Entropy, life-cycle accounting and the circular economy are terms and concepts indicative of how society looks at the world differently than previous generations. As the global population pushes toward 10 billion by the end of this century, thoughtful approaches to sustainability will become ever more essential to policymakers. Yet a coherent narrative remains elusive.
Industrialized countries continue to operate very far from a circular economy. Instead, they rely heavily on a linear economy, where the make-use-dispose product life cycle dominates. A circular economy, by contrast, encourages product reuse and longevity, not disposability and planned obsolescence. Efforts by communities and policymakers to develop circular economies and maintain the viability of natural ecosystems in the United States and other countries take many forms. Several cities around the U.S., including San Antonio, have made it a priority to implement policies aimed at long-term sustainability. For example, in August 2016, the city of San Antonio adopted its SA Tomorrow Sustainability Plan intended to prepare the city for smart, sustainable growth in light of the prospect of an additional million residents by 2040. The plan is a fuller elaboration of past efforts such as Mission Verde and SA2020. For 14 months, the city of San Antonio engaged a broad range of stakeholders in a variety of venues to solicit input and develop the plan. Focus areas include energy, food systems, green buildings, infrastructure, land use, transportation, natural resources, public health and solid waste resources. Cross-cutting themes include air quality, economic vitality, equity, resilience and water resources. On a global basis, some of the most systematic research dealing with sustainability comes from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, which examines planetary boundaries affected by our waste outputs and attempts to gauge those most at risk. The boundaries include stratospheric ozone depletion, which filters out ultraviolet radiation; loss of biosphere integrity, which is necessary for biodiversity; chemical pollution; climate change; ocean acidification; the freshwater cycle; land system change, when forests, grasslands wetlands, coastal fisheries, savannas and other habitats that recycle are converted to municipal, industrial or agricultural use; the nitrogen-phosphorous cycle, or fertilizer runoff; and atmospheric aerosol loading.
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