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460 Words on Sustainability 0 B. Phillips While attending the 2013 National SETAC Meeting in Nashville I stumbled upon a sustainability workshop that featured the Pisces Game.  I understood the term “sustainability” from a conceptual standpoint, but had never really give it much thought in my day-to-day tasks as an environmental toxicologist with the University of California Davis.  The Pisces Game involves groups of people working together to manage resources for their survival, and for the survival of future generations.  The groups were divided randomly by astrological sign, and all varied in size.  Some had more resources than others, and were expected to share.  Some groups attempted to be leaders, while other groups hunkered down and appeared to be plotting for world domination.  Although we were all essentially environmental scientists of one sort or another, personalities immediately clashed.  I learned a few interesting things that day, but most importantly I had a single notion confirmed for me: humans have a hard time working together.  As I attended the SETAC Sustainability Workgroup meeting later that day, I could see the after effects of the game on some of the participants in attendance.  Even the workgroup members themselves had trouble deciding on activities and directions for the group.   The following day I heard several sustainability presentations, but one presentation by Emma Lavoie stuck with me.  Her topic was flame retardant chemicals, their known environmental effects, and how we had to work together to determine less harmful methods for fire safety.  The process involved assembling stakeholders from all areas related to flame retardant chemicals, manufacturers to end users.  My impression was that these groups met repeatedly, became familiar with each other’s needs, and worked diligently to arrive at solutions.  Throwing these groups together and asking them to save the world in one afternoon, like the Pisces Game, was not going to work.  Time was a necessary component to effect change.  I was recently discussing an impacted water body listing with a local Regional Water Board staff member in Central California, and he conveyed his concern over how to assemble the stakeholders for the subsequent Total Maximum Daily Load action.  We discussed the timing of the events, and I suggested he have as many meetings as possible with as many groups as possible in order for the groups to become more familiar with each other, and also to frame the issue in a way that would benefit everyone.  The process is still under way, but already the parties are discussing ideas and asking each other questions.  Free coffee and pastries can also help grease the wheels.  As this process continues, it is my hope that the parties with the most extreme viewpoints (some are the regulators and some the regulated) will be able to compromise for the improvement of water quality.  
by B. Phillips
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Some (Fashionably Late) Words on Sustainability 0 E. Lavoie From Emma Lavoie:Clever humans from several organizations have defined sustainability and I simplify it as fundamentally the ability to maintain human society without destroying the earths resources on which that society depends. To move towards more sustainable systems on global and multigenerational scales takes individual definitions that relate to our local systems and activities, put quite simply, think globally, act locally.My experience and privilege to be connected with SETAC colleagues of different expertise, experience and personality combined with my personal values and experience as a public servant at US EPA  has yielded this personal definition that fits my current time, role and level of impact:  Sustainability is enabling, facilitating and cooperating with colleagues and stakeholders through open minded respect and encouragement with the willingness to accept change and trade-offs that may go against my own expectations and values. To be a part of real, incremental change requires social skills not taught to scientists but that have to be learned through experience or cultivated out from the introverted side of our personality.   Our science and environmental assessment training is fundamental to our work, but our social, communication and leadership skills built in part through our participation in SETAC are what will enable us to contribute to environmental integrity in the face of human consumption.  The dialog, social interaction and education through the Sustainability Advisory Group enables a perspective on sustainability that will make our science and policy decisions more valuable and effective.  My definition today is not what I would have written after SETAC Nashville nor likely to be what I would describe a year from now.  Experiences and shifts at work and in life will provide a constantly growing perspective.
by E. Lavoie
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Thomas Seager PhD : 250 words on s 0 V. Prado Sustainability is an ethical concept that things should always be better in the future than they are at present.   It is a commitment to continuous, monotonic improvement in the human condition.  That is, sustainability is not an optimization or a maximization principle.  It is about the direction, not the pace.  Thus, sustainability is about the compass, not the speedometer.Continuous improvement in the human condition requires that all humans have the opportunity to improve their condition -- that includes rich and poor, present and future.  Thus, sustainability is not inherently egalitarian nor hierarchical, except that it does admit that the rate of improvement in some populations may be slowed so as to ensure that all segments can improve.
by V. Prado
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Cynthia Stahl PhD: 250 words on sustainablity 0 V. Prado CynthiaDecember 16, 2013 (~250 word assignment based on Nashville discussion)SETAC Advisory Group on Sustainability: Cynthia’s statement on sustainabilitySustainability 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.
by V. Prado
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Larry Kapustka PhD: 250 words on sustainability 0 V. Prado The Contours of SustainabilityLarry Kapustka, Ph.D., LK ConsultancyThere is much intrigue and confusion about sustainability, both within and outside of SETAC.  A compelling force of life is the drive to survive and among species with social structures, this force extends to the society.  In that context, sustainability is nothing new.  In the 1980s, sustainability became a catchy phrase that spread like a wildfire through corporations and governments as a counter argument to pressures from environmentalists – it was presented as a challenge, how can we as a society continue to grow without destroying the base of our subsistence?  It was framed as sustainable development.  Almost immediately, this was condemned as an oxymoron and perhaps as a way around the criticisms, the concept has morphed into simply sustainability.Early efforts to define sustainability focussed on finite resources.  In a gloom and doom portrayal of the state of affairs, some predicted that we could not survive for long because the costs of materials would become prohibitive – the debate entered the purview of economics pitting the finite resource advocates against the believers in technological innovation.  It was a debate that resource advocates lost at least in the near term as commodity prices fell even in the face of documented scarcity – new efficiencies in exploration, extraction, processing, and use more than made up for the continual decline in the stock of finite resources.Meanwhile, that marketing cachet of declaring that one was operating sustainably was irresistible.  Framed in these normative terms, who would support anyone or any corporation that declared they were opposed to sustainability.  And so the countercyclical claims of sustainability and charges of greenwashing threatened to corrupt the larger concept.Whether or not the term sustainability survives is immaterial, the concept surely will.  A common statement of resignation about the whole concept is that "There is no common understanding of what sustainability is.  It is whatever people want it to be.”  That it seems is taking the easy way out.  Giving up without spending the time or the energy to undergo a rigorous academic pursuit of the concept.  Perhaps this level of resignation is grounded in the realization that there is not a formula, algorithm, model, accounting process, or other linear path to a correct answer; a decided frustration for engineers and old school scientist for whom there is always a correct answer.From the perspective of a biological/ecological foundation, sustainability is about extending the longevity of human societies.  It is not about saving the planet.  The planet will be around long after life is extinguished.  Rather, it is about nurturing/managing those aspects of ecological systems in a way that allows for predictable flows of goods and services upon which a society depends – rate of food production, the quantity and quality of accessible water, the rate of assimilating wastes, and so on.  In this context we can see that sustainability can be described in terms of systems ecology.  It then can be linked to social systems.  And together these lead to four questions that ought to be front and center of any discussion of sustainability: what do you wish to sustain?  For how long?  Who benefits? And who pays?  Goodwill among stakeholders engaged in such a dialogue leads to agreed actions that can work for the parties involved.  Under similar circumstances in different cultures, the agreed actions are likely to be different – none is right, none is wrong, but each can be appropriate in its own context.  This is the realm of wicked problems.  This is a signature feature of sustainability.
by V. Prado
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
General meeting Nashville NOTES 0 V. Prado Minutes from AGS general body meeting in Nashville
by V. Prado
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Steering Com. Nashville NOTES 0 V. Prado Attached are the notes from steering committee
by V. Prado
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
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