Conceptualizing Sustainability of Environment
“Ability of the earth’s diverse natural systems, as well as human cultural institutions and economies, to survive and adapt to changing environmental conditions eternally” is how sustainability is defined. The environmental catch-phrase which attracted the attention of the entire world in the 1990s was SAVE OUR PLANET. This led to a pacing of focus on sustainable development. In present times, sustainability is the most primary environmental objective.
Sustainability has two scientific meanings:
Sustainability of Resources, e.g., sustaining a species of fish from the ocean, a kind of tree from the forest, or a kind of coal from mines, etc.
Sustainability of Ecosystem – This can be achieved if the rate of use of resources at present is almost equal to the rate of generation of resources for the future. If the use of resources at present increases or the rate of regeneration of resources for the future decreases, we live unsustainably.
Components of Sustainability of Environment Studies
Following are major components of sustainability studies:
Component 1: Natural Capital and Solar Capital
Natural Capital, or the Natural Resources and Natural Services that keep ourselves and other forms of life alive while also supporting our economy, is an essential component of long-term sustainability. Natural resources are minerals and energy found in nature that humans require or find valuable. These resources are frequently classed as renewable or nonrenewable (for example, air, water, soil, plants, and wind) (such as copper, oil, and coal). Chemicals required for life circulate from the environment (mostly soil and water), through organisms, and back to the environment. Topsoil, for example, is the top layer of the earth’s crust that offers nutrients to land-based plants, animals, and microbes; when they die and decay, they replenish the soil with these nutrients. Life as we know it would not be possible without this service.
Solar Capital, or energy from the sun, helps to support natural capital. All-natural capital would collapse if solar energy was removed. Solar radiation warms the globe and promotes photosynthesis, a complex chemical process through which plants produce food for themselves, as well as ourselves and most other animals. This direct input of solar energy also produces indirect forms of renewable solar energy such as Wind, flowing water, and biofuels made from plants and plant residues. As a result, our lives and economy rely on the sun’s energy (solar capital) as well as the earth’s natural resources and services (natural capital).
Natural Capital = Natural Resources + Natural Services, in a nutshell.
Natural capital is necessary for life and supported by solar capital, e.g., photosynthesis.
Natural resources are materials and energy essential for life.
Natural services e.g., purification of water.
Component 2: Degradation of Natural Capital by Human Activity
The recognition that certain human activities might deteriorate natural capital by utilizing typically renewable resources faster than nature can replace them is the second component of sustainability. For example, in some regions of the world, we are destroying mature forests at a rate far quicker than nature can regenerate them. Many ocean fish species are also being harvested quicker than they can replace themselves.
Speed of natural capital use > its regeneration speed
Component 3: Finding Solutions of Degradation
Component 2 leads us to the third component of sustainability. Environmental scientists look for solutions to issues like natural capital degradation. On the other hand, their work is limited to discovering scientific solutions, whilst political solutions are left to political procedures. Scientific remedies could include halting the logging of biologically varied, mature forests and harvesting fish at a rate no quicker than they can regenerate themselves. However, putting such solutions in place may necessitate government legislation and regulations.
Component 4: Trade-offs in making Solutions
The search for solutions often involves conflicts. When scientists argue for the preservation of a diversified natural forest to help avert the extinction of numerous living forms, a lumber corporation that planned to harvest trees in that forest may object. Making trade-offs, or compromises, to resolve such disputes is the fourth component of sustainability. In the case of the lumber firm, it may be convinced to plant a tree farm in an area that had previously been removed or degraded in exchange for the natural forest is preserved.
Scientific Principles of Sustainability of Environment
There are four scientific principles of sustainability which are as under:
Natural services are functions of nature that sustain life and the human economy, such as air and water purification. Ecosystems supply us with these valuable services for free. Nutrient cycling is an important natural service.
Solar energy reliance: the sun (solar capital) warms the planet and enables photosynthesis, which allows plants to produce food for themselves, as well as humanity and most other animals.
Biodiversity Conservation: the astounding variety of different organisms, the genes they contain, the ecosystems in which they exist, and the natural services they provide have yielded countless ways for life to acclimatize to fluctuating environmental circumstances throughout the earth’s history. Competition for limited resources among different species limits the amount of population growth that each species can achieve.
Nutrient recycling: Natural processes recycle chemicals that plants and animals need to stay alive and reproduce. There is slight or no left-over in natural systems.
Economic Growth and Sustainability
This comparative debate is focused on discussing the longstanding debate between Over economic growth as a primary economic goal, versus sustainable economic development, which discourages environmentally harmful forms of economic growth and encourages environmentally sustainable forms of economic development. Shifting to eco-economies by applying the four scientific principles of sustainability and using the strategies listed in Figure below over the next several decades will result in a new reduced-reuse-recycle economy powered by a diversity of solar and other renewable energy resources. It will also have a diverse transportation system that relies more on rail, buses, and bicycles and less on cars.
Principles for Shifting to More Environmentally Sustainable Economies
- Reward (subsidize) environmentally sustainable economic development
- Penalize (Tax & do not subsidize) environmentally harmful growth
- Shift taxes from wages & profit to pollution & waste
- Use full cost pricing
- Sell more services instead of more things
- Do not deplete or degrade natural capital
- Live of income from natural income
- Reduce poverty
- Use environmental indicators to measure progress
- Certify sustainably practices & products
- Use Eco-labels on products
Resources use & pollution
- Cut resource use & waste by reducing, reusing & recycling
- Improve energy efficiency
- Rely more on renewable solar & geothermal energy
- Shift from non-renewable carbon-based (fossil fuel) economy to non-carbon renewable energy economy
Ecology & Population
- Mimic nature
- Preserve biodiversity
- Repair ecological damage
- Stabilize human population
The consumption of environmentally hazardous goods and services will be reduced as population growth slows. According to environmental and ecological economists, a key to accomplishing this goal is to create an honest marketplace based on full-cost pricing that helps consumers to make informed choices. Making this shift will require bold leadership by business leaders and elected officials and bottom-up political pressure from informed and concerned citizens. People will also vote with their wallets by refusing to buy environmentally harmful goods and services and by supporting environmentally beneficial businesses. Forward-looking investors, corporate executives, and political leaders are recognizing that sustainability is good for the environment and the economy.
Sustainable Solution of Environmental Problems
Some suggested sustainable solutions to environmental problems are summarized as:
Waste Disposal (Bury or Burn)
Increasing Resources Use
Less Resources Waste
Depleting & Degrading Natural Capital
Protecting Natural Capital