Sustainability as a discipline

Introduction to what we do in sustainability?

Sustainability emerged as a discipline to support addressing the dynamic complexity of modern life. Sustainability is a discipline for managing the challenges presented by global change. It looks to transition society and also the practice of science . 1]Pahl-Wostl, C., Giupponi, C., Richards, K., Binder, C., de Sherbinin, A., Sprinz, D., … van Bers, C. (2013). Transition towards a new global change science: Requirements for methodologies, methods, data and knowledge. Environmental Science and Policy, 28, 36–47. Frequently many people want to define sustainability in one of its antecedents – environmentalism. Worse, some people think sustainability is about nostalgia and trying to live as we imagined past eras. Sustainability supports living here and now, acting under conditions of complexity and uncertainty which we humans have created.

When society does not have the tools to support solving its problems, political and social unrest emerge as we are currently witnessing. Sustainability is a new approach for integrating social and physical sciences to support human flourishing.

Geels 2]Geels, F. W. (2010). Ontologies, socio-technical transitions (to sustainability), and the multi-level perspective. Research Policy, 39(4), 495–510. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2010.01.022 explains new environmental problems are on a different scale and levels of complexity which cannot be solved by only looking at incremental changes in technology. The scale of the problems are global and not always visible and tangible in contrast to problems like water pollution, Acid Rain etc. which are immediately visible and tangible with identifiable victims which could be mobilized and even compensated. Current problems will happen in the future and who and how people are impacted is unclear. These are sustainability problems which require system changes which “… not only entail new technologies, but also changes in markets, user practices, policy and cultural meanings.”

Thus, sustainability emerged as a discipline to support addressing these new types of problems.

References

1 Pahl-Wostl, C., Giupponi, C., Richards, K., Binder, C., de Sherbinin, A., Sprinz, D., … van Bers, C. (2013). Transition towards a new global change science: Requirements for methodologies, methods, data and knowledge. Environmental Science and Policy, 28, 36–47.
2 Geels, F. W. (2010). Ontologies, socio-technical transitions (to sustainability), and the multi-level perspective. Research Policy, 39(4), 495–510. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2010.01.022

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