One of the buzzwords inserted liberally in everything from corporate sales pitches to farmer humblebrags is "sustainability". But like "WOTUS" we all think we know what it means, but try nailing it down.
I stumbled on this definition by accident, and thought it useful:
According to Herman Daly, an early pioneer in the sustainability movement, sustainability means three things: 1) For renewable resources, the rate of harvest should not exceed the rate of regeneration; 2) for pollution, the rates of waste generation should not exceed the assimilation capacity of the environment (sustainable waste disposal) and 3) for nonrenewable resources, the depletion of the nonrenewable resources (that is, fossil fuels) should require comparable development of renewable substitutes for that resource. Achieving such sustainability will enable the Earth to continue to support life. Thus, teaching sustainability is common sense. It is our responsibility; it is not a “plot” to brainwash students. [More]
While seemingly straightforward, the trick, of course is how to measure all of these rates. Still, I think it is helpful and offers a template to guide your own definition.
The interesting angle for me is the linkage to nutrient management. This pollution, and that label is inescapable, I think, is the result of exceeding the assimilation rate for the soil and water. The is a point beyond which our fields cannot hold more N and P, it seems.
Unfortunately, the default way to measure sustainability is a weird kind of destructive testing - keep increasing the load until something gives. We used to joke about testing bridges this way in Statics classes in college.
I don't know whether we'll be able to agree on better metrics for sustainability, but if we could get some slightly clearer benchmarks, much of the uproar over regulation would at least diminish. It becomes a problem to be solved, rather than a threat to be imagined.