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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

anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
types of nano material
abeetha Reply
I start with an easy one. carbon nanotubes woven into a long filament like a string
many many of nanotubes
what is the k.e before it land
what is the function of carbon nanotubes?
I'm interested in nanotube
what is nanomaterials​ and their applications of sensors.
Ramkumar Reply
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Practice Key Terms 4

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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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