In response to "Energy Defines Sustainability," the premise that inexpensive and nonpolluting electricity and transportation fuels define sustainability is not only unsubstantiated but clearly false (C&EN, April 14, page 11). Consider the half century 1950 to 2000. Most would have considered this to be the time of inexpensive and nonpolluting electricity and transportation fuels, but clearly it was not.
Lord Acton’s dictum, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is most appropriate for sustainability considerations. We must learn to live within the energy input we receive daily from the sun, including winds and tides generated by the sun, without using other stores of energy (even nuclear) if we are to develop a sustainable society. Abundant food, clean water, and human well-being will only be available for all when we learn to limit our exponential population growth and live within our energy means.
Without limiting population growth, we will suffer the same disastrous crashes that every other biological system faces given exponential growth rates and limited resources. In addition, any one of a number of cataclysmic events, such as a Yellowstone-style volcano or complete melting of Arctic sea ice, could also send us perilously close to the ruin of society as we know it today. We may already be well within the 11th hour of human society.