4 root causes of unsustainability

What are the root causes of unsustainability? Can we boil it down to only four basic things that we do as a human society that are unsustainable? Well let’s get drawing

In the first video we discussed how a group of 50 scientists managed to get a consensus on natural cycles and we concluded that sustainability is actually the capacity of our human society to continue indefinitely within the natural cycles. So if you haven’t watched the first video make sure you do that before watching this one. And from there, the group of scientists looked at the things that we do in our human society that interfere with natural cycles in order to identify the root causes of unsustainability. So they came up with four. There’s no priority order. They’re all equally important. They’re all necessary and sufficient.

The first one is that we extract large lows of materials from the earth’s crust (the lithosphere). These materials are things like oil, like natural gas, heavy metals that are rare in the biosphere and that we extract in such large quantities that they accumulate and nature cannot cope

The second one is that we create in our society substances that accumulate in nature. We create chemical compounds that nature takes a very long time to break

down but we also create substances that already exist in nature, like carbon dioxide for example, but in such a very large quantities that they accumulate and nature cannot cope.

The third one is that we physically inhibit nature’s ability to run the natural cycles. How do we do that? Well for example by chopping trees at a faster rate than they can grow, by systematically destroying ecosystems and replacing them with parking lots, roads, buildings, etc. so that nature cannot run its cycles anymore.

These are 3 ecological root causes. Once again there’s no priority order. The fourth one is social and can actually be the most important of all. We create in our society barriers to people meeting their basic human needs worldwide. So we will unpack

in another video this notion of basic human needs. It is very interesting and they are things like creativity, identity, participation and so on and so forth. So how do we do that? Well for example if you purchase a product that is manufactured in a sweatshop in the developing country, indirectly you support the business and indirectly you contribute to poor working conditions in this factory and to the fact that these people are unable to meet their basic human needs.

So this is the scientific consensus on the 4 root causes of unsustainability.

As usual, here is are the key points to keep in mind:

  • Scientists agree that there are only four root causes of unsustainability based on natural cycles;
  • 3 are ecological and 1 is social: they are necessary, sufficient and non-overlapping;
  • If we stop doing these four things we will be sustainable.


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