The Sustainable Future of Spaceship Earth

will life beyond fossil fuels look like, and how do we prepare for it? These
are the questions that the leaders of our institutions must have in mind when planning
for sustainability and carbon neutrality. To support a sustainable and resilient
way of life, human communities must operate within natural limits of consumption and growth. Environmentalists
speculate that politics will increasingly come to reflect local geography. Culture will come to prefer the smaller to the larger; food and energy production
will become increasingly localized. Economic diversity will increase, waste will be eliminated, and the products of industry will come to enhance rather than degrade the health of natural systems.

One does not live a sustainable lifestyle by purchasing a Prius rather
than an SUV or by sorting trash from recycling, but rather by promoting alternative
transportation and reducing contributions to the waste stream. This is what
environmentalists call shrinking one’s carbon, or ecological, footprint. Now
let’s take this one step further, and introduce the idea of systems. Imagine
power plants that not only provide fuel but actually purify our air and water, or farmland that
provides habitat for wild species and thus increases biodiversity. This approach to
sustainable development is holistic—it identifies human activities as
existing within, and contributing to, the well-being of larger ecological

Algae is one energy source that could support
this type of holistic development. Algae can be farmed relatively easily. It
can be grown using recycled, waste, ocean, or brackish waters, thriving in
environments unsuitable for traditional farming such as deserts and oceans. It can even be grown indoors. It can be used to produces a range of biofuels as well as health care products
and food, and its byproducts can be repurposed into organic fertilizer. And
unlike most other fuel sources, including most renewable energies, algae growth
slows anthropogenic climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide from the

most other producers, algae obtains energy by synthesizing
carbon dioxide and sunlight into basic sugars. With just these
simple, boundless ingredients, these organisms can produce all the energy they
need to perform their biological functions, and in doing so, they
regulate Earth’s atmosphere by replacing carbon dioxide with oxygen.
In the context of our growing demand for alternatives to fossil fuels, we should
revisit these kinds of simple and often underrated natural processes.

the 5Cs, talk about sustainability is cheap. Real change will
require us to put our money where our mouths are and invest in methods of
producing our own energy on campus. Here in sunny California, there is no reason we should not be adapting our buildings and infrastructure to rely on renewable sources of energy such as biomass, solar, wind, and tidal.

home and abroad, the world watches and learns from what institutions of higher
learning are or are not doing. Global trends in energy production and consumption
are moving away from a reliance on fossil fuels. As students, we have the responsibility
to challenge our institutions and ourselves to step up to the task of
re-imagining energy use and developing frameworks for sustainable
development. A first step to increase energy efficiency on campus would be
installing meters on buildings that detail patterns of energy consumption.
Metering would give us data that we could use to set realistic goals for
ourselves. It would encourage energy conservation and increase overall awareness about
energy consumption.

There is no perfect energy source that will allow us to go about business as usual. The new energy paradigm will require an
ecologically rooted set of limitations to human consumption and growth. Without
the immense concentrations of solar energy locked inside fossil fuels, we will
no longer be able to consume resources as if we lived on multiple planet
Earths. Since current patterns of consumption in the developed world exceed the
capacity of natural systems—in other words, are not sustainable—our
discourse around sustainable development must begin with the adoption of a
different set of cultural values and norms.

We humans are relative newcomers to the
plus or minus 5 billion-year-old saga called evolution, and so we must tap
into the existing pool of knowledge possessed by the immense diversity of
living things with whom we share this Spaceship Earth.  How does nature already satisfy
energy demands, and how do those processes work in conjunction with other
systems? To understand the answers to these questions is to
develop ecological consciousness.
This is how we should approach the notion of sustainability. Instead of
focusing on fueling unfettered economic growth and human expansion, let’s start
by learning to adapt and co-evolve in harmony with Earth’s systems.

Adin BenPorat PZ ’16 is an environmental analysis major with a focus on sustainability in the built environment.

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