For Achieving Sustainability there are Infinite Possibilities

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Ever since Jimmy Carter’s infamous “Crisis of Confidence” speech calling on Americans to conserve energy, Sustainability has acquired an (undeserved) reputation of requiring a dark, sweater-wearing future. But that is thinking about it all backwards, Sustainability is really about achieving the future that we want. That is not is not to say that we can have any future we want. I like to visualize our Sustainable futures as the diagram below illustrates:

Sustainable Futures Space

Now here is what some might consider the bad news, there are futures which are unsustainable (and I would argue therefore inherently impossible to maintain equitably). All seven billion people on Earth can not own their own Hummers and drive them out to their McMansions everyday- that imagined future would, I am afraid, fall in the red zone. While it is pretty easy to imagine such an obviously unsustainable future, determining whether a future is Sustainable is trickier. These are what we would call the “boundary conditions” for a Sustainable future. These boundary conditions should be determinable via scientific inquiry-basically what are the biophysical limits of our planet.

SustaianbleFuturesSpace  with Boundaries

The most obvious example would be space. There is not enough coastline that we can all have ocean-front beach homes, that exceed the physical limitations of our planet. These boundary conditions are very important and we’ll discuss them future in one or more future posts. So far it probably seems that I have not really strayed too far from the notorious Jimmy Carter, but here is the good news.

Sustainable Future Space is Infinite

Within the boundary conditions imposed by the biophysical limits of our planet are an INFINITE number of possible futures which are Sustainable! Deciding among these infinite possibilities is a fun and exciting challenge which must involve every last one of us.

What are you waiting for? Your Sustainable future awaits!


Aaron Redman is the founder of Achieving Sustainability and what passes for an administrator in these parts. Currently he is working on his Sustainability PhD at ASU while raising a baby daughter and taking advantage of nap time to foment discussions on this here blog.

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2 thoughts on “For Achieving Sustainability there are Infinite Possibilities”

  1. I like your optimism – and I think it is well warranted. Looking forward to your future remarks on boundary conditions.

    Perhaps this gets ahead of the discussion – but if I were to draw a figure like your second above(indicating boundaries) I’d go much heavier on the width of the boundary. My rationale follows along the lines of our capabilities to modify the world as we find it. I’ll stipulate right up front that not all the modifications we make are good or wise (and thus not particularly sustainable) – but there are some modifications that do qualify. And how might we anticipate future insightful modifications we (or our offspring) might bring to the table? What appears to be a boundary today might well become a piece of the sustainable playing field tomorrow.

    • Hi Clem,
      I would agree with you 100% about the boundaries, not only is it not a bright red line (e.g. 399ppm okay 400ppm disaster) but these boundaries will certainly be changing as technology, social organization and scientific understanding change. In fact I had made an illustration attempting to show that but decided that discussing the boundaries warranted a whole nother post.
      Futures with blurred boundaries

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