Cynthia Stahl PhD: 250 words on sustainablity
December 16, 2013 (~250 word assignment based on Nashville discussion)
SETAC Advisory Group on Sustainability: Cynthia’s statement on sustainability
Sustainability is about values, no matter who is doing the defining. If some think that sustainability is about "saving the planet,” then it’s still about values. So in the end, sustainability is about human values and human society. Of course, we can’t survive without ecological systems that, in ecosystem services vocabulary, provide us the means to seek, maintain, and sustain human health and welfare. However, sustainability is not just a "feel good” idea. It is possible to deliberate and debate among ourselves what kind of sustainability we would like to strive for and design public policies to meet those goals – in fact, we must if we are to take action. While we are governed by the rules of ecology and those flows of goods and services, we are challenged to consider what sustainability would, or should, look like with 8, or even 10, billion people.
As a science-based, science-derived professional society, SETAC is comfortable addressing traditional science research problems but much less comfortable addressing how to deliberate science-based public policy problems and questions. Traditional science research problems are tame problems, defined primarily as those that have single right answers. Public policy problems are wicked problems (Rittel and Webber, 1973), which, in contrast, can be defined primarily as those where the solutions have to be discovered (learned) by stakeholder discussion and deliberation. Approaches to deal with tame problems (e.g., mechanistic modeling, mathematics, some LCA) are different than those needed to deal with wicked problems (e.g., stakeholder participatory) and the application of tame problem approaches to wicked problems often exacerbates the wicked problem.
For this reason, without understanding the nature of wicked problems, simply generating a compendium of tools and methodologies is unlikely to help address wicked problems and more likely to exacerbate them. Part of the much needed dialogue within SETAC (and the AGS) needs to focus this learning and discovery process; beginning with clear understanding of the difference between tame and wicked problems; i.e., the role of science in wicked problems like sustainability.
Last edited Wednesday, December 18, 2013