Five Axioms of Sustainability

In order to discuss the notion of sustainability productively, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the meaning of the term.  Too often people debate sustainability issues from an understanding that is vague, incomplete or frankly flawed.  The following set of axioms was published, along with a discussion, by Richard Heinberg. In my opinion they express  fully, completely and precisely the abstract concept of sustainability, and provide an excellent  framework for exploring whether a practice or arrangement is truly sustainable.

I recommend you read the original publication, to gain the full benefit of the discussion.

1. (Tainter’s Axiom): Any society that continues to use critical resources unsustainably will collapse.

2. (Bartlett’s Axiom): Population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained.

3. To be sustainable, the use of renewable resources must proceed at a rate that is less than or equal to the rate of natural replenishment.

4. To be sustainable, the use of non-renewable resources must proceed at a rate that is declining, and the rate of decline must be greater than or equal to the rate of depletion.

5. Sustainability requires that substances introduced into the environment from human activities be minimized and rendered harmless to biosphere functions.

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