20 December 2013

Sustainability Science: The New Superhero

Written by Published in Sustainability Science
Sustainability Science: The New Superhero ©Image: Nic McPhee

Science has been given a role in the protection of our earth and our future and, like any other superhero, it needs a good name. Albeit one that is difficult to say

Sustainability science – it’s a mouthful to say let alone define, explain or put into the proverbial nutshell. It is believed the concept was officially introduced twelve years ago at the World Congress ‘Challenges of a Changing Earth 2001’ in Amsterdam. Its full description is somewhat lengthy but the fact that several international organisations felt the need to produce a label is worthy of reflection.

Of course scientists have been looking at issues of sustainability for some time. Geologists, ecologists, climatologists, oceanographers and meteorologists have been studying the various states of our planet, while sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists have been exploring why we want to protect it or seem so hell-bent on destroying it. Engineers, architects, economists and ergonomic experts have been analysing the impact and efficiency of our infrastructure and systems, whilst physicists, biochemists and microbiologists have been homing in on the details of Earth’s life support systems. And these are just a few of the disciplines and sub-disciplines concerned …

The aim of sustainability science was to bring some cohesion to the labours of these various academic tribes. Its pioneers describe it as ‘a field defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs’. As such it aims to improve collaboration between scholars and practitioners, bringing a holistic perspective to issues that previously science may have compartmentalised.

Now, I can’t promise this blog will stay true to the official definition of sustainability science or indeed to its objectives, but what it will do is to acknowledge the role and responsibility that science has been given in the sustainability debate. It will report on some of the fascinating insights into the natural world, discoveries about the state of the planet and society, and updates on new sustainable solutions to climate change, resource depletion and even our economic crisis.From the nitty-gritty of precision farming to improve soil quality to the feasibility of geo-engineering projects that plan use balloons to spray particles into the atmosphere to protect us from the sun’s radiation. From the use of synthetic biology to create new forms of bacteria to optimise sewage-powered fuel cells to the application of behavioural nudges that guide people to make more sustainable choices.

Alongside these insights, this blog also hopes to investigate not only what science is telling us, but how that information is used and interpreted when it is let out of its metaphorical laboratory. Taken out of context, the deeds of even the best-intentioned superheroes can be misinterpreted and they can err on the dark side when agendas, vested interests or spin comes into play.

If science really is going to help us make the best possible judgements and decisions around sustainability, then perhaps we need to consider its weaknesses as well as its superpowers. 


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