The ant, the grasshopper or schrödinger's cat: An exploration of concepts of sustainability

John Grinde, Anshuman Khare

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Living within the limits imposed by a finite earth may be the predominant challenge of the 21st century; however there is no agreement on what this means economically or politically. Continually increasing population and per capita consumption within a finite environment is a biologic impossibility. Today many of nature's resources are being harvested at rates where growth is uneconomic and damaging to future production. This paper explores linkages between economics, society and nature as complex adaptive systems in a world of uncertainty. To understand that these self organising systems exist in equilibrium, dependent on feedback loops, is to understand that as humanity destroys system equilibrium we push the entire system to the edge of criticality and perhaps chaos. Consequences of criticality and chaos theory are now thought to follow power laws; wherein the size of any single system disruption is impossible to predict, especially when inter-relationships with other systems are not understood. Understanding the biosphere from a holistic perspective is critical when considering priorities and making wise choices. Thoughts of some environmental thinkers are reviewed for a perspective on the meaning of true sustainability, where it may lead and how we must redesign human systems to adapt to a sustainable world. The authors believe holism exists; that similarities with other fields of study exist in the environmental issues of today; and, that ideas and solutions may be also found in unexpected places. Although no recommendations are made it is hoped that interest is stimulated in answering the question when are we going to act collectively to address some of the present day myriad issues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-141
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Cradle to cradle
  • Ecology of commerce
  • Economic feedback loops
  • Holistic management
  • Sustainability
  • Systems thinking
  • The natural step
  • Wealth indicators


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