A Sustainable Civilization is one where the needs of the present can be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is one where there are feedback loops, physical and mental, personal, family, and societal which keep in check population growth and resource use. It is one where resources, physical and energy are “banked” as a safety net, and to allow concentrated large expenditures for improvement projects.
(Professor A.A. Bartlett)
The time required for a society to make a planned transition to sustainability on its own terms, so it can live within the carrying capacity of its ecosystem.
Sustainable civilization is not about integrating humanity into natural ecosystems. What we need to do regarding such of the natural world as remains, is to leave it alone.
Sustainable civilization is about the human community as a distinct ecology. The word sustainable implies the ability to continue for an indefinite period. We should be considering the period in which we hope humans will inhabit the Earth, at least several thousand years or until we develop interstellar travel and can truly go elsewhere.
In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. (From the Great Law of the Iroquois Nation)
If we consider the range of child bearing years to be between the ages of 16 to 40, seven generations are somewhere between 96 and 280 years.
What are the effects of your decisions and actions on each of the next seven generations? What argument do you document for history if your resources use is destructive and lessens the options of a future generation?
How much of infrastructure of present-day civilization has been in place for 200 or more years, can be powered or provide for, or otherwise be useful 200 years or more from now?
Fossils as old as half a million years show essentially physically present-day human remains. Will humans, and human civilization, still be here in another half million years?
Despite stories of places such as Atlantis, the archaeological record appears to show that as of the end of the last ice age human civilization was still at the hunter-gatherer level, with perhaps a total population of 37 million people. We have destroyed a great deal of the wilderness, and if we lose civilization and fall again to such a level, we can expect the sustainable population of humans to be significantly less than this.
In his work Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond shows that it was their physical environment, in particular crops and animals readily domesticated, rather than a biological difference in peoples which lead to the significant differences in development.
For a brief period, withdrawal from the energy account represented by oil has permitted humans to live in places, numbers, and manners that are otherwise not possible. We now face the real potential for collapse of civilization on a global scale, with much of the natural ecology already gone, and the remaining already overtaxed.
If we lose civilization, there is no known bank of energy to power rebuilding and continue to provide for a large population. We must understand the meaning and consequences of our demand and use of the resources of the world, what we can, and cannot do.