How fast are we transforming the systems we live with in our efforts to build more sustainable systems for the future?  Sustainability indicators are numbers that indicate our progress toward a sustainable future.

Synergism, cybernetic feedback, and heuristic behavior make it very difficult to precisely measure trends toward sustainability. Since 2+2>4 when viewed from a synergistic perspective, cybernetic feedback means the accuracy of measured data is fleeting, and spontaneous heuristic behavior can lead to unpredictable results, any sustainability indicators we choose will only be a guide.

From an intuitive perspective, we can believe concepts like reduced energy consumption will give future generations a greater margin of safety as they struggle to survive in a world that becomes increasingly polluted as human populations grow.

The effectiveness of any given policy enforcing reduced energy consumption per capita will always remain uncertain. It is possible to imagine a scenario in which it costs an increase of energy to build the kind of system that will ultimately cause a dramatic decrease of per capita energy consumption. Should we avoid building such a system because it will cause a temporary increase? I think not. Therefore, we must select our indicator ratios in such a way that the future and quality of life are presented in a balance where certain obvious indicators are given priority while being tempered by other equally realistic yet less obvious indicators.

We should pick our ratios such that an increase in the sum of sustainability indicator ratios means we are moving as a collective, global, society, toward greater sustainability. What is good for our city should also be good for the Earth. Each ratio must be empirically verifiable and, as often as possible, intuitively believable to the average, literate, citizen.

We must not have so many indicators the average citizen feels overburdened when trying to understand them. One of the chief reasons for the indicators is to increase the level of awareness of our citizens of the need for changes and to spark them to create inventions and innovations that move us collectively toward greater viability. For this reason, I feel we should be looking for indicators that are similar to flag species in an ecosystem. If the flag species is doing well, so are most of the other species within the ecosystem. Some examples of flag indicators might be atmospheric O2 to CO2 ratio, per capita consumption of gasoline, birth weight of children, amount of crime per capita, science literacy, water consumption per capita, per capita synthetic surface area ratio, etc..

Sustainability Indicators Generalized

The notion of measuring overall sustainability is a daunting task.  For this reason, it will probably require teams of experts in many different disciplines to define and determine sustainability indicators.

Towards this goal I suggest the following:

A method for determining the approach rate to the global oxygen threshold needs to be established.  This threshold is defined as being the maximum amount of atmospheric pollution in the form of particulates and gases that life on earth can tolerate.  Beyond that limit, life everywhere begins going extinct at an accelerating rate.  Scientist Dr. James Hansen suggests 350 ppm is that threshold limit and we have already exceeded it.  Learn more at:

If we create a ratio of the index of approach to sustainable living methods compared to the index of approach to the oxygen threshold, we will have a number that gets larger as we approach ideal sustainability.  This number is the overall sustainability value index.

This sustainability value index needs to be visible in mass media everywhere and updated regularly.

The sustainability value index should be the result of simple math.

Values for any give sustainability indicator should be chosen such that as the value rises, sustainability is rising.

All indicators should be intuitively obvious to most people as often as possible.

Sustainability indicator values must be verifiable.

A few well chosen indicators beats a myriad of mediocre indicators.

Topics for Sustainability Indicators

Since pollution is commensurate with energy use, the per capita energy use declines as we begin living sustainable lifestyles.

Resource consumption drops per capita.

The use of renewable energy increases per capita.

Improved city patterns help recover "lost" habitat for wildlife.

Birth weight indicates general level of health of mothers.

Medical care quality and availability continues to increase.

Efficient sequencing of businesses, manufacturing and housing,reduces energy consumption in cities.

Mixed use developments happen more often in cities.

Metropolitan village clusters become more dense.

Cities focus on techniques for building a sense of community.

More people live in high rise housing.

Reduced need for transportation energy because proximity power is working.

Food is grown closer to the consumer.

Permaculture becomes the dominant agricultural method.

Dry land farming techniques are used in desert lands.

More of the total food grown comes from greenhouses.

Gray water uses are allowed in certain kinds of agriculture.

Reducing waste in the food system saves energy and the need for land for food.

Local resources for local purposes becomes more common.

Hydrocarbon fuel use per capita declines (globally).

Surface area for earths biota increases .

Water resources are protected from overuse and contamination.

Recycling becomes more commonplace for more things.

Landscaping everywhere in cites becomes Xeriscaped.

Power toilets allow generating energy from waste.

Water harvesting is commonplace.

Use of evaporative coolers reduced.

Experiential living become more important than materialism when we adopt sustainable lifestyles. *****

We may be seeing ever more need for disaster relief for large populations in the future.  Many people have been made suddenly homeless by natural disasters and human caused problems.  Tower Towns can be a way of helping people made homeless have a place to live.


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