2016/07/26 09:00 Bruce T. Milne, “Sustainability Science”, ISSS 2016 Boulder

Plenary @ISSSMeeting Bruce T. Milne, Keynote #isss2016USA, 60th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences and 1st Policy Congress of ISSS, Boulder, Colorado, USA

Day 1 theme:  Global Science and Assessment

Plenary III: Connecting Human and Natural System(s) Research

  • Description: Current ecological trends present a dramatic picture of potentially catastrophic change in the world. At the same time, our human and societal response mechanisms seem poorly designed for coping with complexity, and science seems unable to address systemic problems and systems as a whole. What are the challenges in science, policy, and ethics to become a sustainably healthy civilization with creative options for the future?

Chair: Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey, University of Colorado, Boulder

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted by David Ing.

Bruce T. Milne is W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Environmental and Food Systems, and Professor of Biology at the U. of New Mexico.

Bruce Milne

[Bruce Milne]

10 days ago was invited to talk, in competition with some others

  • An ecologist, working in the field for 30 years
  • Created an anticipatory model, this will be decoding

Resonated with sketching out a holistic theory … sustainability

Buckminister Fuller:  99% of who you are is invisible and untouchable

What is the sustainability challenge?

  • 1800s, Malthus, 1 billion people, thought we would run out of food
  • By 1960, 3 billion people
  • 2011, 7 billion
  • 2083 project to 11 billion

Alfred Lotka, it’s the interactions that matter

  • 1800, 3 billion squared means 9 billion interactions
  • 1960 7 billion means 49 billion interactions
  • 2083:  square of 11 billion

This is the essence of the problem

Bruce Milne (Money is Power slide)


  • Satisfaction of basic need, now and for future generations (Bruntland 1987)
  • Meadows:  Choosing the kind and purpose of development — an ethical question
  • Huxley, Island, 1962:  Highly sustainability, choosing the type of developmentx

Subjects in need of a theory (subjects – objects)

  • Basic needs:  air, water, food, shelter, etc.
  • Three pillars:  environment, social equity, econ/policy (Western view); Mother Earth (speaking as a collective, provides us with what we need), acceptance of all (create an environment where children can learn, allowed to flourish and become who they are, not delegating people to ghettos of racism), abundance (mother earth provides in great abundance, in tribal lands people don’t know they’re poor until they’re told they’re poor, they have what they need)
  • Time scale:  quarterly to 7 generations
  • Scale/scope: global and local
  • Strategies/tactics:  Future Earth, 2030 agenda … to deniers.

Holistic theory for sustainability?

  • Theory as a system of ideas
  • Holism, Smuts 1927
  • Justifies strategic choices


  • 1. Gigantic cahllenge, an ongoing process, will create jobs in the future
  • 2. We have definitions, subjectds, objects, but no theory to justify choices
  • 3. Need theory

Elements of a holistic theory for sustainability (not a theory, just components that could be glued together)

  • Openness / closure
  • Thermodynamic foundation (for the economy)
  • Organismal experience (biological)
  • Consciousness (human element)
  • Narrative legitimacy (social equity, each of own story)


  • Universe of inevitable change
  • Interdependent relationships, connected to each other, numerous
  • Inspiration from Thomas Berry:  state of earth as cumulative from Big Bang, to what we’ll create forward, co-creating the universe
  • Human understanding colors that (Whitehead):  path, tip of the arrow, a million options forward, value-based

Thomas Berry:

  • Book:  The Dream of the Earth, includes a curriculum on a story of who we are
  • Book:  The Great Work, a critique of business, and universities


  • Differentiation
  • Subjectivity:  becoming a whole
  • Community:  universe is a single, if multiform energy event

Holisms of identities (chart to be published later)

  • Subjects:  origins, origins of origins ….

1. Closure:

  • Giampietro
  • Globalization attempts to close the flows of information material and energy, whereby resilience obtains from entailing

Raymond Lindeman, Cedar Lake Blog

  • Needed an ecosystem with boundaries, a pond is good
  • Energy flow in a system
  • Closure that ecologists can enjoy, but really open
  • Need to put together parts with while

Bruce Milne (Part to Whole Relations slide)

Giampietro parts and wholes analysis

  • Global Footprint Network
  • Extensive variable (additive) with population on X-axis
  • Y-axis, Cumulative footprint
  • Two extensive variables, measures equitable footprint (on the black linear line)
  • Data is not on the black linear line
  • Red lines small footprints per person (and could be shrinking):  Iraq, Congo, India, failure to provide ecological services
  • Green middle box:  includes China, Mexico, still below theoretical equitability
  • Superdeveloped countries, USA, UAE — closure, taking more than their fair share

3. Thermodynamic foundations

  • Tim Garrett 2012, thermodynamic view of the economy
  • How does this change GDP
  • From year 1 to now, cumulative wealth, derivative is the GDP now
  • Everything we’ve done matters
  • Money is power, 1 wat spent to legitimize $100

4. Organismal experience

  • Mysteries of monarch butterfly, fly, breed, and children fly back
  • Milkweed is getting killed off

5. Consciousness

  • Scholars say no consensus, although we all use it
  • Sir Roger Penrose hypothesis on quantum aspects
  • Resurgence of panpsychism
  • Diamandis recommending Abundance, but if we give them more intelligence, they will preserve themselves
  • Robots as psuedo-life?

6. Narriative legitimacy

  • Life a finite period of time
  • Inequity is the price paid by others

Bruce Milne (Five elements to Future Earth slide)

How do the elements cover the subjects?

  • Well with Future Earth


  • Need a theory grounded in holism

Planting a seed:

  • Active parts of the whole that we create together


Gini coefficient, distribution of resources.  Interactions box.  True that two curves in contribution of interactions beween the two

  • Great question, get together to discuss

#isss, #isss2016