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Author: Jensen Morgan

This lesson provides an overview of sustainability.

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Source: Earth PD Hurricane PD

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Hi, I'm Jensen Morgan. We're going to talk about some great concepts in environmental science. Today's topic is sustainability. So let's get started. We're going to talk about sustainability, challenges to sustainability, and international involvement in sustainability.

Sustainability, our key term for today, is a movement with a goal of establishing interactions with the environment that can continue indefinitely. Key concepts to remember about sustainability in relation to environmental science are harvesting natural resources at a rate that allows regeneration and recovery so that they can be harvested indefinitely into the future, protecting the environment in such a way that major ecosystem services are retained over time, and managing human population growth so that a reasonable standard of living for everyone can be maintained within infrastructure capacity over time.

Now we're going to talk about some notable historical points in sustainability history. In 1972, world leaders gathered at the Stockholm Conference to discuss the environment and humans' impact upon it. They created the first bits of guidance to addressing human impacts on the environment on the global stage.

In 1987, the Brundtland Report was published by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development. It was this report that really began to popularize the concept of sustainability. It examined global environmental issues and proposed ways to address them.

It was eventually published in a book called Our Common Future, and identified six major global environmental issues-- overpopulation, food security, loss of species and genetic diversity, energy supply and demand along with its pollution resource depletion, industry's pollution and resource use, and the impacts of human settlements in terms of land development and resource use.

In 1992, Agenda 21 at the Rio summit called all countries to begin sustainable development in earnest by implementing actions by 2005, with a goal of reversing negative environmental trends by 2015. However, by 2002 at the Johannesburg summit, only a handful of nations had developed any strategies. And in 2012, at the Rio+20 summit, many nations reaffirmed their commitment to the 1992 Agenda 21. But it is unclear if any strategies have been implemented since.

Main challenges to global sustainability include cost. The cost of implementing some sustainable strategies can be expensive. For example, completely transitioning a nation's electricity production from fossil fuels to renewable sources would be a costly sustainable initiative depending on the strategy, because it would most likely require installation of renewable energy infrastructure, new transmission infrastructure, and significant investments of labor and time at various political levels.

Even though sustainability is a global issue, that does not guarantee that every nation is interested in engaging in sustainable development at the same scale, or even at all. Each nation develops and evolves differently, which means that the way they practice resource harvesting and manage growth will vary. For example, Australia and China might emphasize different policy strategies in relation to agriculture.

Australia might enforce different policies on sustainable agriculture than China because its economy is less focused on agriculture. Currently, the biggest economic driver for Australia is the service industry, while China is the world's largest agricultural producer. Industries may resist sustainable development in a country because it might not be an economic benefit to that particular sector or company. For example, the coal industry would not be interested in sustainable development because it would largely mean an entire end to their industry.

A complex environmental issue that involves every nation on the planet is climate change. It is and will continue to impact every corner of the planet, which means it is an environmental issue that every nation will have to deal with. Not only is it in an international issue, but it is a highly interdisciplinary one as well.

It involves climate scientists and meteorologists to understand the effects it could potentially have. It involves sociologists and psychologists to understand the cultural impacts and strategies needed to shift behaviors contributing to climate change and chemists to understand the chemical processes creating the intensified greenhouse effect. In order to address this issue, it will take policymakers, private industry, economists, nonprofit organizations, and general public pressure and action.

Now let's have a recap. We talked about sustainability, challenges to sustainability, and international involvement in sustainability. Don't forget, sustainability is our key term for today, which is a movement with the goal of establishing interactions with the environment that can continue indefinitely. Well, that's all for this tutorial. I look forward to next time. Bye.

Terms to Know

A movement with a goal of establishing interactions with the environment that can continue indefinitely