2011/03/14 09:55 Bill Clark, "Grand Challenges of Sustainability Science", Resilience 2011, Arizona State University

Resilience 2011 --  Resilience, Innovation and Sustainability:  Navigating the Complexities of Global Change -- Second International Science and Policy Conference -- March 11-16, 2011

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, by David Ing.

Bill Clark was a grad student with Buzz Holling

  • Also an editor of the PNAS section on sustainability
  • Kennedy School of Government, Harvard U.

[Bill Clark]

Talk that came in on Thursday night isn't the one given now

Should we go out of session with urgency? Yes, but we're scientists rather than activists

  • Sense of urgency isn't commensurate with front lines, of what we're trying to study

Moving from scholarship to embedding in social fabric

  • Don't know how to do this
  • Tension between good scholarship, and connecting to the way science works

Canonical vision of sustainable development by the Brundtland Commission in 1987

  • Lured by Buzz Holling to IIASA
  • Can't advance development in the long run, unless looking at use of resources
  • Can't advance environment protection, if condemning people to live in poverty
  • Last few sentences of Brundtland Commission most cited, but look at beginning:  assertions, a statement of hope, so can come out better
  • Advancing human well-being while maintaining environmental protection

Problem with grand challenges

  • We're doing lots more
  • We know more since Brundtland Commission
  • We have improve human well-being, and preserved parts of the environment
  • But we're losing the battle

On the front lines:  landscapes

  • U.S. dustbowl
  • Not just what human activity is doing with the environment, but residual effects of poverty and human development, because we can't get environment right
  • Sustainability isn't just about the south, can walk two blocks and see it
  • Writing Our Common Future, saw poverty in Roosevelt Memorial
  • Poverty on one hand, and modern art of Uncle Sam recruiting saying that we need you to buy more
  • An overconsumption problem, and an underconsumption problem
  • Devastation in Japan, in earthquake and tsunami, like Indonesia with 250,000 lost
  • Human-induced, no, but human interaction, yes

Why care aboutsustainability development?

  • Economic development with environmental protection is bad
  • Kills people
  • Limits food production at foundation of human betterment, brown cloud from biomass buring shades India and wipes out improvements
  • Undermines economic development, World Bank has reported corrected GDP, means countries lose 1.5 points off 3 points of growth due to pollution and resource degradation
  • Mobilizing science to support sustainable development is important; alternative is a waste of human life and potential, a moral failure

Sustainability science is a technical movement

  • Emergent field of use-inspired research
  • Like before agricultural science or health science
  • Defined by problems, interdisciplinary
  • Building a core body of characteristic understanding

Progress report on the research program:

  • Gratifying changes
    • Drivers of change
    • H-E dynamics
    • Measurement
  • Less success in linking knowledge with action
    • Grand challenge is to radically extend and deepen linkages
    • Need to find ways to scale up

Cheerleading sessions assert great things are happening; want to look at what has been discovered and published with rigour

Drivers of H-E interactions

  • Population levels are less important than population structure (i.e. household size, migration, age structure, divorce)
  • Attributing emissions to place of consumption rather than focusing on place of production (e.g. China is doing production before, and now offsets)
  • Kuznets (economics, pollution) isn't fate, policies matter on how increasing wealth changes environmental damages:  all countries that are wealthy don't damage environment at the same level

Impacts and interactions

  • Land use can trigger regional climate changes equial to or in excess of global climate change
  • Intensification of agricutlure can but often doesn't spare land from degradation
  • Greatest benefits moving away from fossil fuels aren't about climate
  • Tipping points are dense, unpredictable, may have early warning signs
  • Safe operating spaces and planetary boundaries are highly suspect and new opiates, e.g. standards invented by lawyers and put into law, safe on one side and doomed on the other has disrailed research

Governance and monitoring

  • One size panaceas (e.g. privaitziation, carbon taxes) don't promote sustainability
  • Trans-national agreements effective, but limited membership
  • Certification schemes mostly impact producers, not consumers

Getting the world to live sustainability gets beyond academic modes

  • Much of fault not in stars of the world, but in ourselves
  • Academics treating as if just an exciting area for research
  • Research, teaching and outreach

Research:  what we choose to study

  • Pie charts: only 15% of people interested in sustainability, 1% in innovation, 1% in poverty/affluence although they're themes
  • In PNAS Sustainability Science where trying to not rule out science and economics, got 60% of papers in life support system (how humans damage the environment), 5% on innovation, and 4% on poverty/affluence, finding it hard to pull academics into the game
  • People aren't choosing to work on these spaces, doing what they've always done, not engaged in two-way interactions to understand social dimension
  • Foster more on meeting human needs

Teaching:  What do students learn?

Outreach: How do we do a better job in connecting with the world of action?

  • People who run factories
  • Context-dependent in social structure, path dependents
  • Work out in micro scale, embedded in systems and norms that induce it along
  • Much of knowledge that might be useful is probably being discovered somewhere else, similar experience
  • How to do the connection?
  • See some in innovation-based businesses that scan the world, but that's for private goods
  • Mixed public-private goods production, moving fast, people don't know how to talk about it (e.g. translational medicine)
  • Extension services (e.g. land grant universities)
  • RISA experiments, building teams in universities and charged with extending out to the world
  • Experiment at ASU:  The New American University challenges universities to step up to land grant or UK universities did in their time, not only going toe to toe with leading universities
  • What would a university look like that was working on sustainable development?  Rewarding researcher that spend half time as researchers and half time as appliers, inventing new knowledge that neither researchers nor practitioners could do on their own


Driven by journals.