Is London Sustainable?

Since 2002 a Commission for Sustainable Development (LSDC)  has been working on this question and Mayor Sadiq Kahn has just revamped it to:

“focus on promoting good economic growth, improving the quality of life for all Londoners while respecting the environment and promoting social cohesion and inclusion. The commission will strive to ensure sustainability is at the core of policies and strategies impacting on London, and will help make sustainability a meaningful concept for Londoners”.

The concept of ‘good economic  growth’ could relate to features of the circular economy such as renewable energy and ways of lowering demand for consumer goods and carbon-producing emissions, for example. Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut economy’ takes an agnostic stance on the notion of growth for the very reason that one needs investment in sustainable processes while downsizing the most profligate activities that threaten long-term survival.

Development is usually equated with expansion, as opposed to the maintenance of equilibrium which is clearly the only way that a sustainable future for cities. nations and the human population as a whole can be assured. One would hope that this perspective is part of the intention of the LSDC’s attempt to ‘make sustainability a meaningful concept’.

Demographic deafness

In 1970 when I was a teacher and professional tutor at Knox Grammar School, an elite private academy for well-heeled secondary-sage pupils in Sydney, Australia, I was involved in PYE – Protect Your Environment (Australia) Schools’ Branch. Apart from organising a ‘teach-in’ for ten schools held at Knox, a highlight of my contribution to PYE almost half a century ago was an appearance on ABC TV of some of my concerned pupils with Paul Ehrlich, author of “The Population Bomb”, a best-seller at the time that was predicting social breakdown due to demographic pressures from an expanding human population that was pressing upon limits of resources, especially food supplies.

This MAHB blog today “A call to arms” is from Stanford University where nonagenarian Ehrlich is still actively trying to spread his dire demographic warning, postponed by the Green Revolution and the rise of industrial, chemically based agriculture that has allowed the human population to almost triple since he wrote his scary blockbuster.  Ehrlich’s call is still going unheeded despite the slowing down of population growth to just above 1% per annum, a doubling rate of less than 70 years and the new concerns about human impact on the planet and other species in the natural world. The blog points out the failure of the UN to give a high priority to broadcasting the consequences of ‘the infestation of Gaia’ by our fecund technologically-sustained species. Sadly, those in the demographic research community, like Ehrlich (and case4all,org), who do point to the imminent consequences of overshooting planetary boundaries are still met with deafness to news that few wish to hear.

The UN is today addressing the problems of pollution as this BBC report outlines. But the underlying  formula I = P x A x T proposed by Ehrlich (Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology) reminds us that it is increasing numbers of people (228000 extra per day) that produced the dead weight of indestructible plastics now beginning to dominate the oceans to the detriment of wildlife.

Small families; Small planet – this short video tries to overcome the taboo on discussing demographics and shows alarming projections of population growth and impact.