There are five factors that contribute to sustainable projects. They can all be defined, measured, and controlled. I will list them out in terms of increasing complexity. But never forget they are all absolutely required for sustainable systems:
stability: we need our systems to be stable; if the system state/behavior varies so wildly that it becomes unmanageable, essentially, that's unstable; we have precise notions of stability
reliability: we need our systems to be reliable; if they're unreliable, they don't perform as expected; can our systems repeatedly/continuously satisfy our expectations? That's reliable.
robust: low failure rate and high insensitivity to changing external factors; as above, this can be made explicit and measurable
reduced-risk/distributed-structure: every systems engineer knows intuitively that when you distribute your sources, you reduce your risk of catastrophic system-wide failure; I will formalize that notion in this essay
ES-factor: the environment-social(human)-factor; this factor relates to our human needs within the context of Earth systems ecology; preservation of species/diversity, the need for diversity within the collective genome of the planet, recognition of our position as caretakers of this collective genome, the responsibilities implied with that, and our responsibilities toward ourselves; this is the hardest factor to define and implement
synergy engineering: the experts of positive change recognize 1-5 are simply not sufficient to solve all of our complex real-world modern problems. As I have an argument below relating to negative synergy, this implies we can engineer synergy IFF we raise awareness, think carefully, and collaborate. We may have to repeat that process. In my professional opinion, we frequently will. This process opens the human experience to aspects such as intuition and inspiration which become key elements of synergy.
In this article, I won't attempt to address requirement 5. That may be addressed at a later time.. I will however attempt to define the requirements of 4 and measurability.. As stated, every systems engineer worth her salts knows intuitively: when we distribute our sources within a structure, we reduce the risk of catastrophic failure. Why? ..We consider a centralized structure; imagine a single power plant supplying the electricity for an entire country; no backup; no reserve. It may sound impossible and 'can never happen' but.. Consider the potential for fusion and ITER. If we consider that, we can envision two scenarios: one gigantic facility centrally located in the States – or – five smaller stations distributed as follows: east coast, west coast, south, north, and central. If the single-central system fails, the electricity supply for the entire country fails = catastrophic failure. If a single plant of the distributed system fails, no biggie; we increase production from the other plants which implies: a distributed-source structure is inherently more reliable than a single-source structure. Immediately, the clever systems-reliability engineers will object: “Hey! You have much more infrastructure/plant to fail required for the 5-plant scenario vs the 1-plant scenario.” Wrong. Think about it: we require a distribution network equivalent in each scenario; they're the same. What we've done is spread our risks in supply – discretely clumping deliberately spreading our risk among sources .. The cool thing about this way of thinking is that we can implement it with any part of our infrastructure! Sanitation, water, and most importantly – authority! In other words, I can prove to you mathematically democracy is more reliable than centralized authority!
The argument/proof goes like this: we have a certain failure rate for any source/sink, we require an equivalent transmission network for any scenario regardless of number of sources/sinks, and finally, there are no detrimental synergistic factors associated with a distributed configuration. The final point is critical in the sense: there cannot be any unanticipated/other factors which cause distributed networks to fail over single-node centralized networks. In practice, this amounts to extensive research to determine 'yes or no': for the particular kind of infrastructure – is there negative synergy going on?
Of course in practice, most of our sanitation and water systems are already necessarily distributed. But our authority structure is centralized. Further, sanitation typically does not satisfy factor 5: the ES-factor. A simple/elegant suggestion is a localized human-waste composting infrastructure coupled with local symbiotic gardens. What I mean by 'symbiotic gardens' is careful selection of human consumables such that the plants symbiotically reinforce each other. This scenario requires two things: careful administration and local cooperative behavior.
If this sounds impossible, it's merely our reticence for positive change. Not all change is good. Some is bad.. We need to implement strategies for positive change which follow the guidelines above. We cannot make significant progress otherwise .. I've changed the title of this article and added some critically relevant material. It should be clear what that material is .. These last two decades are not only the first of a new millennium, they are also the first in terms of globally recognizing the critical need for the process above. We're 'finding our way' but unless we do this as a 'community effort', it will fail miserably and has the potential to extinguish our race. In another article, I have vowed never to attend to negativity again. We need to focus on the positives in life in order to continue. This is a profound shift of awareness at the local and global level .. Of course, I'm NOT saying ignore problems/mistakes; we must attend to those in order to address and not repeat them. We simply cannot afford it anymore .. Again, enough negativity; focus on the positives; focus on synergy.
As a personal final note, I'm a student of awareness. I'm convinced we have a profound gift as human beings: the ability to focus our attention. Essentially it means we can selectively ignore other things but still be aware of them peripherally. This is absolutely profound and I cannot say it enough .. I'm in the process of designing AA: artificial awareness. But because I MUST be responsible in my designs: respecting the sanctity of the human race AND my creations, the process necessarily becomes sanctified or holy. I vowed not to address spirituality in this article but it becomes unavoidable. Please forgive me .. There we go – another divine aspect of the human experience.. I keep betraying my 'vow' .. The bottom line here is that we must create a culture of synergy based on mutual respect and trust. There is no other way to continue.