Definitions/Terms of Art

I frequently refer to the following terms in posts. In each instance I try to embed some explanation into the text, but these definitions provide core meanings. I will add to this list as necessary.

A giddy period of burgeoning physical expansion, social autonomy, economic growth, and technological progress beginning with the discovery of the New World, maximizing with the exploitation of fossil fuel resources, and ending gradually as planetary limits to resource consumption and waste absorption are reached.

A sober period marked by an uneven progression of increasingly regional autonomy, social interdependence, relocalized economic activity, and deployment of appropriate technologies beginning with the end of the Age of Exuberance and extending into the indefinite future.

The way of life of members of a society which include their habits, attitudes, patterns of development, standard of living, and quality of life.

A city which operates within the limits of the resources and waste sinks available regionally.

An arrangement of living which conforms to a set of very general, time-tested operating principles that allow citizens to solve local problems with locationally-appropriate solutions.

An ecologically-consistent and resilient way of living that has been popular throughout history in corresponding Ages of Sufficiency.

A view of the world employed by Insular planning which mistakenly assumes that cities (and the planning considerations made for them) are free from the physical and natural laws that nature imposes on all dynamic dissipative systems.

A mistaken belief that the world can be made to exclusively serve the interests of humans.

The maximum supportable population of a member of the biotic community.

To reduce energy consumption and material throughput in real terms; a cornerstone of any serious sustainability planning strategy.

The process by which surrounding resources are used up faster than they can be replaced locally, and, as a result, ends up stealing resources from other places and times.

Systems guide the flow of available energy and materials.

Complexly-organized and interconnected webs of parts which consume inputs and produce outputs in the furtherance of sustaining and replicating themselves.

A snapshot of the health of the world’s ecosystems as well as a description of the human impacts, including biodiversity loss, deforestation, desertification, topsoil loss, salinization, toxification, ocean acidification, and overfishing.

A problem-solving strategy for dynamic dissipative systems whereby dense webs of different kinds of parts interact unpredictably to create hierarchical and specialized branching networks at all scales resulting in greater system effectiveness.

A condition of rising net energy, either in absolute or per capita terms.

A condition of declining net energy, either in absolute or per capita terms.

A metaphor by which the value of fossil fuel energy is measured in terms of its human muscle-power equivalent.

The difference between the quantity of energy a society collects and consumes; the higher the energy surplus, the more possible complexity.

The sum impacts of human behavior on the atmosphere, as well as the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere.

Purposeful, repetitive, programmable sequences of exchange and interaction between physically disjointed positions held by social actors.

The social, technological, economic, and physical organization of society in terms of its population, occupations, diversity, institutions, and functions.

The amount of additional farmland that would be required to yield equivalent available energy content to what is being obtained from fossil fuel.

Ideas about how the world works; a paradigm or cosmology.

A term contrived by William Catton that describes those modern human beings who are equipped with technology which grants them enormous power, greatly increases their per capita resource demands, and environmental impact.

A syndrome of policies which strives to provide ever-greater standards of material comfort, wealth, and fossil fuel-dependent technologies upon an ever-greater number of people (but not all), regardless of the environmental cost.

The sum of technological and scientific knowledge and research that can be brought to bear on society’s problems.

A planning philosophy that:

  • is stuck in the Big World paradigm (misinterprets succession as a merely temporary abeyance from perpetual economic growth).
  • is overly human-centric (narrowly focused on maximizing utility of nature for strictly human purposes).
  • discounts the importance of (or is ignorant of) physical and natural laws.
  • is growth-responsive (preoccupied with reforming suburbanization and sprawl).
  • is becoming increasingly technology and ingenuity focused (mistakenly promotes renewable energy and efficiency strategies as the primary means to deal with energy descent and environment change).

See “Physical and Natural Laws”.

A city which fails to operate within the limits of the resources and waste sinks available regionally, and thereby imports vast additional resources from distant hinterlands to supply its needs.

An arrangement of living which hopelessly depends upon large supplies of cheap non-renewable resources.

An ecologically-destructive and energy intensive way of living that has risen to prominence in the Western world since the end of World War II, and is currently spreading over the developing world.

The term ‘metastatic’ comes from the noun ‘metastasis’, which implies the injurious spread of something, or the condition of transforming from something wholesome and good to something bad and corrupting.

When the carrying capacity of one biotic community member is enlarged beyond what renewable resources can provide.

The situation when an arrangement of living for a given population as a whole uses more resources and generates more waste than the planet can make and clean up.

Physical and natural laws which include ecological principles, laws of thermodynamics, and the operational principles of dynamic dissipative systems.

The sum of the laws which govern the behavior of all matter and energy in the universe, including the matter and energy which pass through and comprise natural systems and cities.

An irreducibly complex and intractable situation which presents sub-optimal choices on how to proceed; not to be confused with problems, which are discrete and solvable.

The ability for a system to absorb and rebound from an outside shock; a cornerstone of any serious sustainability planning strategy.

Describes the deleterious consequences of extraneous energy throughput in flow structures leading to excessive:

  • physical expansion (suburbanization, sprawl, traffic jams, obesity)
  • economic consumption (planned obsolescence, throw-away culture)
  • social stimulation (stress, superficiality)
  • technological immersion (alienation, higher energy demands)

A non-moral, orderly, and directional process of change in the composition of an ecosystem, resulting from effects of its life processes upon its environment.

A planning philosophy that:

  • promulgates the sufficiency principle, which itself it founded in the commonsense idea that as one does more and more of an activity, there can be enough and there can be too much.
  • supports the idea that cities can only be sustainable and resilient if they are scaled in keeping with the physical limits of their regions.
  • works within the confines of what we know to be true of how the world works from an ecological, thermodynamics, and systems-based footing.
  • represents an interdisciplinary approach to planning which integrates physical science into what has traditionally operated as a social and political science.
  • promotes curtailment and resilience-oriented adaptation strategies as the primary means to deal with energy and ecological challenges.
  • considers ways to stretch local resources so that all urban citizens are provided with the opportunity to enjoy a sufficiently nutritious diet, meaningful work, physical and mental stimulation, education, safety, recreation, leisure time and development of social bonds that provide the impetus for them to make a stake in the continued welfare of the community.
  • advocates for modest, informal, human scale, and affordable planning strategies to transform metastatic cities into authentic arrangements of living that will be more resilient to succession.

The capacity of a dynamic dissipative system or an arrangement of living to endure through time.

To operate within the scope of what nature will allow indefinitely by using renewable resources at a rate slower than they are naturally replaced and reducing non-renewable resource use  faster than they are depleted.

The process by which available energy and resources that would have been available to other community members are diverted to expropriation by one member of the biotic community.

An ecologically disruptive process that speeds up succession by creating conditions which favor some biotic community members over others.

The process by which a city’s complexity simplifies to come into conformance with economic realities and physical and natural laws.

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