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A comic demonstrating the principle of the tragedy of the commons
Tragedy of Commons The tragedy of the commons is evident in many areas of our lives, particularly in the environment. The over-fishing of our oceans that causes some marine life to be in danger of extinction is a good example. Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Precautionary principle

The precautionary principle    is likewise central to sustainability ethics. The margins of uncertainty are large across many fields of the biophysical sciences. Simply put, there is a great deal we do not know about the specific impacts of human activities on the natural resources of land, air, and water. In general, however, though we might not have known where the specific thresholds of resilience lie in a given system—say in the sardine population of California’s coastal waters—the vulnerability of ecosystems to human resource extraction is a constant lesson of environmental history. A prosperous and vital economic engine, the Californian sardine fishery collapsed suddenly in the 1940s due to overfishing. The precautionary principle underlying sustainability dictates that in the face of high risk or insufficient data, the priority should lie with ecosystem preservation rather than on industrial development and market growth.

Great Fish Market by Jan Brueghel
Great Fish Market by Jan Brueghel Though we might not have known where the specific thresholds of resilience lie in a given system—say in the sardine population of California’s coastal waters—the vulnerability of ecosystems to human resource extraction is a constant lesson of environmental history. Source: Public Domain

Sustainability, in instances such as these, is not a sexy concept. It’s a hard sell. It is a philosophy of limits in a world governed by dreams of infinite growth and possibility. Sustainability dictates that we are constrained by earth’s resources as to the society and lifestyle we can have. On the other hand, sustainability is a wonderful, inspiring concept, a quintessentially human idea. The experience of our own limits need not be negative. In fact, what more primitive and real encounter between ourselves and the world than to feel our essential dependence on the biospheric elements that surround us, that embeddedness with the air, the light, the warmth or chill on our skins, and the stuff of earth we eat or buy to propel ourselves over immense distances at speed unimaginable to the vast armies of humanity who came before us.

Sustainability studies is driven by an ethics of the future. The word itself, sustainability, points to proofs that can only be projected forward in time. To be sustainable is, by definition, to be attentive to what is to come. So sustainability requires imagination, but sustainability studies is also a profoundly historical mode, committed to reconstruction of the long, nonlinear evolutions of our dominant extractivist and instrumentalist views of the natural world, and of the “mind-forg’d manacles” of usage and ideology that continue to limit our ecological understanding and inhibit mainstream acceptance of the sustainability imperative.

Sustainability studies thus assumes the complex character of its subject, multiscalar in time and space, and dynamically agile and adaptive in its modes. Sustainability teaches that the environment is not a sideshow, or a scenic backdrop to our lives. A few more or less species. A beautiful mountain range here or there. Our relation to our natural resources is the key to our survival. That’s why it’s called “sustainability.” It’s the grounds of possibility for everything else. Unsustainability, conversely, means human possibilities and quality of life increasingly taken away from us and the generations to come.

Review questions

What does it mean to say that global environmental problems such as climate change and ocean acidification represent a “tragedy of the commons?” How are global solutions to be tied to local transitions toward a sustainable society?

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How does sustainability imply an “ethics of the future?” And in what ways does sustainability ethics both borrow and diverge from the principles that drove the major progressive social movements of the 20 th century?

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Questions & Answers

how can chip be made from sand
Eke Reply
are nano particles real
Missy Reply
Hello, if I study Physics teacher in bachelor, can I study Nanotechnology in master?
Lale Reply
no can't
where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
nanopartical of organic/inorganic / physical chemistry , pdf / thesis / review
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
has a lot of application modern world
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
ya I also want to know the raman spectra
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Sustainability: a comprehensive foundation. OpenStax CNX. Nov 11, 2013 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11325/1.43
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