Dissipating Gradients: Towards a Surrogate Vision for Sustainability

By Don Lewis and Khosrow Farahbakhsh.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

In spite of approaching what many feel is the brink of destruction, humans have yet to develop agreed upon definitions, measures or policies to secure a sustainable future. This is not surprising, as there is ample evidence suggesting that humans have never consciously experienced sustainability. Our efforts are mired in an unsustainable paradigm: our pre-analytic vision, which includes an unwavering commitment to growth and a growing complexity. Calls from politicians, NGOs and academics to “Save the Planet” coincide with celebrations of the end of the recession, and dreams of a quick return to double-digit economic growth. We propose that our present paradigm has granted us an exemption from fundamental laws of nature... until now. As the crisis deepens, and with no point of reference, we seem unable to do much more than identify how we should not behave, while failing to build a vision of how we should. One way forward may be to develop a “surrogate pre-analytic vision”, one that is not based on any direct human experience of sustainability but on the only sustainable living systems we know. The laws of thermodynamics, developed in the 1800’s, have been used for years to analyze engineered systems. We have more recently come to realize that the laws of thermodynamics are fundamental to the functioning of natural systems. Many authors have used the second law to point out the unsustainability of our present way of living and, over the last decade and a half, to describe the way ecosystems develop and evolve. It is clear that our present way of living is not sustainable. We propose that understanding the way ecosystems dissipate gradients imposed by the sun, efficiently and in small steps, may help us develop a new vision on which to build a framework for sustainability.

Keywords: Unsustainable Paradigm, Surrogate Pre-Analytic Vision, Second Law of Thermodynamics, Ecosystem Response, New Sustainable Paradigm

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.27-44. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.177MB).

Don Lewis

MASc. Engineering in progress, School of Engineering, University of Guelph, Founex, Ontario, Canada

Don is currently a Senior Specialist in Sustainability and Water Management at Novus Environmental in Guelph, Canada. His research interests involve developing universal approaches to sustainability and sustainable innovation through applications of the second law of thermodynamics. Previously Don was Director of Business Development at the Ontario Centres of Excellence, a provincial not for profit that invests in industry/university collaborative research. His focus was on developing strategic partnerships and new technologies under a Sustainable Communities Framework. Don has been involved in the water and waste water field for 27 years. After graduating with a degree in aquatic biology from the University of Guelph, he spent 20 years as an environmental consultant for both government and Industry in the United States and Canada. Don was also the inaugural Executive Director to the Canadian Water Network, a Canadian Network of Centres of Excellence for water.

Dr. Khosrow Farahbakhsh

Assistant Professor, School of Engineering, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Farahbakhsh is a professional Environmental Engineer with over 15 years of experience in water and wastewater treatment and air pollution control. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the School of Engineering, University of Guelph. His current research interests include integrated water resources management, water reuse, water safety in First Nations communities, biological hydrogen production from wastewater, rainwater harvesting, microbial fuel cells and resource recovery from wastewater. Dr. Farahbakhsh has extensive experience in the design of water and wastewater treatment facilities, facility audit and review. Currently, Dr. Farahbakhsh conducts research in the area of integrated water resources management, which includes water reuse, rainwater harvesting, sustainable wastewater treatment technologies and energy production from wastewater. He is also involved in the exploration of ways to engage stakeholders and end users in the process of solution development and implementation for sustainable water management. Dr. Farahbakhsh has authored or co-authored over 30 publications in the environmental engineering field.