I am reading a thought-provoking book: The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. As most books, it is one view, a seemingly narrow view or opinion, where other’s views are often referred to as “capital errors” and “mistaken”, but it is good to contemplate the ideas he presents of our entitlement or maximum potential as people, which is vast. (David argues that unless the laws of physics prevent it, there are few limits on human progress…. why couldn’t we, one day, stop a star from exploding, or create new stars, etc…)
In one passage, he addresses the “spaceship Earth” metaphor…
So says the metaphor: “Just as the spaceship’s life-support system is designed to sustain its passengers, so the biosphere has the ‘appearance of design’: it seems highly adapted to sustaining us (claims the metaphor) because we were adapted to it by evolution. But its capacity is finite: if we overload it, either by our sheer numbers or by adopting lifestyles too different from those that we evolved to live (the ones that it was ‘designed’ to support) it will break down.”
As hinted in “claims the metaphor”, David seems to believe the metaphor is mistaken and not useful.
“To the extent that we are on a ‘spaceship’, we have never been merely its passengers, nor (as it often said) its stewards, nor even its maintenance crew: we are its designers and builders. Before the designs created by humans, it was not a vehicle, but only a heep of dangerous raw materials.”
In another passage:
“The Earth’s biosphere is incapable of supporting human life.” [ indefinitely, without tending from humans.]
However, I still like the spaceship earth model. Regardless of your opinions about weather we have been given gifts, or not given gifts in the biosphere, or weather the biosphere is, or is not inherently capable of supporting human life., I think it is still useful. The fact of the mater is, out there in space, which is vast, as David Deutsch puts it “our blood would boil” and we would last but a few moments without some protective “technology” or “biosphere”. Even if you subscribe to David’s view, that we built the earth that we know today, the fact is the Earth’s protective shell is thin and possibly fragile… and it is prudent for even the most industrious “builder” and “designer” to take care when playing with that shell that for the time being shelters us, because, in David’s own words: ”problems” and “mistakes are inevitable”. Yes, I also believe that they are all solvable – with the right knowledge – but knowledge takes time to acquire, and if we puncture our protective shell, or destroy our biosphere, or punch a hole in spaceship earth (whether or not you call that spaceship man-made or nature made or a hybrid), we may not have time to find the knowledge… or in the very least not have time to avert suffering for many in a temporarily damaged “spaceship”, even if our species survives.
Sustainability is the knowledge of how to continue to grow, design, and construct our society without prematurely destroying our life support system, whether you believe that life support system is mostly provided by nature, mostly provided by humans, or a hybrid.