Supply-Side Sustainability

Supply-Side Sustainability

Supply-Side Sustainability

Supply-Side Sustainability

Synopsis

While environmentalists insist that lower rates of consumption of natural resources are essential for a sustainable future, many economists dismiss the notion that resource limits act to constrain modern, creative societies. The conflict between these views tinges political debate at all levels and hinders our ability to plan for the future. Supply-Side Sustainability offers a fresh approach to this dilemma by integrating ecological and social science approaches in an interdisciplinary treatment of sustainability. Written by two ecologists and an anthropologist, this book discusses organisms, landscapes, populations, communities, biomes, the biosphere, ecosystems and energy flows, as well as patterns of sustainability and collapse in human societies, from hunter-gatherer groups to empires to today's industrial world. These diverse topics are integrated within a new framework that translates the authors' advances in hierarchy and complexity theory into a form useful to professionals in science, government, and business. The result is a much-needed blueprint for a cost-effective management regime, one that makes problem-solving efforts themselves sustainable over time. The authors demonstrate that long-term, cost-effective resource management can be achieved by managing the contexts of productive systems, rather than by managing the commodities that natural systems produce.

Excerpt

This book is of general interest to anyone with a role to play in promoting the sustainability of the modern world, including professionals in science, government, and business. We outline a strategy for dealing with the new challenges of sustaining natural resources and human institutions. We have tried to be scientifically objective, but we also argue that sustainability is a matter of human values. Because it affects many people, discussions of sustainability inevitably enter the political arena. We adamantly pursue no political orientation, but we find that various parts of this book will appeal to either conservatives or liberals. Conservatives may agree with our finding that larger government is not the solution to promoting sustainability. Indeed, we note that growth in the complexity of government may combine with other factors to reduce sustainability, and reducing the scale of government may promote it. Moreover, as we have discussed elsewhere (Allen, Tainter, and Hoekstra 1999), we see commerce as having a central role in promoting sustainability. Liberals may be pleased by the conservative posture we adopt with regard to the ecological system and our environment. Furthermore, although the title of the book derives from the conservative economic program of the early 1980s, we approach our topic with explicit concern for many factors that conservative economists dismiss as externalities.

Although its subject matter differs, this volume is premised on Toward a Unified Ecology. In that book, Allen and Hoekstra (1992) took pains to separate questions of scale from those that turn on what we called criteria that define the type of system under observation. Because changes in both scale and system type are responsible for changes in the appear-

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