Why sustainability is not a viable long-term solution to our resource problems and why tech must be

Sustainable practices try to decrease resource use so that current resources last longer.

Resource use (total consumption) is the product of the number of resource users (consumers) and the average resource usage rate (consumption rate).

Decreasing resource use requires either or both decreasing the number of consumers and/or decreasing the average consumption rate.

Decreasing the number of consumers is difficult and ineffective:

We can decrease the number of consumers through social development and planning
Policies such as
•Female empowerment
•Family planning
reduce birth rates in developing societies ( largest source of user increase), reducing the consumer growth rate
•Such policies are difficult to and take decades to implement and generations to have a significant impact
•Result in faster economic growth, increasing the consumption rate of wealth-limited consumers, offsetting the effect of a relative decrease in the number of consumers

Decreasing the average consumption rate is difficult and ineffective:

Decreasing the average consumption rate can be achieved by two means:
•Decreasing consumption ability through taxation or other policies
◦Is resisted since it is a net cost to those being taxed
◦Negative impact on quality of life if targeting wealth-limited consumers
◦Negative effectiveness if it transfers wealth to wealth-limited consumers
•Efficiency increase
◦Reduces resource consumption rate by eliminating inefficiencies (Smart Power Grids, Public Transit, Home Insulation) or reusing (Recycling, Renewables)
◦Good since it decreases average consumption rate without being a net cost to those being taxed (not resisted, easy to implement)
◦Greater efficiency is increasingly more difficult and costly to implement
◦Is insufficient in scale to reverse the growth of total consumption

The solution:
Efficiency is the only viable short-term solution, but because of its limitations, it is not a long-term solution. Decreasing consumer growth-rate is necessary in the long-run, but a long-term solution must also grow the pie by providing new resources through technology – Renewables/Fusion for energy, and the adaptation of more common resources to substitute for peak minerals.


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