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The Macroecology of Sustainability

  • Joseph R. Burger mail,

    jrburger@unm.edu

    Affiliation: Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America

    X
  • Craig D. Allen,

    Affiliation: United States Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center, Jemez Mountains Field Station, Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States of America

    X
  • James H. Brown,

    Affiliations: Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America, Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States of America

    X
  • William R. Burnside,

    Affiliation: Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America

    X
  • Ana D. Davidson,

    Affiliations: Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México Distrito Federal, México

    X
  • Trevor S. Fristoe,

    Affiliation: Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America

    X
  • Marcus J. Hamilton,

    Affiliations: Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America, Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States of America, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America

    X
  • Norman Mercado-Silva,

    Affiliations: Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, United States of America

    X
  • Jeffrey C. Nekola,

    Affiliation: Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America

    X
  • Jordan G. Okie,

    Affiliation: Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America

    Current address: School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, United States of America

    X
  • Wenyun Zuo

    Affiliation: Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America

    X
  • Published: June 19, 2012
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001345

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Macroecology of Sustainability

Posted by Dallas on 30 Jun 2012 at 00:34 GMT

The authors correctly point out that any discussion of "sustainability" without including the macroecology and basic physics and chemistry is really a scientifically meaningless discussion. You can't describe an N dimensional problem with N - X dimensions, without assuming that there is no change in any of the X dimensions, some of which may be unknown.

Now that human knowledge and technological abilities are exponentially growing, the only real limiting resource will be energy. Energy can be converted into any of the "real" commodities people are worrying about. For example, with existing technology we can go from energy (any form) to electricity + H2O + N2 <=> H2 + O2 + NH3 <=> single cell protein <=> fish food <=> live fish (including salmon) using recycled P from sewerage plants. With sufficient energy, you can also go from electricity + H2O <=> H2 + CO2 <=> Liquid hydrocarbons for portable fuel.

The problem of long term sustainability becomes one of energy, without CO2 production on a massive scale. Even if a lot of students and practitioners of "sustainability science" seem to have confused political and emotional "beliefs" with their "science", they will be eventually have to face the reality of nuclear power as the most viable option, with sufficient energy density for the expanding human population energy needs. It also means we are talking about fast reactors that will burn most of the waste material, U238, and Thorium.

No competing interests declared.