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Attachments: BrentJ_Abortion.doc; BrownJ_OxymoronSustainableDevelopment.pdf; BrentJ_ThesustainableDevelopmentFallacy.doc; BrentJ_Sustainablefraudcollapse.pdf, BrentJ_Parisalternativeanalysis.pdf; BrentJ_SustainableDevelopmentacritique.doc.
Dear Lara: Thought you would find the attachments very interesting. Your comments would be appreciated. Jason
Bioscience Advance Access published August 25, 2015
The Oxymoron of Sustainable Development, by James H Brown
The Age of Sustainable Development. Jeffrey D. Sachs. University of Columbia Press, 2015. 544 pp., illus. $34.95 (ISBN: 9780231173155 paper).
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the authors of The Population Bomb and Limits to Growth warned that humans were using the finite resources of the planet to fuel unsustainable population growth. Since 1975, the global population has grown from 3 billion to the current 7.3 billion, and it is predicted to reach 9 billion to 10 billion by 2050. There is compelling scientific evidence that present trends in global population, resource use, and economics cannot continue for more than a few decades. The only question is whether there will be a gradual and managed decline or a catastrophic crash. Nevertheless, self-proclaimed experts maintain that “sustainable development” can be achieved if we can just summon the necessary technical expertise, political will, and popular support.
Of the more than two dozen titles on global sustainability listed on Amazon.com, The Age of Sustainable Development by Jeffrey Sachs is likely to be especially influential. As the publisher proudly proclaims, “Sachs is a world-renowned economics professor, leader in sustainable development, senior U N advisor, best-selling author, and syndicated columnist. He serves as the director of the Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and professor of health policy and management at Columbia University. He is special advisor to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations on the Millennium Development Goals, and . . . director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.”
The book starts with a bold assertion: “We have entered a new era . . ., the Age of Sustainable Development.”
The first chapter articulates Sachs’s concept of sustainable development, “a world in which economic progress is widespread; extreme poverty is eliminated; social trust is encouraged . . .; and the environment is protected from human-induced degradation.”
Subsequent chapters lay out an ambitious agenda, termed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for the United Nations and world leaders. The SDGs are intended to reverse the dire state of the Anthropocene—the current era of human domination and degradation of the biosphere—and to solve its big, challenging problems: extreme poverty, poor health and education, social and political inequality, ineffective policies and governance, unsustainable population growth and resource use, changing climate, and declining biodiversity.
BOOK: THE AGE OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT BY JEFFREY D.SACHS
This is a bad book. Despite endorsements from Ban Ki-moon, Edward O. Wilson, Jared Diamond, and other notables, it is deeply flawed from a scientific perspective and dangerously misleading from a policy perspective. Sachs is a social scientist, but there is not much science, social or natural, in this book. Science is an objective, evidence-based way of learning fundamental truths about the world.
Sachs presents lots of graphs, tables, and maps to illustrate past trends, current conditions, and future projections, but he fails to use these data to assess the feasibility of the SDGs. After chapters on social and economic topics, in “Planetary boundaries,” Sachs asks the crucial questions, “How can the world economy and population continue to grow if the Earth itself is finite?” and “Can economic growth be reconciled with environmental sustainability?” He responds, “By very careful and science-based attention to the real and growing environmental threats, we can indeed find ways to reconcile growth—in the sense of material improvement over time— with environmental sustainability.”
Unfortunately, “sustainable development,” as advocated by most natural, social, and environmental scientists, is an oxymoron. Continual population growth and economic development on a finite Earth are biophysically impossible. They violate the laws of physics, especially thermodynamics, and the fundamental principles of biology. Population growth requires the increased consumption of food, water, and other essentials for human life.
Economic development requires the increased use of energy and material resources to provide goods, services, and information technology. Existing uses of these resources have already created an unsustainable bubble of population and economy. Unless current trends can be reversed, a catastrophic crash is inevitable (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 2013). The global human population is currently growing at a rate of 1.1 percent per year and will add 80 million in 2015. Humans are rapidly depleting the finite reserves of fossil fuels that power the current industrial-technological economy (Hall and Klitgaard 2011). Resource shortages are evidenced in declines since the 1980s in per-capita consumption of oil, natural gas, metal ores, phosphate (an essential fertilizer), fresh water, arable land, and ocean fisheries (Brown et al. 2013). It is no coincidence that the genuine progress indicator (an alternative to gross national product), which measures quality of life, has also been decreasing since the 1980s (Kubiszewski et al. 2013).
The humans of the Anthropocene are changing the climate, decimating the biodiversity, and reducing the productivity of the biosphere.
Can these trends be reversed?
Unfortunately, the answers depend on objective scientific analysis, which is missing from this book. It is not enough to recognize the problems and suggest optimistic solutions. It is necessary to do a rigorous scientific evaluation: Assemble the relevant data; do the arithmetic to estimate the energy, material, and socioeconomic costs; and draw the logical conclusions. It is not enough simply to assert what should be done; one must show quantitatively what needs to be done and how it could practically and politically be accomplished in time to avert catastrophe.
The problems are compounded, because in our complex, interconnected world, actions to address some SDGs will make others worse. We know that anthropogenic climate change could be reversed i f we stopped burning fossil fuels. But such energy deprivation would have a devastating impact on all of Sachs’s social objectives. Politicians and economists would have to abandon the holy grail of economic growth and prepare for a rapid, drastic reduction in the global population and standard of living.
Rather than address Sachs’s 10 SDGs individually, I will consider them in three categories. Those in the first category might actually be accomplished. These include reductions in disease and poverty and increases in health services and education. Recent progress toward these goals might be continued as long as the global economy holds up. But consider the reason:
These SDGs do not call for major sacrifices by most people, and they profit individuals and corporations in developed countries that sell goods, services, and information to the developing world.
The SDGs in the second category are biophysically impossible, because they violate the laws of nature. These include “achieve economic development within planetary boundaries,” “curb human-induced climate change and ensure sustainable energy,” and “secure ecosystem services and biodiversity.”
The finite stocks of energy and material resources limit potential economic growth. Following Sachs’s graph 6.10, energy consumption would need to increase more than threefold in China and more than tenfold in the poorest developing countries to attain a US level of economic development and standard of living. This is clearly impossible in the foreseeable future.
China currently uses more than 20 percent of global energy production. In the next few decades, renewable energy sources will make increasing but only modest contributions.
The global economy will continue to be fueled by burning diminishing reserves of fossil fuels, with the attendant emission of carbon dioxide and the exacerbation of climate change.
The increasing impacts of cultivating crops, harvesting fish and wood, extracting minerals, and dispersing pollutants are damaging ecosystems and decimating biodiversity. The SDGs in the third category are unrealistic, because they ignore realities of human behavior. They include “achieve gender equality, social inclusion, and human rights for all” and “transform governance for sustainable development.” These noble ideals have never been achieved in all of history.
Humans are constitutionally incapable of making the necessary sacrifices. Doing so would violate the Malthusian-Darwinian dynamic, the biological imperative that causes all organisms to favor themselves and their family, social group, and nation state over all others (Nekola et al. 2013).
For an alternative perspective on the present condition and future trajectory of humanity and the biosphere, I recommend Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (Butler 2015).
This is mostly a picture book, but its 163 photographs show a grim reality that contrasts with Sachs’s misleading optimism.
* Brown IH, et al. 2014. Macroecology meets macroeconomics: Resource scarcity and global sustainability. Ecological Engineering 65: 24-32,
* Butler T, ed. 2015. Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot. Foundation for Deep Ecology/Goff Books.
* Ehrlich PR, Ehrlich AH. 2013. Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided? Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280 (art. 20122845). doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.2845
* Hall CA, Klitgaard KA. 2011. Energy and the Wealth of Nations: Understanding the Biophysical Economy. Springer.
* Kubiszewski 1, Costanza R, Franco C, Lawn P, lalberth J, Jackson T, Aylmer C. 2013. Beyond GDP: Measuring and achieving global genuine progress. Ecological Economics 93: 57-68.
* Nekola JC, et al, 2013. The Malthusian-Darwinian dynamic and ihe trajectory of civilization. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28: 127-1.30,
JAMES H. BROWN
James H. Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a distinguished professor of biology emeritus at the University of New Mexico. He is also a member of the informal New Mexico Human Macroecology Group, which has published several papers on human ecology