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Thread: Long term sustainability.

  1. #1 Long term sustainability. 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    There is a thought I would like to share and get feed-back from.

    Sustainability has become a very fashionable idea. However, when I read of this concept, it turns out always that the proponents of sutainability are talking about a short term effect.

    For example : if you need fertiliser for agriculture, then for it to be sustainable, it must be re-usable within months. So we get organic farming techniques of harvesting green organic material for composting as the only 'sustainable' option.

    I have often thought that, if something becomes available in the future due to improved technology, and the resource is then fully recycleable, we can regard it as sustainable, even if it is not being recycled right now.

    For example : phosphorus for agricultural fertilisers is normally mined from rock phosphate deposits - essentially fossil seabird faeces. Current stocks of rock phosphate are projected to last only another 80 years. Therefore this is considered unsustainable.

    However, if we consider the new world that will exist in 80 years, the possibilities for phosphorus collecting are likely to be massive. I would foresee, for example, that we will be able to genetically modify seaweeds to accumulate phosphorus. Then we can harvest and ash the seaweed to get a phosphate rich fertiliser.

    Since current phosphorus tends to end up washed into the sea, would this not be a long term recycling? And is not our use of phosphorus, then sustainable, even if not at present, though becoming so only in the long term?

    I would rather not end up in a semantics argument. I am talking of long term sustainability, which means new technology making a resource essentially useable indefinitely some time in the next few decades, even if it is not now.


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  3. #2  
    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
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    Technology tends to evolve, and is tested by trial and error. One that comes to mind is no-till agriculture. It preserves topsoil but also needs the use of a particular type of herbicide. As far as I know no-till is successful but it also creates a monopoly for a mega corporation that produces the herbicide. These are the kinds of details that have to be considered. I have no particular opinion about no-till, I just cite it as an example of evolving methods. It may become the standard farming practice in the future or it may disappear.

    My point is that we are not in a position to wait for the next big thing to make a breakthrough. Sustainability will come in small steps, which will not always make the headlines.


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  4. #3  
    Time Lord
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    Often an apparently sustainable solution comes with hidden or embodied costs that aren't sustainable. For example plastic solar-powered yard light kits, that crap out after a year in the elements, so you gotta trash the lot and buy a new kit. A truly sustainable yard light is made of wood (rots, regrows) and glass (infinite supply or recycle broken panes) and a lightbulb (easy replace and possible recycle). If you decide to dismantle this product be sure to save the old nails for re-use.

    A truly sustainable house is designed and constructed with that same philosophy - with the builder and The Destroyer in mind. An absolute minimum of plastic, rubber, machinery, or other non-renewable products go into it. Often this lowers the embodied cost as well. Most truly "sustainable technology" in home construction was already affordable and ubiquitous a hundred years ago. Recycled glass insulation filled the last big sustainability gap thirty years later. These houses are still standing and earning their keep, but when they finally go the worms will happily eat them.

    On the other hand people like products that appear to have been made in factories, and for that reason the aptitude of builders is floundering. So a lot of leaky skylight units end up in landfills.

    As for agricultural sustainability. If one chooses to buy into a development paved over good farmland, all future pretencions are forfeit.
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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