It is often said, and at present it is probably true that famine and poverty in some parts of the world are a problem of distribution rather than one of production of the necessities of life. The improvement of our distribution system, however, does not only solve an acute problem of regional deprivation, but also creates regional interdependence. Thus, with present day transcontinental trade the questions related to sustainability become global issues. The whole world is an interconnected network. Is there some "invisible hand" which guides local actions in a direction beneficial to the whole or does this connectedness necessitate deliberate global planning?
A similar question arises when we look far ahead in time. Many people have a blind trust in the future and are unconcerned with questions of long term sustainability of human civilization. Those who believe in science and technology respond to warnings of global sustenance problems: "The engineers will invent something that will solve our problems." Those with a religious bent say: "Why worry about tomorrow? 'He' who has provided for us in the past will do so in the future." How useful is this fatalistic stance today? Given the knowledge we possess, are we not responsible for irreversible damages to the Planet which will burden future generations? Is mankind capable of consciously choosing its future path?
This paper analyses the state of the World and the stability of the processes in it. We take a global and long term perspective. The basic tool used is a balance equation for material, cultural, biological, social and ecological substances. Conditions for sustainable, dynamic equilibria are derived and presented in per capita values in order to facilitate intuitive comprehension. Possible contributions to sustainability of the natural sciences and engineering and of the social sciences and the humanities are outlined. In conclusion some desirable and some accidental paths to sustainability are given.
Burkhardt, Helmut, "Global View Of A Sustainable Society And Its Stability" (1991). Electrical and Computer Engineering Publications and Research. Paper 17.