WHAT IS HUMAN SUSTAINABILITY?
Sustainability generally refers to systems, behaviors and activities aimed at helping to preserve a particular entity or resource. Human sustainability is one category, which involves specific goals, strategies and methods implemented to preserve and improve the quality of human life. Sociological, environmental and resource-based factors contribute to human sustainability.
Population growth is a major concern in the area of human sustainability. The Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College noted that the world population grows by around 200,000 per day. In general, the Earth contains limited land space for people to live in a healthy, comfortable way. As populations grow, the amount of space and natural resources available to supply them wanes in comparison. Pushes for environmental resource preservation and responsible usage of resources are also important to meeting needs of growing populations. The Aquinas Center advocates limits on childbirth of two children per woman to moderate world population growth.
Another area closely tied to preserving resources for populations is consumption. Emphasis on wellness and recreation is partly driven by the desire to sustain a healthy population. Another reason nutritionists and government entities push for more natural, unprocessed foods is to sustain farms and producers that provide them. Without demand for healthy goods, the companies that produce them won’t have the financial resources to sustain agriculture and production. Additionally, environmental experts advise against excessive consumption of products like plastics and aerosols, which contribute to toxic air and full landfills.
Along with physical sustainability, world leaders have to weigh economic and functional sustainability when making domestic and foreign policy decisions. For example, when a country maintains a high gross domestic product, it benefits populations domestically and globally. Globalization allows countries to collaborate on human sustainability goals. Promoting civilized behaviors and minimizing criminal activities also contribute to sustainability through reduced instances of wars and other massive tragedies. Studies on famine, infant mortality, life spans and extraterrestrial life also contribute to sustainability of civilizations.
Social justice and societal values also fit in the discussion of human sustainability. Social justice is the pursuit of fairness and equality for all people, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, age, religion and other demographic factors. Shared values within population groups help shape communities and cultures. Social injustice and discrimination in a population contribute to cultural and environmental degradation. These problems also lead to wars, which typically cost thousands of lives and lots of money, while ultimately damaging the environment.
The American Public Health Association (APHA) defines a “sustainable food system” as “one that provides healthy food to meet current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can also provide food for generations to come with minimal negative impact to the environment. A sustainable food system also encourages local production and distribution infrastructures and makes nutritious food available, accessible, and affordable to all. Further, it is humane and just, protecting farmers and other workers, consumers, and communities.” Concerns about the environmental impacts of agribusiness and the stark contrast between the obesity problems of the Western world and the poverty and food insecurity of the developing world have generated a strong movement towards healthy, sustainable eating as a major component of overall ethical consumerism. The environmental effects of different dietary patterns depend on many factors, including the proportion of animal and plant foods consumed and the method of food production.
The World Health Organization has published a Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health report which was endorsed by the May 2004 World Health Assembly. It recommends the Mediterranean diet which is associated with health and longevity and is low in meats, rich in fruits and, low in added sugar and limited salt, and low in saturated fatty acids; the traditional source of fat in the Mediterranean is olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fat. The healthy rice-based Japanese diet is also high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Both diets are low in meat and saturated fats and high in legumes and other vegetables; they are associated with a low incidence of ailments and low environmental impact.
At the global level the environmental impact of agribusiness is being addressed through sustainable agriculture and organic farming. At the local level there are various movements working towards local food production, more productive use of urban wastelands and domestic gardens including permaculture, urban horticulture, local good, slow food, permaculture, urban horticulture, local food, slow food, sustainable gardening, and organic gardening.
Sustainable seafood is seafood from either fished or farmed sources that can maintain or increase production in the future
without jeopardizing the ecosystems from which it was acquired. The sustainable seafood movement has gained momentum as more people become aware about both overfishing and environmentally destructive fishing methods.
Natural resources like land and other raw materials can be found as naturally occurring substances. The value of these deposits is usually dependent on the amount available for extraction. This means that if even valuable resources exist in quantities too small to be extracted profitably or exist in a form that make extraction exceedingly difficult then the value is lessened as a consequence.
However if the amount of available material for extraction as well as the ease of that extraction makes exploitation commercially viable then the value of the land increases as well.
A situation where natural resources or natural capital is being used up faster than replenishment can occur is called an “unsustainable situation”. Natural capital is the store of ecosystems that can provide a flow of material sustainably or indefinitely.
In recent years development agencies have focused on sustainable development because of the obvious depletion of natural resources that has become apparent with the current rates of consumption.
Sustainable development is a mode of consumption with the vision that seeks to provide for the needs of humanity while safeguarding the environment so that it will still be capable of providing for the needs of future generations of humanity.
Sustainable development deals with more than environmental issues alone. Sustainable development is a process that comprises all aspects of human society that can affect human sustenance. This means that the conflict between the so-called “triple bottom line” must be resolved.
Harmony must be achieved in the conflicting objectives of social equity, environmental quality and economic prosperity social equity.
Living sustainably will go a long way towards sustainability of natural resources. Each of us can do our part and make it count. Our natural resources will not last forever at the rate that human society is using them up.
Recycling, reducing waste generation, and conservation of valuable resources are our best hopes so that our ecosystems will still be capable of providing for the generations to come.