Want to make land use sustainable? It’s a wicked problem!

All these scenarios and considerations led to a dizzying array of potential results. So the authors analyzed them in terms of pathways—if you prioritize food production and start down that pathway, does it preclude anything else?

The answer is yes. “Simultaneous achievement of multiple targets is rare,” the authors conclude, “owing to the complexity of sustainability target implementation and the pervasive trade-offs in resource-constrained land systems.” It’s possible to achieve more only by lowering your standards and accepting some of the weaker sustainability goals.

Lisa's leaks - 'Madness in the Magnolias'

Enlarge/ An artist’s rendering of what a 24-hour solar thermal plant at Tamarugal plant could look like.

Using Australia as a case study confirms that it’s hard to have it all.

The idea of sustainability is pretty simple: Manage our resources such that they can continue to support us indefinitely. And, for an individual resource, sustainability is simple. Avoiding something like depleting our groundwater means that future generations have access to as much water as we do and don’t face the consequences of sinking soil.

But sustainability gets complicated when you start considering multiple, competing uses. Cutting back on water usage may influence things like agriculture, energy production, and more, making them less sustainable.

Just how complicated does all of this get?

Lei Gao and Brett Bryan of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) decided to use their home country as a test of…

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