Monday, January 30, 2006

Making Sustainability Happen

James Lovelock, the independent inventor and father of the Gaia hypothesis created quite an impact across the world with his latest article on the earth's morbid fever.

While we may continue to or , the story of climate change highlights two important fundamental action principles about ensuring sustainability of a system.

The first principle is that of the homeostatic nature of sustainability: To use Lovelock's example, by failing to see that the Earth regulates its climate and composition, we have blundered into trying to do it ourselves, acting as if we were in charge. In any system that we try to sustain we fail to recognize the actors, all those who contribute to the balancing of the system, to homeostasis. Naturally, we end up making interventions as if we were the only ones in charge and our interventions can happen in isolation. How many solutions to problems around us identify the actors within a system? How many solutions align these actors to ensure they will sustain the system?

The second principle is that of keeping the respite time larger than the response time: Again to use Lovelock's example, the time before the earth catches the morbid fever (respite time) is small in comparison to the time in which we can get the various actors to act to regulate the global climate (response time), assuming they can! How many of the systems we are a part of are attentive to the respite time? How many interventions for making a system sustainable actually ensure quicker response times? How many solutions work to enhance the respite time?

The challenge before anyone trying to ensure sustainability of any system is to ensure that intervention does not violate these two fundamental principles. Our responses, our designs, our policies, our decisions that use these two action principles will decide whether we are able to sustain the systems dear to us.


  • Dear Anupam,
    Read your blog and it took me right back to the class that you taught us!
    We, as humans, are inherently lazy. We rather take the shortest, easiest, quickest, most convinient and CHEAPEST way out.
    Talking about sustainable living, I am a scientist and am disgusted with the way we use chemicals, disposable plastic and instruments indiscriminately.
    Sometimes, when I have time to breath with no experiment running, thoughts do creep up asking - where does all that plastic go? Especially here in the US, since it takes more money to hire someone to wash and sterilize stuff for us, we rather have prepackaged and disposable tools.
    But on the flip side, how do we balance doing science in a high throughput, efficient and productive manner and yet be conscious of all the waste that we generate? Universities have rules and guidelines that govern waste management, but there is so much of it generated in the first place!
    Do we have to go back to the stone age and live without all our medical / technical advances and social conviniences ?

    By Anonymous Niloufer, at 4:23 PM  

  • had a discussion a couple of months ago on global warming. The polar vortex, trapping of Cl- destruction of ozone, ozone holes confirmed at both south and north poles etc. And, this guy gets up saying, 'Well, its due to the imminent change in the magnetic poles, due for over 100,000 years'.
    Any way, the predictologists have suggested that the earth is way behind on its turn to switch the magnetic poles. But, did they conspire with CFCs either as an acelerator or as an excuse?
    I wonder. As I said earlier, there is a great deal of confusion regarding the placement of Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom in the lexicographic hierarchy and the ITiens have made matters worse by their moronic monitor-bound close-in but wide-view-lacking short sight. The same seems to go for futurologists who seem to read their future on palms and astral configurations in stead of taking a leap beyond the realm of he possible!

    By Blogger spm, at 6:53 PM  

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