Not people, but resources: Brundtland 2.0

Maybe its understandable, but in fact a kind of ‘national narcism’: Solving the climate change problem, while maintaining all modern comfort and luxury, gained over the past 150 years by depleting an plundering resources globally.: to heat a whole house for 24 hours, to have two cars on the driveway, etc. In fact, that is what has caused our problems. What we are trying now, is to continue with all this luxury but then in a so called sustainable way. Knowing that the rest of the world, less developed, strives for the same luxury, and should be able to do this sustainable as well. We think.

This makes thinking dull : we only can think of new toys, new technologies that connect and combine everything , and improve our lives still further , as well as sustainable performance. Sustainable in the sense that climate change is tackled, and we can live happy forever.

So far, more technology has led om;y to more energy and resources use . But this also can be solved by more technology. We think. Innovating until death follows.

Perhaps, maybe , we, for instance in the Netherlands, can make a transition for renewable energy. At the cost of a enormous material input , for which the impacts are neglected and kept hidden. That many materials deplete an stocks exhaust , with ever more energy required to collect the same amount, is usually “ forgotten”. The impacts most of the time are abroad, in some distant country, since the Netherlands hardly has materials, let alone metals, which are in high demand for such a transition. But even if we succeed, its will be at the cost of less developed countries: we are rich, have the money, and can profit at first from the remaining resources and CO2 emissions budgets. But what if the whole world wants the same as us? Its nice to have a electric car, but what f we have to produce 3 billion? Including developing the renewable energy power system to drive these cars? Al new technology is fun, as long as it is applied in a niche. But upscaled to 10 billion people?

Notwithstanding, thats what is constantly discussed: maintaining our welfare, in a sustainable way. Part of the problem maybe is in the word sustainable: It includes nowadays a lot of things that people value. The triple helix, the people planet profit approach etc. But the real issue in this world is that it is all about energy and materials. Without those two, nothing happens. Nothing changes, unless input of energy and mass. It simple physics. Maybe a better expression would be ‘maintainable’ : can anything be maintained , for ever , for all? If not , its a bad solution. In any case with regard to climate change and resource depletion.

The focus on people and their welfare can be observed everywhere: In the indicators used, in technology development, in policies. Every one is afraid to burn their fingers on solutions otherwise then technology maintaining human achievements . Which is often phrased as ‘ needs” and even a television is regarded nowadays as a basic need. And the needs are endless.

Even in the most famous of all definitions of sustainable development, the so called Brundtland definition, ( from already 1987) the needs are central:

1. Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without

compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Of course, this is meant rational and reasonable, but in fact it should not be about needs but about (available) resources. . The report ( our common future) states additionaly to the definition:

(..sustainable development..) contains within it two key concepts:

the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and

the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the

environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

This hints in the direction of limitations, but then mainly by lack of technology, and crippled social organization., not by limits in resources, carrying capacity of the earth, or side effects like climate change. Its all about ourselves, seems the message . Both key concepts in fact also refer to needs, from the rich as well as from the poor.

But more importantly, nobody reads these two additional concepts, everyone just uses the first main definition.

The Brundtland definition, brilliant in its simplicity, and the report, which is really good and hits the crucial issues, still focuses around human needs. At the same time nowhere its expressed what these needs exactly are, what is the baseline? In energy, food, water, resources? Is it more as the poorest part of the world possesses? Probably, but is it the living standard of us, in the rich world? Not quit, as we read a bit further down, where the report states: Yet many of us live beyond the world’s ecological means . To continue focusing on a full growth potential to be able to reach that level…..

We have however already passed the point where we can start from the people and their needs. Its now about halting climate change, and cut CO2 emissions at large and fast. Whatever it costs, before things get worse. What nobody seems to realize, is that the world is not about people but all about physics. Nothing more nothing less: Energy and resources, and how these can be continuously used, puts the limits to what can be done and what can not be done. Every use leads to exhaustion , depletion, to diluting and dispersion. Increase of entropy, as its defined in thermodynamics. Molecule chaos, which is hardly usable. Unless with enormous amounts of energy input. And there is only one way out, which is solar radiation, that can reestablish systems and regenerate sources. The balance between diluting and dispersion of resources on one side and restoration on the other side is the precarious balance we have to search and maintain.

Yes, for some time we came away with it, since the past billion years or so stocks where formed. Like fossil fuels. But thats nearing the end. Not only by depletion of fuels and resources, but also since freeing these resources from the geological layers alters our climate: Not amazing, since the capturing and storing of these resources, abstraction from the air, has created a atmosphere that could enhance evolution as we now it. The amount of oxygen is ideal, as well as the heat balance that made earth stable and livable. We are changing the evolutionary conditions.

Its a balance that we have to maintain or restore, and one which does not allow us to set borders based on our luxury needs. Its physically impossible, the resources determine the balance, not the needs ( and wants) of people.

Which should be expressed in definitions and strategies. Its not about how to sustain our welfare, but what welfare is achievable with a sustainable ( maintainable) use of resources.

The current trends, like the one called circular economy , is not so much about circular, (or should not be) , as it is about economy: How can that be adapted to support circular approaches. A economy based on balanced regenerative use of resources , in stead of on circular technologies, that fit in a money making society.

If you look again at the Brundtland definition from this point of view , its should not be about needs but about the balanced distribution of energy and resources, which are managed such that their use can be maintained , for many generations after us. Regardless what those needs are. Even a basic need for food and water, can be in danger, if we don’t maintain that balance, for instance by the enormous growth in global population. The equal average might become too low: the agriculture is already at its maximum, which is further threatened by current developments: climate change causing droughts , rivers running dry, the use of biomass for energy in stead of food.

Its time to rephrase Brundtland : not the needs at the hart, but the resources, For instance as follows:

Sustainable development is the management of our resources in closed cycles, with the sun as main source, and resources equally divided so that fulfillment of needs can be maximized, in a way maintainable for the long future.

In other words; everyone is entitled to a equal share of well balanced managed resources , which determines the maximum in which needs can be met.

Author: ronald rovers