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The Long Future Sustainability Framework

The Long Future Framework is a conceptual model that helps people understand sustainability in its broadest sense. This allows them to place sectoral sustainability issues into context. The Long Future Framework has five elements:

  • Habitable Zone
  • Planetary Boundaries
  • Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services
  • Back in Sync
  • The Long Future Diagram

Habitable Zone

Life has existed on Earth for over 3.8 billion years because Earth's orbit around the Sun is not so distant that all the water freezes, nor so close that all the water boils off.

Earth is said to occupy the Goldilocks zone, or more scientifically, the Circumstellar Habitable Zone.

Scientists tell us that Earth will continue remain in this zone and be habitable for another 1.75 - 3.25 billion years. Beyond this time, the Sun will expand and eventually Earth will be baked dry, taking all of life with it.

The opportunity for the humans to live another billion-plus years is what we refer to as the Long Future.

Watch this video reporting on the University of East Anglia research showing that we have more than a billion plus years or more before the Sun kills off life on Earth.

Planetary Boundaries

Apart from staying in the habitable zone, keeping the planet sutiable for human civilization requires the maintenance of nine Earth System Processes. In order for the humans to enjoy the Long Future, it is necessary to stay within the planetary boundaries.

As the diagram below shows, we have already pushed beyond the safe zone of four of the nine boundaries:

  • Ocean Acidification
  • Climate Change
  • Biodiversity Loss
  • Nutrient Pollution

This has happened because we rely on business models that destroy rather than restore natural capital.

Antarctic cruise ship Akademik Sergey Vavilov in the ice.

Listen to founder Johan Rockstrom from the Stockholm Resilience Centre talk about the Planetary boundaries.


Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services

Natural capital is the stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. Before the humans came along, natural capital was abundant. Now, we are using it up really quickly and not replacing it.

Ecosystem services are the services that nature provides humans - for free. This includes the rain, mechanisms to stabilize the climate, pollination and so on.

Nature provides all of this for free. When was the last time the cloud sent you an invoice for the rain. Or the bee billed you for pollinating the crops. The absence of these things from company ledgers is a key driver of them being used unsustainably.

Listen to the EU video on Natural Capital.

Back in Sync

For most of the 200,000 years that humans have been on Earth, we have lived in-sync with nature. This is to say that we did not damage or interfere with the Earth Systems Processes and did not exceed the Planetary Boundaries. We gave as much natural capital as we took.

However, in the past 12,000 years, since the advent of human civilization, we have falled out-of-sync with nature. We have busted through the Planetary Boundaries and squandered the abundant natural capital.

In order to enjoy the Long Future, we need to get back-in-sync with nature.


The Long Future Diagram

To explain what we must do to get back-in-sync, we have developed the Long Future Diagram.

The diagram suggests that we need to find ways to regrow our Natural Capital in order to avoid pushing through the Planetary Boundaties.

We call this model the Blue Trajectory, after Gunter Pauli's Blue Economy.


Watch this movie about the Blue Economy.
Go to Long Future Projects >>

Contact: longfuture.org