Wednesday, 21 February 2007

AAAS DAY 3: AN EMERGING SCIENCE OF SUSTAINABILITY


BY JOHN THOMPSON, STEPS Centre member
AAAS Day 3: Saturday 17 Feb 2007

Today is the day I have been waiting for at AAAS, as there are a series of symposia and topical lectures on the theme of ‘Science and Policy of Sustainability’, all of which relate to one degree or another to ‘Sustainability Science’. In many ways, Sustainability Science goes to the heart of the STEPS agenda.
As Bill Clark, one of its driving forces, points out in a recent article in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “Like “agricultural science” and “health science,” sustainability science is a field defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs… [T]he field seeks…a transition towards sustainability” – which in my view relates very nicely to the STEPS ‘pathways approach’ – “improving society’s capacity to use the earth in ways that simultaneously to meet the needs of a much larger but stabilizing human population,…sustain the life support systems of the planet, and…substantially reduce hunger and poverty.” Increasingly, however, a core sustainability science research program has begun to take shape that transcends the concerns of its foundational disciplines and focuses instead on understanding the complex dynamics that arise from interactions between human and environmental systems. In this respect, the Sustainability Science agenda and the STEPS focus on dynamics, governance and designs is very much interlinked.

Over the next few days, I hope to report on my participation in several Sustainability Science events and my encounters with some of the leading lights in this emerging field. Before reporting on the actual sessions, however, I should direct your attention to a website run by the AAAS which is tracking the expanding field of Sustainability Science and opening up debate and dialogue through its virtual . The forum monitors an increasing number of research initiatives, meetings and programmes devoted to training the next generation of sustainability scientists. You will find the STEPS Centre listed there (but more about that later).

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