Failing to prepare for a sustainable future

Norwich Public Utilities, the Connecticut Municipal Energy Cooperative, SolarCity and Brightfields Development hold a dedication ceremony for the new Mountain Ash Solar Farm on Stott Avenue in Norwich Wednesday, August 10, 2016.. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Norwich Public Utilities, the Connecticut Municipal Energy Cooperative, SolarCity and Brightfields Development hold a dedication ceremony for the new Mountain Ash Solar Farm on Stott Avenue in Norwich Wednesday, August 10, 2016.. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

The recent article in the Day, "New London, Groton eye recognition in sustainability program," Jan. 24, reports on regional efforts to manage the needs of future generations using the guiding principle of sustainability. Further, "Old Lyme, New London to join sustainability initiative" Feb. 6, and the January 24 editorial, "You use, you pay could be a new, fair approach for New London," highlight the planning issues for future survival of our current wasteful lifestyle.

The narratives reported that Sustainable CT is a voluntary statewide certification program for municipalities to voluntarily take steps to become more sustainable and the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University is helping to manage the Sustainable program with the goal of helping towns become more efficient, safer, resilient and thriving.

Both organizations envision that towns may seek to reduce energy bills or that there is a need to revamp recycling programs or that vulnerabilities exist in a changing climate or that municipalities hope to improve sidewalks and bike paths and boost arts and culture.

Municipalities can earn credit toward certification from the program by providing support to local businesses, adopting an open space plan, promoting public transit, creating an inventory of historic resources, streamlining permitting for small solar projects and developing affordable-housing options.

According to Sustainable, communities strive to be thriving, resilient, collaborative and forward-looking. They build community and local economy, they equitably promote the health and well-being of current and future residents, and they supposedly respect the finite capacity of the natural environment.

True sustainability

The problem is that fundamental, sustainable economic development requires not minor adjustments but a transformation of profit-oriented capitalistic societies, primarily dependent on growth economics, into societies modeled on the limitations of natural resources necessary to process useful products that are essential.

Yet, an analytical review and assessment of global environmental data for the past years strongly suggests an economically and environmentally doomed planet covering all nations driven by growth in population and increasing per capita consumption. Our wants outstrip our needs in producing “STUFF.”.

The First Tenet of Sustainability derived from the United Nation’s World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, provides the classic definition for “sustainability” to mean “meet[ing] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” and, also, termed "A Pact With the Unborn" (Dr. Albert E. Burke, Enough Good Men in the chapter Dirt, People and History, 1961)

Fossil fuels lubricate economies, while monetary credit finances investments and mindless “Business Uber Alles” growth. As a business, financial borrowing comes with interest payments to reduce/discharge the debt.

The current economic model depends on affordable and available oil. Various alternatives have been put forth as potential substitutes for oil when it begins to run short. Many political and industrial economists argue that the end of cheap oil is not particularly worrisome because market forces will ameliorate the effects of oil depletion by generating large quantities of additional petroleum from lower grade resources and by developing substitutes for that oil, which decreases “life cycle net energy”.

Other economists believe that oil is a high quality one-time resource for which no adequate alternative is available. Much of the debate about oil and its potential substitutes has centered on the concepts of the "life-cycle net energy” and the "energy return on investment (EROI or EROEI)" delivered by oil and its alternatives.

In the 1950s, it took one barrel of oil to generate 100 barrels (EROI of 100:1); today the ratio is 10:1. Within the next 30 years, there will be a substantial depletion of fossil fuels approaching an EROEI of 1:1. Currently, there is approximately 1.0-1.5 trillion barrels of oil in the ground.

Bleak future

As a result, the future for the next generations is bleak and is unsustainable. It harkens a return to medieval societies, depopulation, failed states, low agricultural production, drug resistant diseases, and severely lowered standards of living and quality of life.

Planning for future sustainable development is not limited to the common notion of physical sustainability personified by constructing green buildings and installing solar panels. Planning for the future should embrace a broad spectrum of universal societal changes, including the national/ international legal field, social and intergenerational equity, environmental quality and a recalculation of what constitutes adequate quality of life.

The time to have initiated such efforts was after WWII. Yet once again, humanity has waited too long to act.

“Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when acting would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history,” warned Winston Churchill.

Robert Fromer is a former resident of New London and an occasional contributor to The Day on environmental issues. He lives in Windsor.

 

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