New Day

Today dawned under a dusty blue sky decorated with wispy pink clouds. The front blew over about an hour later, the front edge yellow-orange, the following clouds in shades ranging from charcoal to silver Cadillac. Churning and roiling in the wind. The little birds scattered for cover and Buttermilk Pie headed for the front door. The buzzards rose up from their nest behind the oak trees and coasted down the front, again and again, like eight-year-old kids sliding down a banister until, about in another hour. Crisp blue cloudless Yankee air took over.

090403buzzard_dsc0186ss1I stood in he wind-whipped pasture, turning and turning, trying to see 360 degrees all at the same time – in awe of the power that brings life to our relatively small bit of space rock. Wishing that everyone could know this Creation.

The buzzard, she is my neighbor after all, dipped her wings to me.

Sustainable Growth

Not long ago, I reported on a meeting of Optimum Population Trust, and the report of the British Sustainable Development Commission.

I responded mostly to a truly childish commentary on these, and of course they are only two of the many organizations that are concerned about the population of humans on earth. For one other, the United Nations has been working diligently and effectively for decades to understand the relationship between population pressures, wars, epidemics, starvation and to understand human population growth. 2008 Population Prospects. Click on highlights for a PDF. Dot Earth is a blog that examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits. For example hereand here. I recommend the above sources of information. But I’m worried about the the techno-political scene they report.

Until very recently, it seems to me, the politicos and techies have been proceeding under the delusion that we have some kind of power over Life. That we have some kind of directive to do battle with Life and “win.” This is scary, because if they do “win” (and I think it’s possible) by definition that would be suicide, and they would take the rest of us with them. So I think it’s a good idea for us all to bone up on the most basic facts of Life.

What I know about Life is that it’s foundation and it’s origin are based in balance. Balance between life and death; balance of all the material things that cells are made of that cycle around in the ecosystem; balance of energy supply and need — all those things must maintain balance in the ecosystem. That’s Life.

Sustainable, to a biologist, means an activity that can continue indefinitely. Biological activities, making babies for example, or driving cars or thinking or flying airplanes, require two things to be sustainable.

1. We have already mentioned energy. Specifically, chemical energy is the kind of energy that we require for life. We pointed out that we can not generate chemical energy — green plants do that for us. Plants use light energy from the sun to do the work of creating carbon compounds. Carbon compounds are our food and our source of the energy for Life. We use the chemical energy to do the work of being alive. In this way the chemical energy is converted to heat energy. And then it goes away. Because it goes away, we must continue eating more carbon compounds to get more chemical energy that the plants have stored in the food. Energy does not cycle in the ecosystem. It comes in as high energy and goes away as low energy.

2. The second thing we require to stay alive is the raw materials of which we are constructed. Minerals and vitamins and carbon and oxygen and hydrogen and nitrogen and all that. We also get these from our food – lipids, carbohydrates, proteins and nucleic acids. Thus we eat food is to get the raw materials of which we are constructed, and the chemical energy they contain. But unlike energy, the raw materials do recycle within the ecosystem. Other things also cycle, the most important probably is water.

Sustainable Life would be a balance among all those (and more) components of Life.
Winning is not sustainable. Balance is sustainable.

“Sustainable growth” is not real. It is only words that were widely used only four or five years ago. I just looked the phrase up on Google, and it seems people have caught on there is no such thing and are changing their terminology. That gives me hope, because sustainable growth is a term someone invented in order to pretend that we can do things we can not do, or in order to sell things that we don’t have.

Sustainable growth is the sales pitch for a Ponzi scheme that uses people instead of money, and we all have seen the result of Ponzi schemes. Sustainable growth of individual people, or populations, or corporations or economies is impossible unless there are enough raw materials to make more and more things forever. The fact is that there are not enough plants to provide the food (energy flow and materials cycle) to keep the ecosystem or any part of it growing forever.

SUSTAINABLE is possible. Sustainable is how life works. The biology of staying in balance is the “miracle” of life. The only way the ecosystem can stay alive is to stay in balance. Sustainable development would require that we learn to maintain our balance within the greater power of the ecosystem.

We can do that – if we choose to. But we will have to talk about it or it won’t even get started.