The Meaning of Sustainability

The Role of Science, Engineering, And Technology in a Sustainable Society

There is a role for science, engineering, and technology in a sustainable society. This is because the sustainable society will operate from electricity with large amounts coming from solar cells and wind turbines, with smaller amounts coming from hydroelectric and geothermal sources. Science, engineering, and technology will be needed to improve the efficiency of the generation, transmission, and use of the electrical energy.

Sustainability And Politics

We deplore the scientific illiteracy of members of Congress because many members don’t understand the implications of the large scale of things created by our science, engineering and technology. Should the members of Congress be criticized for their scientific illiteracy because they don’t recognize the problems that are developing so rapidly, or should we criticize ourselves for not recognizing that the overpopulation created by all of our actions has caused these predictable problems? Carl Sagan observed that 21:

We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements – transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting – profoundly depend on science and technology. we have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. we might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

Sustainability and Geoengineering

One of the most alarming technological trends today is the eagerness with which technologists and many nonscientists, in the name of sustainability, are endorsing megaprojects of geoengineering that are intended to allow the continued growth of our growth-based society. For instance, we see proposals to mess with the Earth’s atmosphere globally by a program of continuous injection of particulates in the upper atmosphere to scatter sunlight away from the Earth in order to reduce global warming.
These technologists who offer geoengineering as a solution to the problem of global warming seem to ignore Eric Sevareid’s Law 22:

The chief cause of problems is solutions.

Has there been a comprehensive evaluation of the many problems that will result if we start a global project of injecting small particles into the upper atmosphere? And what about the problems that we don’t anticipate in advance?

Sustainability And Desertec

A megascale high-tech “environmentally friendly” project called Desertec is currently gaining support in Europe. It is proposed to cover large parts of the Sahara Desert in Africa with solar collectors which will be used to generate electricity that will then be sent to Europe via electrical transmission lines and cables under the Mediterranean. This might work in a peaceful world, but long lonely transmission lines are tempting targets for terrorists, as are undersea cables.23

People have forgotten that with the opening of the first World War almost 100 years ago, the first thing the British did was to send out naval raiding parties to destroy German undersea cables and remote relay stations that provided communications between Germany and its African colonies. At the same time the Germans were sending out naval raiding parties to attack and destroy British undersea cables and relay stations that kept Britain in communication with its world-wide empire.24

Our mega-technologists today seem to forget that

Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.25

Sustainability And Smart Growth

Planners sometimes promote “Smart Growth” as the solution to the problem of sustainability. Smart Growth applies to new developments which are built to accommodate growth. It calls for development on a human scale with places of work, shopping and recreation all being located within walking or bicycling distances from the residences.

This is very pleasant indeed. But we must note that:

Dumb growth destroys the environment.

Smart growth destroys the environment.

The difference is that smart growth destroys the environment with good taste.

So it’s like buying a ticket on the Titanic.

If you’re smart you go first class

if you’re dumb you go steerage

either way the result is the same.

Albert Bartlett

Albert A. Bartlett (1923-2013) was Professor Emeritus in Nuclear Physics at University of Colorado at Boulder.Dr. Bartlett received a BA degree from Colgate University and MA and PhD degrees in Nuclear Physics from Harvard University in 1948 and 1951, respectively. He was a faculty member at the University of Colorado since 1950. He was President of the American Association of Physics Teachers in 1978. In 1981 he received the Association's Robert A. Millikan Award for his outstanding scholarly contributions to physics education.
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