in Design

Ecology Technology

A long time ago, Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan defined sustainability both technologically and ecologically.  They pointed to the hubris embedded in the technological approach to the goal of sustainability. Technology has proven to be deadly unless it is fully tethered to David W. Orr’s recommendations that demand precise attention to ecological principles’ absolute priority.

  • First, people are finite and fallible. The human ability to comprehend and manage scale and complexity has limits. Thinking too big can make our human limitations a liability rather than an asset.
  • Second, a sustainable world can be redesigned and rebuilt only from the bottom up. Locally self-reliant and self-organized communities are the building blocks for change.
  • Third, traditional knowledge that coevolves out of culture and place is a critical asset. It needs to be preserved, restored, and used.
  • Fourth, the true harvest of evolution is encoded in nature’s design. Nature is more than a bank of resources to draw on: it is the best model we have for all the design problems we face.

Technology is zero-sum in a priority higher than these four principles of change. The world’s urban design organizations are looking for critiques such as Sustainable Agenda by John Dernbachx (et al.) and their position: Sustainable development will make the US livable, healthy, secure, and prosperous.

The original book runs through 28 areas of human behavior that need to change using 100 actions taken within five to ten years and thematically summarized in 10 points as follows:

  1. Ecological footprint system integration
  2. Greenhouse gas reduction programs
  3. Stimulate employment for unskilled persons in environmental protection and restoration
  4. Stimulate NGOs to play a major role
  5. Organize government initiatives using sustainability principles to prioritize
  6. Expand options for sustainable living choices to consumers
  7. Increase general public and formal education
  8. Strengthen environmental and natural resources law
  9. Lead international efforts on behalf of sustainable development
  10. Systematically improve access to data for decision making

It was released on January 12, 2009. One may find it in a library. One hint here: technology is always about the “more information” market, and as of 2021, ten years later — I only see modest improvements. The website site Sustainable America converted slowly into John Dernbach’s website and book publishing efforts to establish an agenda. The agenda has stepped way back into accepting “gas” as a vital rung on the steps up to sustainability. It is increasingly pessimistic, as Dernbach’s 2002 book: Stumbling Towards Sustainability originally predicted.

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