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Quantifying sustainable lifestyles is our next task

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Martin Pawley's column claims to have the last word in the sustainability debate (AJ 20.07.00). I think not.

He touches on some vital points which now need developing, not shelving. What is sustainability?

What is sustainable development?

What is a sustainable lifestyle?

We in the industrialised world have spent the past two centuries pumping out carbon dioxide and enjoyed a high quality of life as a result. We have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by about a third and we have no idea of the full consequences of this. Will our weather become milder, more severe or completely unpredictable? Only in the past decade have we begun to notice the beginnings of the predicted climate change. It is probable that major climate change is now inevitable and that there is nothing that we can do in the short term to stop or even moderate it. And we are continuing to exacerbate the problem. The US, the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide, is continuing to increase its emissions, despite the Kyoto Agreement, and it is likely that the developing world (China, India and Russia) will do likewise. Things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Pawley is correct in his assertion that if we (humanity) are to be sustainable, thus sustaining our current societies or even improving them, then 'action on all fronts' is necessary, and I suspect that this means much more than a little bit of extra insulation around the house and using the bus once a month. It probably requires a drastic change, if not reduction, in the quality of life for many people in the industrialised world.

But what action is actually required? What is a sustainable lifestyle? Can it be quantified, for example, in amounts of available energy per head or per household?

I assume that there is a reasonably predictable amount of energy available to us for the foreseeable future, say over the next generation, although relatively little of this energy is likely to be renewable. Then what should the UK's sh a re o f t h i s energy be? How does this compare with our current levels of consumption? What kind of lifestyle would it sustain?

I would be interested to see the responses to these questions and to see a more practical definition of sustainability.

Michael Moutrie, Stony Stratford

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