Designing for Nature and Sustainability
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Humankind is now using natural resources more rapidly than natural systems can replace them and has been doing so for approximately two and one half decades. Moreover, both natural capital and the ecosystem services it provides are being diminished at an unprecedented rate. Finally, the human population is expected to increase by 3 billion by 2050. This situation is clearly unsustainable, but it can be made less so by redesigning societal wastes so that they benefit the biospheric life-support system. Nature initiates and maintains a system of energy and nutrient cycling and, if the system integrity is maintained, provides alternative and redundant means that help stabilize functional capacity. The system is composed of opportunistic individuals that compete with other individuals to acquire the resources essential to their survival. The interrelationships within this aggregation of individuals (i.e., system components) are based on energy flow. This self-organizing and self-maintaining system is increasingly stressed by human activities. Humans are a part of, not apart from, this system and are governed by the same laws of nature. In short, an ecologically based economic system is essential to sustainable use of the planet. The planet s life-support system has been a superb model of sustainability, which humans should emulate and become a part of more than they now are. When the biospheric life-support system is stressed to the point of disequilibrium, the results are disastrous for societies, individuals, and ecosystems. Evolutionary processes have produced replacement systems following the five great biological extinctions. However, the probability is high that the next replacement system will not be as suitable for humankind as the present system. Sustainable practices are intended to prevent biospheric disequilibrium and maintain the present environmental conditions so favorable to humankind, including posterity.