As global concerns become institutionalized through language and programmatic expression, humans rely on definitions to describe beneficial practices and actions.

Gro Harlem Brundtland

Gro Harlem Brundtland

The concept of Sustainability as a definition originated with Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former Prime Minister of Norway. In 1983, United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar invited Brundtland to establish and chair the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), AKA The Brundtland Commission. In the course of public hearings, the commission developed the broad political concept of sustainable development. The commission’s report, “Our Common Future,” described sustainable development as, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

As with most institutionalized definitions, an important consideration is who or what is doing the defining.

In this case, the United Nations sought to incorporate an environmental agenda into strategic planning and development goals. While “Our Common Future” signaled the beginning of the usage of specific terminology, i.e. “Sustainable Development,” later shortened in usage to “Sustainability,” it was not the beginning of the concept, or the recognition of the need to consider future planning from the standpoint of the natural sciences.

Fundamental to an understanding of the interrelationships of species and resources, food, water, and incorporating the presence of “pollution,” or substances originating outside a natural eco “system,” negatively impacting that system, is the term “carrying capacity.”

Carrying capacity is a concept that relates to the biological issue of scale.

It was originally applied to population environments that were simple, like the number of sheep or cattle that could be grazed on a parcel of land.

With regard to definitions we need to consider also the inputs or assumptions they carry. For example, carrying capacity related to non-adapted or imported/exotic species like cattle in North America, where the dominant native large herbivore was the Bison, represents a one dimensional construct or framework of understanding that mis-identifies the analysis. The carrying capacity of human mitigated environments is not necessarily relevant.

In this regard, carrying capacity is not simply a matter of scale, but of perception and practice, ideas, right or wrong.

Human factors aside, species studied with respect to carrying capacity exhibit two patterns, the sigmoid and peak phenomena.

Sigmoid and Peak Phenomena

Sigmoid and Peak Phenomena

Populations that increase rapidly while food and habitat are abundant, and then slow down as regulatory factors such as lower birth rate and reduced food availability come into play exhibit the sigmoid pattern. As the rate of population growth slows down to zero, the population reaches a fairly stable level. This pattern is referred to as K (for constant) selected species.

In the other pattern –– the peak phenomena, regulatory factors do not come into play. The population increases rapidly to the point where it exhausts the resources upon which it depends. At this point, the population collapses to a low level. When resources are replenished the population again increases; the process is then repeated. This is referred to as the “r-selected” species.

The concept of carrying capacity began to be applied to humans in the 1960s. It was realized that the consumption habits of humans are much more variable than other species. For this reason, it was thought to be more difficult to predict the carrying capacity for humans. This led to the implementation of the IPAT Equation. The IPAT Equation was one of the earlier attempts to describe the role of multiple factors in determining environmental degradation.

Here, environmental impact (I) may be expressed in terms of resource depletion or waste accumulation; population (P) refers to the size of the human population; affluence (A) refers to the level of consumption by that population; and technology (T) refers to the processes used to obtain resources and transform them into useful goods and wastes.

The big question for human civilization is whether we are a K or r-selected species; whether we will reach a stable level that can be sustained for an indefinite period; or whether we will grow to a peak and collapse.

“…carrying capacity is determined jointly by human choices and natural constraints. Consequently, the question, how many people can the Earth support, does not have a single numerical answer, now or ever. Human choices about the Earth’s human carrying capacity are constrained by facts of nature, which we understand poorly. So any estimates of human carrying capacity are only conditional on future human choices and natural events.”

-Joel Cohen. Human population growth and the carrying capacity concept. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 1994, 75: 141-157.

What humans choose to do is the biggest variable in climate change science.

Later this year, France will be hosting and presiding the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11), otherwise known as “Paris 2015.”

COP21 is intended to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

Here Laurent Fabius, minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, introduces the conference with a stark assessment, “We are the first generation to become aware of the problem and yet the last generation that can deal with it.”

“There is no Plan B for action, just as there is no Planet B.”

Climate change is not the only driver of sustainability, but if, as Fabius suggests, it is the most compelling one, for in his words the world will stand “face to face with its future,” humans also stand face to face with a problem of enormous complexity, far beyond IPAT’s limited assessment.

Layers of re-definition accumulate atop the originals. Brundtland’s key definition of Sustainable Development –– development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. has been (perhaps) conditioned through subsequent usage as including the addendum “not sustained growth.”

(Sustainable Measures, Developed by US EPA Office of Sustainable Ecosystems and Communities (OSEC), under a cooperative agreement with Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Copyright © 1998-2000 Maureen Hart. All rights reserved.)

But as with all definitions we must also consider whether any assumptions are valid as to accumulated knowledge or civic memory rather than simply taking account of new definitions as “random snapshots” of a multi-plicitous reality whose unity, progression, or cumulative utilization of language based agreements, content or semiotics cannot be assured.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

As we look to the history of sustainable development or sustainability policy awareness, and therefore to the pre-definitional use of the word itself, The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1960, defined goals as:
“…achieve the highest sustainable economic growth and employment and a rising standard of living in Member countries, while maintaining financial stability, and thus to contribute to the development of the world economy”

Here we question “meaning” in light of the language, comparing the OECD’s practical definition of “Sustainable,” in light of Brundtland’s. Can we assume Brundtland’s definition “builds on” OECD’s? OECD requires a “rising standard of living,” while Brundtland’s substitutes the term “development,” non-specific with regard to implications of financial “growth.” Finally, Sustainable Measures, in “on the ground training” for corporations and communities, further offers “redefinition” as “not sustained growth.” Such scholarly “cherry picking” does not indicate a social agreement, evolution of thinking, or pathway forward.

Are these variations reflective of continuing uncertainty regarding the balance of economy, society and environment (The Three Pillars of Sustainability)?


“The ‘Chief Sustainability Officer,’ sometimes known by other titles, is the corporate title of an executive position within a corporation that is in charge of the corporation’s “environmental” programs. Several companies have created such environmental manager positions in the 21st century to formalize their commitment to the environment.”

Measures like Corporate Sustainability programs, following a paradigm set by CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) models, report on efficiencies in key indicators. A different office may well handle policy, and “Vision” may originate with the CEO.

Finally, sustainability practices may be adopted sporadically, or implemented inconsistently within any organization or company.

The uniquely human adaptive strategy of recognizing reality isn’t necessarily what we say it is has manifested in community movements which avoid “top down” definitions of sustainability altogether.

In the case of the sponge, animals of the phylum Porifera, which lack a central nervous system, cells exchange information more readily and equally with one another. Strangely, proteins made by the sponge genes were found to interact with one another in ways similar to proteins in human synapses.

“Not only do they have [human synapse genes], they also have this signature that they may be functioning in a similar way in the absence of a nervous system, as they do in the presence of one,” says Todd Oakley, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).


One such human network, Alternatiba, seeks to mobilize society. Alternatiba events raise people’s awareness and stimulate behavior change. Events provide hundreds of alternatives in order to raise people’s awareness, and have been or will be organized in over sixty different French and European cities. Additionally, these initiatives aim to put pressure on politicians, especially with regard to the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

As society’s leaders, corporations, and citizens begin a process by which each can walk with the other, it becomes clear that corporate sustainability report cards and policy definitions, however helpful, fall short in uniting diverse communities creating real change in both indicators and behaviors.

What the human race has up its sleeve is values –– and the ability to communicate the values and benefits of working together. Computing the tonnage of GHGs not released into the atmosphere, miles not driven, trees conserved, and water not used, is, in itself a silo-ed approach. Net-zero is the only measurement of success on the environmental balance sheet.

The moral and ethical dimensions of sustainability are something else. Nothing is sustainable if humans are not sustainable with each other. In the higher echelons of public apparatus, the Pope, a Prince and a President have weighed in, along with the World Bank, leaders at the World Economic Forum, and organizers of Cop21, or Paris 2015.

“The pope’s attention to climate change …highlights the plight of the poor and the moral dimensions of environmental issues. It also comes as a welcome counterbalance to the fixation on global-scale human influence on the environment that, for better and for worse, has come to define the Anthropocene – the name attached to the age of human dominance over the planet. ”

(With Encyclical, Pope Francis Elevates Environmental Justice, Lisa Sideris, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Director IU Consortium for the Study of Religion, Ethics, and Society at Indiana University, Bloomington, The Conversation, June 15, 2015).

“[This is] an absolutely crucial opportunity, if not the last chance before we end up in an irreversible situation, for the international community to establish a new set of interlocking, coherent and ambitious frameworks governing human development, poverty, disaster risk reduction, the natural environment and climate change. We could, and should, see an agenda set for the coming decades that is capable of transforming the prospects for humanity by improving and nurturing the state of the planet upon which we all depend.”

(Quote from Prince Charles, Prince Charles: Global Pact on Climate Change Could be Magna Carta for Earth. Fiona Harvey, The Guardian. Monday, 26 January 2015).

“Today President Obama raised the bar with a stronger rule and by doing so he has sent a definite message and much overdue comprehensive acknowledgement that climate is a civil rights and moral issue as well as a health, economic, and environmental issue. Implementation of the rule must require states to conduct a compliance review under civil rights and environmental justice laws. This includes the President’s Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice and health, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Beyond climate change concerns, reductions in power plant pollutants will reduce environmental and public health problems, including acid deposition, fine particle air pollution, mercury deposition, nitrogen deposition, ozone smog, and regional haze. Thousands of premature deaths will be prevented each year. Hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks will be a shameful tragedy of the past. Today is a especially good day for communities of color suffering disproportionally from the effects of pollution.”

(AFC+A Statement on Clean Power Plan Rule –– President Obama Raises the Bar for Environmental Justice With Final Clean Power Plan That Lives Up to Climate of Hope. Americas for Conservation and the Arts, Irene Vilar, Founder & Director, AFC+A and ALEF, Guggenheim Fellow).

Only community involvement, to prevent disproportionate impacts in rural communities, communities of color, and economically disadvantaged communities can ensure a reasoned and democratic approach to climate change policy implementation. In this light, our ability to reach equitable, moral, or ethical solutions is yet another variable of the human condition and the human’s survivability potential, a potential based on future choices.



Harvest Dreams

Harvest Dreams is a 60 minute documentary which tells a touching story of farmers struggling to change from commodity agriculture to sustainable farming.

As the old ways yield to the new, John and Carmen Jarvis plan their retirement from a dairy and cattle business that was their life for almost 5 decades. Nash Huber works to secure a land base that will provide agricultural resources for the next 200 years.

Filmed on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Co-Directed, Co-Written and Co-Produced by Robert Lundahl and Claire Calvino. Executive Producer, Robert Lundahl. Cinematography and Editing by Robert Lundahl.

©2006, Freshwater Bay Pictures, LLC. Robert Lundahl.

Contact: Robert Lundahl, 415.205.3481,

The opinions contained in this video media are solely those of the interview subject (s), and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of film maker Robert Lundahl, or Freshwater Bay Pictures, LLC.
Read More…


Dialoguing with New Constituencies, Opening the Door to a Wider Conversation about Energy, the Environment and Culture, Critical Issues for our Future.

Editor’s Note: Robert Lundahl just sent this out to some of his associates in Southern California, but the essential message applies to all of us.

Many of you know me as an Emmy® Award winning filmmaker, and as a corporate communications innovator. Today I’m connecting with you as a friend, as a colleague, and as someone who cares deeply about our diminishing desert ecosystems.

Continue Reading…

SunPower Clips, Ed Begley Jr., In conversation with Juliette Anthony.


Robert Lundahl student film, University of Oregon, 1979. Screened before U.S. Senate subcommittee on herbicides and pesticides.

Ending Before the Beginning. Large Solar Bites the Dust in Blythe. (From May, 2012)

In October 2010, I was working with CAre, Californians for Renewable Energy on a project to prevent the siting of Large Utility Scale Solar Facilities on lands which were considered sacred to Native Americans. Six months earlier I had travelled to Blythe, California to meet Alfredo Figueroa, a long time activist, living legend and Californio/indigenous historian. Alfredo had studied these lands for 50 years, tracing his Yaqui, Chemehuevi heritage. We traveled to the Genesis Project Press Tour at Ford Dry Lake in February of 2010. There we met project representatives and those of the Bureau of Land Management who discussed what would be done and how the plant would be built.

Company representatives answered questions about water usage, energy production, native hiring and other topics. One recollection which stands out as meaningful is when company representatives became lost on the land using GPS coordinates. I reckoned their inexperience, or the “Fast Tracking” process approved by Sct. Interior Salazar was at fault. The latter would come into the light of truth as industry insiders validated in an interview in December 2010 that the project leases had been “let” from the BLM without specific vetting, then obtained by speculators including Goldman Sachs and developed quickly as “shovel ready” with the approval of an administration interested in creating “Green Jobs” despite their impacts to the environment and to people.

The immediate concern since meeting Sr. Figueroa was the Blythe Solar project sited by Solar Millennium and Chevron for an area 4 miles West of Blythe, California. My intention in writing this brief account is to detail the role media and outreach played in the shut down of these projects, and to be able to replicate that method in response to other poorly sited projects (which might be all or many of them in the Deserts of California as of 2012). Sr. Figueroa was raised in Blythe and was aware of the large geoglyphs there, visible from space, and popularized in the writings of Erich Von Daniken including “Chariots of the Gods.” Although one set of geoglyphs in the area, known as the Blythe Intaglios, are protected by the BLM, there are over 300 in the area which are not, and Solar Millennium wanted to build their project in an area in which there are several unprotected geo-glyphs on the project site itself.

CAre had the ambition to write a lawsuit on the matter in support of the organization which Alfredo and others had started, La Cuna de Aztlan Sacred Sites Protection Circle. The suit was a practiced document relying on variation from technical requirements in permitting. Because I had worked on Native American land use and treaty issues in researching documentary films previously, I recognized that the story of the Native American cultural impacts had not been told and was not represented in the suit. I had recognized in the Summer of 2010 that their was some misunderstanding among the tribes of the nature and power of Section 106 of the National Register of Historic Places, which mandates, “Government to Government” consultations in matters pertaining to the disposition of Native American cultural resources, such as geoglyphs, petroglyphs, rock alignments, cairns and other site specific constructions. Other laws including NAGRPA, the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, would come into play along with AIRFA, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. But I came to understand that it is Section 106 that has the power to stop a project like the 3 billion dollar Solar Millennium Blythe Solar, at 9500 acres, billed as the largest utility scale solar project in the world.

Here’s how it happened.

I had rewritten the lawsuit focusing on the closing argument. The plight of American tribes over time, from the”Trail of Tears” to the California Mission System and the later Gold Rush. The image of the gold rush stuck in my mind as the calamity which ensued is generally regarded as being genocidal to tribes and tribal peoples on several levels. As Sr. Figueroa points out (his relative was the Sonoran Miner and later Freedom Fighter Joaquin Murrieta). Murrieta had been in the Sierra at the near the town of Sonora, named for his and his family’s origins, when the 1848 boom ensued. In Sonora, Alta California, he was beaten, his wife raped and killed. Murrieta, his friends and family sought revenge against the men who were responsible. The story is a metaphor for the times as California miners, including Indians, indian villages, communities, and inhabitants were “overrun.” They were killed. Their streams were polluted with Mercury and heavy metals, and their ecosystem ravaged in ways that persist 150 years later as a poisoned environment. Looking at the proposed solar build-out, would it not be another Gold Rush, desecrating culture (according to C.E.C., California Energy Commission anthropologist Beverly Bastian, 17,000 Native American sacred sites would be destroyed), harming native people by preventing their access to sacred sites in perpetuity, by preventing their sacred and traditional practices, turning these remote and isolated sites into industrial zones. Industrial zones whose junk would likely remain long-term in what once had been a pristine “old growth” desert ecosystem, sinking as much carbon as a temperate forest or grassland ecosystem.

Therefore from the standpoint of the Public Relations model.

1. Know your history. You need to be attached to it and the brand of the effort needs also to be attached to it to ensure legitimacy of the argument. You cannot forever refute history. Therefore history wins.

2. Gather more of it. The development communities do not care about history. They do not have the inclination because they do not have the time. The assumption is that the other side doesn’t know either, and it will never come up. So when we are able to recount history, including oral histories, it has meaning.

3. Speak with an authentic voice. The La Cuna Plaintiffs in suing 6 companies, the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Energy in 2010/11, included the Reverend Ron Van Fleet, grandson of the last traditional chief (Hobelia) of the Mojave Nation, and Chemehuevi Elder Phillip Smith, one of the last to have been raised subsistence style in the desert, in an area which is now the Mojave National Preserve. When one of these individuals speaks, history is told. In speaking to the press, whether trade press or general, you need to speak with an authentic voice.

4. Use Video. And use video well because video is persuasive. We produce video and were able to release insightful and incisive arguments in documentary film format, like a feature news story, that is searchable by keywords, available globally, releasable overnight.

Use the Internet.

It is important to use the internet and to post content on websites, blogs, Facebook, reader comments and any other available forum and to do this constantly.

Be Interesting.

La Cuna Resistance Timelime:

Elucidate the issues.

11/10 Solar Gold video on Ecosystem Collapse and Species Extinction released to web.11/10 The Killing of Kokopilli video released to web.

Shock and Awe.

12.28.10 La Cuna lawsuit filed. The timing was a surprise over the holidays and came at a time when many groups and agencies had indicated they thought the projects were a “done deal.”12.28.10 Press Release with sarcastic overtones gets attention.

Nurture the Flames.

1/11 San Jose Mercury News picks up article release and submits to AP.1/11 Article published in 150 venues worldwide.1/11 Bloggers fight off paid industry shills on sites like Grist.1/11 Grist Moderator Todd Woody takes a job at the NY Times and writes about the controversy.1/11 Robert interviews with Photon Magazine.1/11 Publicity with investors, analysts, and trade press.

Court Major Papers.

2/11 First LA Times story by Tiffany Hsu. First USA Today Story. Mother Jones.

4/11 Solar Millennium begins construction. Looks for interim financing.

Delay and Divide.

5/11 “Action on the Ground” Solar Millennium Builds a Road on Ancient GeoGlyphs video released. Workers confronted. Work stopped. 6/11 “Action on the Ground” “Massacre in the Rocks” video released.

7/11 “Action on the Ground” “Indigenous America Questions U.S. Green Policies” video released.

7/11 La Cuna in federal court, Los Angeles, judge questions PEIS (Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.

Failing of their own weight.

9/11 Solar Millennium misses investment/construction goals.

12/11 Solar Millennium declares bankruptcy.

03/12 Manchester Guardian article released. “Solar power firms in Mojave desert feel glare of tribes and environmentalists. Presence of horned toads and desert tortoises are holding up production at multimillion-dollar sites in California”

4/12 Robert consults on LA Times Story, Louis Sahagun, Genesis Project. “Problems cast shadows of doubt on solar project. The unexpected deaths of kit foxes and discovery of ancient human settlements threaten to delay or even cancel a $1-billion, 250-megawatt installation on federal land in the desert near Blythe.”

How has our collective consciousness been shaped by the media? Where do breakthrough insights come from? What provokes life’s wonderful “aha’s”? Why do we find the spontaneous convergence of certain forms, certain experiences, so aesthetically uplifting, so significant? Seeking spiritual nourishment in these roaring times of ferocious change, I ask such questions as I steer between the dislocations caused by too much fragmented information, proliferating technological complexities, the onslaught of commercial media, and the often static formulas of traditional religious guidance.

-Phillippe L. Gross, Forward to the book, “The Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing.”

dry_lake_clean_72Dry Lake with Wandering Cow, Outside Lakeview, California. PHOTO : LUNDAHL

death_valley_automobileAutomobile, Death Valley. PHOTO : LUNDAHL

Great Kiva, Chaco Canyon. PHOTO : LUNDAHL