explicit scale. The difference between the biosphere as an ecological criterion and others considered in this volume is that there are exemplars of ecosystems, landscapes, and the other criteria, but there is only one biosphere (fig. 5.1). The definite article in “the biosphere” is more definite for the biosphere than for, say, “the ecosystem.” The biosphere and the ecosystem are not just different things; they belong to distinct logical types. The former represents a...

    • 6 Ecosystems, Energy Flows, Evolution, and Emergence
      (pp. 320-379)

      Earlier in this book we discussed historical examples of sustainable and nonsustainable systems. Economic and social processes were central to the discussion, and we have named dates, places, and historical personages as components of our narrative. We then turned to the biogeophysical aspects of sustainability, but in this chapter we maintain continuity by linking the ecology of sustainability to political sustainability. There emerge general principles that apply to both social and biogeophysical sustainability. Of the criteria for identifying the ecological foreground, the ecosystem criterion best facilitates the social and political connection to the conventional ecology of sustainability. The ecosystem conception...

    • 7 Retrospect and Prospects
      (pp. 380-426)

      We have ranged widely in this book, from societies to ecosystems, both sustainable and not, and from the past to the future. In chapter 1 we introduced five lessons to emerge from the discussion, which are the principles of supply-side sustainability:

      Manage for productive systems rather than for their outputs.

      Manage systems by managing their contexts.

      Identify what dysfunctional systems lack and supply only that.

      Deploy ecological processes to subsidize management efforts, rather than conversely.

      Understand diminishing returns to problem solving.

      In this chapter we offer concluding observations on these principles, including where and how to apply them.

      In synthesizing...

    (pp. 427-450)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 451-462)