Is Sustainability Sustainable?

Naveen Jain, founder of Moon Express and Viome, raises a profound question: Is sustainability sustainable?

In his article, Naveen discusses scarcity and the instabilities it brings. He states that:

Scarcity is an extraordinarily powerful double-edged force that not only gives rise to wars, but is also a source of tremendous profits. Scarcity is big business, and the tools of economics perpetuate it. Well-meaning programs of conservation and sustainability will only ensure scarcity’s continued dominance in the world; in the end, sustainability reinforces the value of scarce commodities.

I find this assessment very linear and wonder if the world’s progression is such. It seems to me that we can (and are) founding new sustainable industries, and perhaps the ingenuity of mankind will rise up once more.

McKinsey seems to think so. When asked, “Will shortages of energy, materials, food, and water put the brakes on global growth?” the authors of the book Resource Revolution argue:

Far from it. By combining information technology with industrial technology, as well as through harnessing materials science and biotechnology, innovators are showing that it is possible to produce more with less and to access resources at far lower costs.

I tend to agree with Stefan Heck and Matt Rogers, coauthors of the book. Maybe it’s because I tend to lean into realism with a persuasion to optimism, or because I have a family, or because I really don’t want to see the end of this beautiful world in my lifetime. Maybe it’s because I’ve met so many people who can do and have done amazing things to improve this world. Whatever the reason may be, technology is at a fundamental break-out point, and that has to help, right?!

Computational power, storage, AI, etc. is here and will begin to crush these very analytic problems. We, as humans, do not have the capability or capacity to truly estimate the variables of these very complex problems (not that we should not try), but machines do. And, guess what: supercomputers are here. Like 200+ petaflops here…. As Heck and Rogers point out, technology is only getting cheaper, more widespread, and it is growing with a domino effect. Technology helps us solve this issue of scarcity.

Reality Changing Observations:

1. What do you see happening to the world’s natural resources in the next 20 years?

2. How do you think about the world’s progression? Is it linear?

3. What is your definition of human ingenuity?

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