Deena Flinchum raised an important point concerning population in the comment on “Lessons From PRT and “Mass” Transit” posted on 22 May.

Sustainability is not a simple or easy to achieve objective. Sustainability is beyond contemplation without Fundamental Change in the current population trajectories at the regional, continental and global scales.

As noted in “The Shape of the Future,” any consideration of sustainability must address the overlapping spheres of Economic, Social and Physical reality.

In the Social sphere, social stability must address three overarching areas of concern:

Making all humans citizens (democracy)

The number of citizens (population)

The way citizens treat one another (genocide, slavery / subjugation, bigotry / discrimination / xenophobia / the equitable distribution of resources)

Population is obviously key to any discussion of sustainability.

We also argue that achieving a sustainable trajectory for civilization is not possible as a direct goal.

There is an interim launch pad and that platform is functional human settlement patterns. Until citizens understand how to create functional settlement patterns they will not have to tools necessary to address the far more complex issue of sustainability.

It is in this context that we link human settlement patterns and sustainability together.

Without this linkage fantasies like:

The religion with the most souls wins, or

The nation-state with the biggest guns wins are rampant.

These myths are almost as silly as the assertion of Anonymous 8:10 PM who said:

“Well, as far as I’m concerned, they (illegal immigrants) are welcome. After all, most of them will vote Republican, if we let them.

“Would you rather have them here working for us, or over there competing against us?”

Competing for what? The nicest lawns? The cleanest windows?

If potential immigrants become key contributors to Balanced Communities in El Salvador or Ivory Coast that is much better than their contributing to unbalance and over-consumption in Greater Houston or Washington-Baltimore New Urban Regions.


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  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    We actually agree on something. Mark it on the calendar.

    1)Population is key, or will be someday.

    2)Sustainability is not possible as a direct goal, unless you have a lot fewer people, or a much lower standard of living, and we are not about to make either of those a direct goal in the near term.

    3)We are going to have to do something in the meantime to slow the bleeding and alleviate the pain. We need to be more functional in the interim between now and when we become sustainable or are forced to become sustainable.

    If population is key, that probably means fewer people, and certainly slower growth of population. A lot fewer people, it seems to me, is equivalent to more space per person. Even if they choose to live more compactly, sustainability implies they will depend on more space someplace else. Cities need food and water shipped in and garbage and sewage shipped out. They might need miles of solar panels or windmills to power them, and all that is going to be maintained by someone who doesn’t live in the central areas, probably. Sustainability is going to cause us to come face to face with how big the urban footprint really is, and it won’t be pedestrian friendly.

    If we are going to eventually need and use all that space, then the interim plan ought to be to design and start planning the use of that space in a way that will ultimately become sustainable instead of concentrating our efforts on the spaces that are most likely to become the most unsustainable soonest.

    What we don’t know is how long that interim period is. The more functional we are now and the more we do to approach sustainability sooner, the longer we can continue to draw down against our stored resources (at a reduced rate).

    The amount of those resources and the resultant effects of using them are both subject to debate. We have a lot of oil shale, but maybe we really don’t want to excavate sizable portions of Utah, or maybe we decide we don’t care because there is no other choice. Whatever we decide, a serious mistake in either case leads you directly back to 1).

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    okay, I’m a little dense this morning. Why can sustainability not be a direct goal?

    Here’s Wikipedia’s take on the word:

    “is intended to be a means of configuring civilization and human activity so that society, its members and its economies are able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems, and planning and acting for the ability to maintain these ideals in a very long term.”

    Doesn’t this imply the pursuit of such a goal via explicit planning and execution of such plans towards that goal?

    Curious to me and methinks fundamental to the issue is energy sustainability – on a macro scale – because it seems to be such a large part of any equation whether it relates to the need for energy or to the adverse impacts of burning fuels to obtain energy.

    Or to put this another way – what if such a major advance was made in direct use of the sun for energy that cars moved without the need for oil/gas or poor nations could easily provide for their populations because energy was no longer the stumbling block?

    Wastewater and stormwater would no longer be dumped in rivers but rather directed to recycling facilities powered by the ulimited power of the sun now harnessed.

    Electricity and hydrogen produced by solar power.


    Perhaps but I would ask have we really committed ourselves to such a future or are we still putzing around trying to figure out how to find and use more fossil fuels – which:

    1. – is not sustainable
    2. – every ounce burned generates pollution
    3. – is the fundamental basis for world politics for many countries.

  3. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse


    For a complete answer to you basic question: Why can “sustainablity” not be a direct goal? You will need to read Chapter 23 of “The Shape of the Future.”

    This perspective was honed in three graduate seminars on the topic of sustainablility and has not been challenged over the past six years.

    I will give you a hint: The cures for over consumption are right on but are politically and/or physically impossible to achieve.

    Your concluding observation says it all.

    More on that in a future column

    Have a great holiday!


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