What is Sustainability Science?

Have you ever had to define a word you use everyday and struggle to give a simple explanation?  The Fall 2011 Beam Reach class was asked to simply define sustainability science prior to the first lecture of sustainability science.  We all looked with blank stares as we collectively appeared to be at a loss of words.  However, it was a bit comforting knowing participating professors were struggling just as much as the students.

So what is sustainability science? My definition was the study of how to maintain/ sustain populations and its ecosystem.  After pooling various definitions we confidently said there is no specific definition of sustainability science.  Some said the definition had to do with how research was carried out, others what yours studying, yet further more how it effects the ecosystems.  Sustainability science is such a broad category and encompasses many things that we cannot pin point a specific explanation.

According to Clark et al. the questions we need to ask ourselves when looking at sustainability science are: What is to be sustained? For how long? What is to be developed? (2005).  Clark and Dickson state sustainability science is taking science and technology and focusing on interactions between nature and society (2003).  However, it also encompasses seeing how social alternations shape the environment and how the environment alters society.  Knowing these two factors effect each other Turner et al. diagrammed (below) how various elements are dependent on one another (2003).  The study of sustainability science is not studying one element but how many outside factors can influence each other.  If we are careless our actions can alter ecosystems in ways that make it impossible to recover.

After talking about sustainability science I started thinking more about the definition and how much of an impact these factors have on one another.  Since the words sustainability science are so hard to describe, because it umbrellas an extremely wide range of studies, everyone has a different explanation.  After further discussion and reading, to me, sustainability science meas using research and technology to study how ecosystems and populations effect each other while focusing on how to sustain/ maintain them using the least invasive methods as possible.  If someone comes up to you and asks what is sustainability science can you define it?

Later on in during this program the Fall 2011 class will be doing a sustainability project to help the various ecosystems and organisms here on and around the San Juan Islands (ie. Southern Residents).  We have not completely decided on our project yet, however, I’m sure more will be posted when the time comes.

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