Sustainable Society : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

OK, this is a question for anyone out there who is reading this.

How sustainable is your town/city/state?

Are you subject to pollution of all sorts? Is there gridlock on the streets every morning/afternoon? Are you watching commercial TV for 3hrs or more each tnight? Do you know your neighbours? Do you know more plant names than brand names? Do you eat food that is full of more chemicals than natural organic constituents? Are you more worried about job security than environment?

Chances are you are living in an UNSUSTAINABLE SOCIETY. Yes thats right. If all electronics fail then you must find foo, keep your house warm & live.

If you are still thinking that - I must buy CANNED food, head for the hills & wait - then you probably wont last long out there & will come back to the City. The City is concrete.

Each one of us has contributed to Y2K by not - planting trees, starting community gardens, planting non-lawn species, bought rainforest timber cause "it looks better than recycled" & kept slaving away at a system that doesn't care about community.

DING DONG! The writing is now on the wall.

"WHAT DO I DO" - try & save forests from being clearfelled; learn about growing food in the back yard that is non-hybrid; form co-ops; buy a bicycle or recumbant; & teach others to be sustainable.

Or will you look like one of those 'ratbag greenie hippies'. Yes, they will be living off the land quiet adequately using bio-dynamics, learning deep ecology & replanting forest land; digging compost toilets; grey-water systems; community village democracy etc. All those who do head for the hills will be opened into love & nature-building/co-existance.

What about you? THIS IS MY QUESTION

-- Eric Vigo (, September 14, 1998



I hope you realize that, in order for a society to be sustainable in the way that you envision, the current population of the Earth would have to be reduced drastically. If everyone headed for the hills to live the way you describe, then there would be no hills left.

-- Buddy Y. (, September 14, 1998.


Could you please provide an example of a SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY of more than a FEW DOZEN human beings that has actually existed on this Earth?

-- ParkTwain (, September 14, 1998.

Problem: Too many people to make a sustainable society? Solution: Y2K. It will be the ultimate in downsizing, especially people who are trapped in the urban environments. It is doubtful, however, that people escaping after the Y2K meltdown hits are going to find much in the way of love etc. from those who are already in the hills....

-- Joe (, September 14, 1998.


Please get real!

-- ParkTwain (, September 14, 1998.

Y2K = the ultimate downsizing. Joe, thats a great T-shirt! Don't worry about copywright, it will never get processed in time.

-- Bill (, September 14, 1998.


I think you are confusing sustainability with complexity. The fact that our industrialized society exists proves that it is sustainable. Much less complex civilizations have disappeared because they overtaxed their resources. So greater complexity does not have to equate to decreased sustainability. This society/civilization is about specialization. One person cannot know about everything in such a complex system. Farmers know about growing food, engineers know how to design and build things. Engineers make farmers more productive, farmers feed engineers.

Y2K is a great challenge, just as desertification is a great challenge in many parts of the world.

THIS IS MY QUESTION (to you) Why not become a hunter/gatherer and do no farming or building? Wouldn't you then be truly "opened into love & nature-building/co-existence?"

I am partly a product of hybrid crops, food preservatives, motorized transportation, and the rest of the innovations man has brought to the world. (My parents lived a couple of hundred miles apart. Without automobiles, they would not have met, and I would not exist.)

I intend to do my part to keep this society alive EVEN WITH ALL IT'S FLAWS. I also intend to do everything in my power to protect and ensure the survival of my family and friends. The society I will help to sustain is just very complex.

-- Mike (, September 14, 1998.

Sustainable means you can keep running the same system indefinitely.

Can't do that with fossil fuels. Petroleum will begin to run out before long. Coal will last longer, but not forever. The aquifers we are pumping water from, that took thousands of years to fill up, are running low. Fishing catches are declining; salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest are only 5-10% of what they were 50 years ago. If population growth were to continue at the present rate, the world's population would double in the next 40 years.

See this for further information.

-- Max Dixon (, September 14, 1998.


With all due respect, our modern industrial society is less than 200 years old. This is the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things

Our computerized society is much younger than that, for the sake of argument let us say 30 years. This is a generous estimate, considering the ever-increasing rate at which we have allowed the computer to become the workhorse of the booming new information economy. IMHO that still classifies as experimental status, unproven in the long haul. Yes it is impressive when it all works, but we are still discovering how it works, and how to keep it working.

Hunter-gatherers have put in many more years as sustainable societies, than we have sustained our modern world. It is no contest. Thousands of years, vs. hundreds of years or even a few decades depending on how you define modern. Also the agrarian societies have much more time under their belt as compared to ours. Again it is no contest. Do not out of hand reject the possibility that the new wonderful way of living can prove to be unsustainable in the near future. The American Indians (oops, I mean Native Americans) believed that Man does not own the earth, the earth owns him and there is a great deal to be said for that point of view. Neither does technology own the earth, even though it does hold the power to destroy it.

To everything there is a season. Happiness, abundance, peace, prosperity, sun, warmth, light, etc all have an opposite. All things in this big old world operate in cycles, it is impossible to ignore. Birth, life, death. Sunrise, sunset. Civilizations rise, prosper, and fall. Species also rise, flourish, and then fade. Look past your generation, and see what has been. Y2K is a symptom, not the whole problem, and as you state our society is very complex. Yes I agree, it more complicated than anything ever seen before in the history of the world.

Do you see any possibility that it is this very complexity which makes it so vulnerable?

-- Uncle Deedah (, September 14, 1998.

Hey Eric - actually there ARE people working to create more sustainable cities, and they are all over the world. While not a "ratbag greenie hippie" by any means, I too have been working in my own little backyard to re-learn how to grow some good, real food. It's much easier than we think. Learning to heat with some alternative sources and reducing our dependency on the power grids. Working to help my community become better prepared and able to work together to produce what we need. Not just for Y2K, but because this whole thing has highlighted for me that we CAN'T sustain a quality of life with our present consumptive habits unchecked.

There is a great site out there called that can give anyone 20 YEARS of details about work being done all over the globe to reclaim cities desecrated by "urban sprawl" or whatever the P.C. term is, and give people a measure of security in at least the basic necessities of life.

Yes, my talented friends, our society is very complex. But there ARE measures we can take, if that is our choice, to simplify our lives, before, during and after Y2K disrupts our lives, and reduce our dependency on a system so complex that people may well DIE if the infrastructure is disrupted long enough. By all means, let's do whatever we can to support and "save" what we have. But let's teach our neighbors, and ourselves - if that is our choice - how to be less vulnerable. Self sufficiency is not an all-or-nothing thing. There are degrees, and there IS support out there for those who may want to learn what their options are.

Sorry to get on my soap box. Please don't rip my head off! :-)


-- Melissa from Iowa (, September 14, 1998.


There is only love and peace here for honest opinion.

-- Uncle Deedah (, September 15, 1998.

Sustainability hasn't meant much to me one way or another, until y2k came along and jolted me. However, even without y2k, I believe our society would soon be in for a shock. On one of the food storage sites, I read today that food supplies have been dwindling in recent years, and the world population of people continues to grow. An article in Time (about the problems if a severe storm cycle is starting, which some meteorologists say is likely), pointed out that there are as many people in 2 Florida counties today as lived along the entire coast from Texas to Virginia in 1945. ( I'm quoting from memory, forgive me if the date's not right - I remember thinking that it was only one generation). One doesn't hear much about the population explosion any more, yesterday's news, I guess. And we don't hear much about y2k because it's tomorrow's?

-- Tricia (, September 15, 1998.

Tricia, The world is not overpopulated. The reason people are starving is because of politics. People may starve in the future because of y2k and a lack of distribution channels. For a good article on world population problems go to:

-- none (, September 15, 1998.

To None re: the world is not overpopulated

Just because you could cram all the humans into Dallas County doesn't mean they could live there! It takes many 'phantom' acres possibly even miles) per person to provide the necessary watershed, oxygen and food supply, and pollution sinks for all those people. The way to measure sustainability is to look at the underlying ecosystem. At the end of the year is the soil as deep, as diverse in its micro-organisms, and as rich in its nutrients? Not in any coporate farm I know, - not even in most small family farms.

At the end of year, are the rivers as clean as they were the year before? Are our sewer systems putting out no more wastes than they were the year before? (Not in Atlanta - the EPA fines us every day) To point to the few successes like Lake eerie misses the point of a lot of other problems that are widespread. (Soil erosion, desertification, river silting, aquafer depletion, loss of diversity etc....)

A lot of people think that worrying about a 'snail darter' is foolish. But silly little fish like an endagered snail darter often aren't the point. They are simply a tool used to protect the ecosystem that supports the snail- darter, us, and thousands of other species in the same area.

In the end, it doesn't matter which of us thinks they are right about the overpopulation issue. The Earth will regulate our numbers the same way it regulates all living organisms (and it won't be pretty). No living organism has the ability to regulate it self (an organism that tried this would be out-numbered by more agressive competitors). (Hell, we can't even get some folks in america to brush their teeth, how are we going to get people in 'fill-in-the-blank-country' to wear condoms????) Just because some wealthy people in some countries are limiting their number doesn't mean that the overall population isn't still growing at unstainable levels.

Rant, rant, rant... You'd think I had nothing better to do!

-- Carolyn Hoagland (, September 15, 1998.

Perhaps I didn't get my idea across too well. I have nothing against a less complicated lifestyle, nor do I believe we should squander resources. I just got the impression that you think that LESS COMPLEX = MORE SUSTAINABLE. I don't see it that way. My point is that becoming a hunter/gatherer is less complex, so do you see that as a better option? Or, in other words: How much technology is too much technology? You seem to arbitrarily draw the line in each area - food, transportation, waste disposal. How can you be sure you've drawn the line in the right place? Have you found the ultimate point of maximum sustainability?

Let me give an example of complexity vs. sustainability: Say we have a small community based on agriculture. This community relies on a natural spring for irrigation. If they forsee the possibility that the spring may run dry, then they might divert water from a local stream as insurance. Now they have redundant systems. This is a more complex arrangement, but it increases their sustainability. It also means that they have two systems to maintain instead of one, which will require that they divide their attention.

Uncle: I see our society as sustainable, simply because it is here. There has been a progression in technology since the first tool was used. To me, the history of the earliest humans is our history, and our society is not separate from theirs, but a product of it. You mentioned the term "vulnerable." I tend to agree that our "modern" system is vulnerable, but mainly because there are so many bases to cover. (I remember all of those aborted Space Shuttle missions - so many systems to keep running at one time.) The real key to sustainability is redundancy and contingency planning. (We don't have the luxury of postponing the mission.) We cannot afford to lose our concentration - my fear is that we have.

We've put many of our eggs in the digital basket. The great unknown here is: Which systems will fail? We are like the community I described above. Some people are saying that the spring will not run dry, others are saying the gods will send rain. Some are saying we should pull up stakes and find a new place to live. Some are saying we can dig the irrigation canals fast enough to save ourselves from disaster - others say we can't...

If TSHTF it will be because we (as a society) didn't pay enough attention to redundancy and contingency planning. (We didn't divert that stream water.) Those of us who are preparing for tough times are paying attention. I'm also doing whatever I can to make my employer Y2K compliant. (I'm digging those irrigation ditches at the last minute.) My company may make it, but I'm not sure. If we don't, it will be because of the short-sightedness of those who hold the purse strings. They've known for over a year that our main system is not compliant, but they think there is still time. They plan on purchasing a new one. It's getting very late, but I'm not going to bail out yet. (Unless I find a better opportunity.) We were just bought out, and the new managers will have to get on the stick. It's a small company, so replacing the computer system might still work.

But back to the topic: I see this Y2K problem as a reality check for me. I haven't paid enough attention to redundancy and contingency planning in my own life. I tend to forget what's really important - my family, friends, community. So even "if" Y2K is just a bump in the road, I have already gained alot from it.

-- Mike (, September 15, 1998.

Mike- What a delightful - and very insightful response. Good definition of sustainability, too. Thank you!

-- Melissa (, September 15, 1998.


" I tend to agree that our "modern" system is vulnerable, but mainly because there are so many bases to cover. (I remember all of those aborted Space Shuttle missions - so many systems to keep running at one time.) The real key to sustainability is redundancy and contingency planning"

I guess you also remember the "Challenger"? Would you be so kind as to point out the redundancies, where are the contingency plans? Are they being done to the point needed? Please point some out, as I am not seeing enough 'hard' good news, and fear that I am developing a terminal case of the "gloomy grouchies".

BTW, nicely worded post even though I don't agree with all of it, Y2K has shown me what the "really important" things in life are too.

-- Uncle Deedah (, September 16, 1998.

Uncle: I'm not sure if you have read any of my posts on other topics, but I have read and enjoyed yours. From this I know that neither one of us has full confidence in the redundancy and contingency planning done "for us" so far. We're both doing our own contingency planning. We cannot know what will happen, but I will do what I can to keep this society intact. The alternative is much more frightening - a couple of hundred million people in North America chopping down every last tree for fuel, (with no organized reforestation effort) burying waste, or dumping it in the water, fighting over food and land, etc., etc.

BTW - Wasn't the Challenger launched in despite warnings not to operate the engines under such low temperatures on the pad? As I recall, that was given as the reason the seals failed on the boosters. Someone ignored all the warnings, and that was a tragedy. Thanks to people Ed Yourdon, yourself, and other posters on forums like this, some of us will get the message about Y2K, and not ignore it.

-- Mike (, September 16, 1998.

Mike is right

<<<< Wasn't the Challenger launched despite warnings not to operate the engines under such low temperatures on the pad? As I recall, that was given as the reason the seals failed on the boosters. Someone ignored all the warnings, and that was a tragedy. >>>>

There is more than a tradgedy here. It has got to be one of the great cover ups of all time, according to a report on CBC radio after the event. The saftey officer in charge of the O rings refused to OK the launch 'cause the saftey manual said the rings would fail below a certain temperature. He became the fall guy and in his defense initiated the largest (at the time) class action suit in US history. $2 billion I believe.

In the 24 hours leading up to launch there where four phone calls made to NASA from the White House asking "..when will the Shuttle go up?..". Remember that there was a civilian woman teacher aboard with immense PR potential and (please help me out here my memory is foggy) there was also a timely policital need for a female grassroots heroine. I must also add my deepest sympathies to the family of that woman.

Can you trust 'em to tell us the truth about Y2K with this kind of track record? Even CBC did not follow up on the story and I still have questions. What ever happened to the law suit?

Rick, from =Rick's Internet Cafe'=

-- Carl Chaplin (, September 16, 1998.

I am reminded by this that there were many hundred species of large (i.e. game) animals on the North American continent that became extinct "soon" after the first Americans crossed the land bridge from Siberia. Funny, the humans didn't become extinct.

Also, the "sustainable" society requires theat either billions of people (not unfeeling statistics, but real mothers, fathers, and childer) never get the better food, clothing and shelter made possible by 'civilization" and technology. Either they stay in poverty and ill health, denied arbitraily by you the ability to improve, or they ????

Stalin and Mao murdered millions to try to force collectivesim and socialism on te "masses". Who would be murdered by ill-health, poverty, diease, and the environment (poor cleanliness and nutrients) if the world were "forced " to follow this precept. Who would get to decide which group is selected? Would you volunteer to live on the dikes of Bangldesh before the next hurricane?

Nope, there is no panecea, no easy answer or "shoulda done".

The world is not a zero sum game, and improvement is possible if all treat themselves, their children, and their responsibilities correctly and morally.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (, September 17, 1998.

Sigh. The problem we run into in discussing 'sustainable society' is simply the problem of definition. When you define 'sustainable' you answer the question. Most of us feel that any answer that puts off the 'end of sustainability' past 50 years or so is good enough. If you want some guarentee of perpetual and eternal 'sustainable' society, I don't think there is such a thing. Moreover, the back to the hills movement always overlooks how dependant they are on others for the things they need to survive - such as - when did you start mining bog iron and make your own shovels? How about rifle barrel steel? Do you make black powder and caps? I know you can't make white powder (guncotton) without high quality chemicals and such which aren't available without a HUGE investment in infrastructure. Just because you know how to farm and raise most of your own food does not make you independant of the rest of society, and does not make your lifestyle that much more 'sustainable' than anyone elses. This is why I am not buying a farm (and I was raised a farmer and probably know more about practical agriculture than most others on this discussion) and bugging out before 1/1/00. The farmer is just as dependant on the rest of society as someone living in the city. He may last longer, due to insulation from riots and the ability to cut his own firewood, but a general breakdown of society will soon reduce him to subsistence level living. (BTW, before someone claims I was a 'factory' farmer who knows nothing about the 'old ways' of farming - I was raised on a KY hill farm in Western Kentucky, have herded cattle, sheep, and pigs, raised tobacco, corn, and soybeans, have helped 'pull' calves, raised huge gardens (up to 5 acres) canned all sorts of food, helped slaughter animals, ground sausage, smoked meat, and even gave a neighbor some advice on how to set up a still! So don't try to claim the only thing I know is how to sit on a giant thresher and watch the field crawl by. Frankly, this lifestyle will work your butt off!)

-- Paul Davis (, September 17, 1998.

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