Sustainability science emerged in the 21st century as a new academic discipline. This new field of science was officially introduced with a "Birth Statement" at the World Congress "Challenges of a Changing Earth 2001" in Amsterdam organized by the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). The field reflects a desire to give the generalities and broad-based approach of "sustainability" a stronger analytic and scientific underpinning as it "brings together scholarship and practice, global and local perspectives from north and south, and disciplines across the natural and social sciences, engineering, and medicine". Ecologist William C. Clark proposes that it can be usefully thought of as "neither 'basic' nor 'applied' research but as a field defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs" and that it "serves the need for advancing both knowledge and action by creating a dynamic bridge between the two".
The field is focused on examining the interactions between human, environmental, and engineered systems to understand and contribute to solutions for complex challenges that threaten the future of humanity and the integrity of the life support systems of the planet, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and land and water degradation.
Sustainability science, like sustainability itself, derives some impetus from the concepts of sustainable development and environmental science. Sustainability science provides a critical framework for sustainability while sustainability measurement provides the evidence-based quantitative data needed to guide sustainability governance.
Consensual definition of sustainability science is as elusive as the definition of "sustainability" or "sustainable development". In an overview presented on its website in 2008 the Sustainability Science Program at Harvard University described the field in the following way, stressing its interdisciplinarity:
'Sustainability science' is problem-driven, interdisciplinary scholarship that seeks to facilitate the design, implementation, and evaluation of effective interventions that foster shared prosperity and reduced poverty while protecting the environment. It is defined by the problems it addresses rather than the disciplines it employs. It thus draws as needed from multiple disciplines of the natural, social, medical and engineering sciences, from the professions, and from the knowledge of practice.
Susan W. Kieffer and colleagues, in 2003, suggested, more specifically, that sustainability science is:
... the cultivation, integration, and application of knowledge about Earth systems gained especially from the holistic and historical sciences (such as geology, ecology, climatology, oceanography) coordinated with knowledge about human interrelationships gained from the social sciences and humanities, in order to evaluate, mitigate, and minimize the consequences, regionally and worldwide, of human impacts on planetary systems and on societies across the globe and into the future – that is, in order that humans can be knowledgeable Earth stewards.
It has been noted that the new paradigm
... must encompass different magnitudes of scales (of time, space, and function), multiple balances (dynamics), multiple actors (interests) and multiple failures (systemic faults).
Others take a much broader view of sustainability science, emphasizing the need to analyze the root causes of the fundamental unsustainability of the prevailing economic system, such as the emphasis on growth as key to solving political and social problems and advancing society's well-being. In a 2012 article entitled "Sustainability Science Needs to Include Sustainable Consumption," published in Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, Halina Brown argues that sustainability science must include the study of the sociology of material consumption and the structure of consumerist society, the role of technology in aggravating the unsustainable social practices, as well as in solving the problems they create, the macroeconomic theories that presuppose economic growth as a necessary condition for advancing societal well-being, and others.
The case for making research and development an important component of sustainable development strategies was embraced by many international scientific organizations in the mid-1980s, promoted by the Brundtland Commission's report Our Common Future in 1987, and noted in the Agenda 21 plan that emerged from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 and further developed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in 2002.
The topics of the following sub-headings indicate recurring themes that are addressed in the literature of sustainability science. In 2010 a compendium of basic papers in this new discipline was published as Readings in Sustainability Science and Technology, edited by Robert Kates, with a preface by William Clark. The 2012 Commentary by Halina Brown extensively expands the scope of that seminal publication. This is work in progress. The 2012 Encyclopedia of Sustainability Science and Technology was created as a collaboration of over 1000 scientists to provide peer-reviewed entries covering sustainability research and policy evaluations of technology.
Knowledge structuring of issues
Knowledge structuring has been identified as an essential first step in the effort to acquire a comprehensive view of sustainability issues which are both complex and interconnected. This is needed as a response to the requirements of academia, industry and government.
Coordination of data
The key research and data for sustainability are sourced from many scientific disciplines, topics and organisations. A major part of knowledge structuring will entail building up the tools that provide an "overview" of what is known. Sustainability science can construct and coordinate a framework within which the vast amount of data can be easily accessed.
The attempt, by sustainability science, to understand the integrated "whole" of planetary and human systems requires cooperation between scientific, social and economic disciplines, public and private sectors, academia and government. In short it requires a massive global cooperative effort and one major task of sustainability science is to assist integrated cross-disciplinary coordination.
Geoscience is the study of the Earth and all fields of Earth sciences. Geoscience is a broad term that includes various disciplines such as: geology, hydrology, geological engineering, volcanology, and environmental geology.
Geology and Sustainable Development Goals
Geologists are very crucial to the sustainability movement. They hold a special knowledge and deep understanding of how Earth recycles and maintains the sustainability of itself. To gain a better understanding of how sustainability and geology are closely related, there is the definition: the notable changes in geologic processes that land between how Earth was before humans existed and currently exist. Therefore, the relationship between these two sciences is not a new idea but also an old concept. They are very similar in that they have many limitations due to gradual changes. However, there is an issue between this relationship. Geologists do not always find themselves centered with sustainable thoughts. One of the reasons for this is that many geologists can not agree on the issue with the Anthropocene Epoch debate which focuses on how humans can adapt to the environmental changes in comparison to how these changes are neglected. Regardless of Geologists not always finding themselves centered with this thinking, society has made an effort to link the two by creating Sustainable Development Goals. These goals however, do not overlap with many of the jobs that geologists perform.
Geology is a science that is critical in understanding many of modern societies environmental challenges. This science is important to understand because it has a major role to play in deciding if humans can live sustainably on Earth. Having a lot to do with energy, water, climate change, and natural hazards, geology can be used to interpret and solve a wide variety of problems. However, few geologists make any contributions towards a more sustainable future. Many geologists end up working for oil and gas or mining companies which are typically not focused on sustainability. In order to be more sustainably minded, geologists must collaborate with many and all types of Earth sciences. For example, if geologists collaborated with sciences like ecology, zoology, physical geography, biology, and environmental sciences as well as engineers they could gain a better understanding of the impact their work could have on the environment. By working with more fields of study and broadening their knowledge of the environment geologists and their work could be more environmentally conscious.
To ensure that sustainability and geology can maintain their relationship, it is essential that schools globally make an effort to add geology into curriculum. and society incorporates the international development goals. A misconception many people have is that geology is the study of rocks however it is much more complex. Geology is the study of the Earth, how Earth works, and what it means for life on Earth. Understanding the Earth and its natural processes opens many doors for understanding how humans affect the Earth and ways to protect it. In order to allow more people to understand this field of study, more schools must begin to advertise this known information. When more people hold this knowledge, it will then be easier to incorporate the international development goals and continue to better the Earth.
- Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development, semiannual journal published since 2009, now "in partnership with Columbia University Libraries".
- International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, journal with six issues per year, published since 1994 by Taylor & Francis.
- Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment & Society (S.A.P.I.EN.S.), semiannual journal published by Veolia Environment from 2008 to 2015. A notable essay on sustainability indicators by Paul-Marie Boulanger appeared in the first issue.
- Sustainability Science, journal launched by Springer in June 2006.
- Sustainability: Science, Practice, Policy, an open-access journal for sustainable solutions launched in March 2005. Now published by Taylor & Francis.
- Sustainability: The Journal of Record, bimonthly journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. beginning in December 2007.
- A section dedicated to sustainability science in the multidisciplinary journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was launched in 2006.
- GAIA: Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society / GAIA: Ökologische Perspektiven für Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft, a quarterly inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions. Launched in 1992 and published by oekom verlag on behalf of GAIA Society – Konstanz, St. Gallen, Zurich.
List of sustainability science programs
In recent years, more and more university degree programs have developed formal curricula which address issues of sustainability science and global change:
Undergraduate programmes in sustainability science
Graduate degree programmes in sustainability science
- Citizen science
- Ecological modernization
- Environmental sociology
- Earth system governance
- Glossary of environmental science
- List of environmental degrees
- List of environmental organisations
- List of sustainability topics
- Sustainability studies
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- Clark, W.C. 2007. "Sustainability Science: A room of its own". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 1737–1738; published online 6 February 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0611291104
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- Environmental Science: Iowa State University
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- "Overview". Sustainable Science Program. Harvard University. Archived from the original on 19 November 2008. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
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- Reitan, P. 2005. Sustainability science – and what’s needed beyond science. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 1(1):77-80. /vol1iss1/communityessay.reitan.html Archived 2007-01-24 at the Wayback Machine
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- Kauffmann, Joanne 2009. Advancing sustainability science: report on the International Conference on Sustainability Science (ICSS) 2009. Sustainability Science 4: 233–242.
- Kates, Robert W., ed. (2010). Readings in Sustainability Science and Technology. CID Working Paper No. 213. Center for International Development, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, December 2010. Abstract and PDF file available on the Harvard Kennedy School website; retrieved 2017-07-16.
- Meyers, R. (2012). Encyclopedia of sustainability science and technology. New York: Springer.
- Mora, Germán (December 2013). "The Need for Geologists in Sustainable Development". The Geological Society of America. 23 (12): 26–27. doi:10.1130/GSATG185GW.1. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
- Savina, Mary. "Geology and Sustainability" (PDF). Retrieved 13 May 2020.
- Metzger, Ellen; Blockstein, David; Callahan, Caitlin (May 2017). "Interdisciplinary Teaching and Sustainability: An Introduction". Geoscience Education. 65 (2): 81–85. Bibcode:2017JGeEd..65...81M. doi:10.5408/1089.9995-65.2.81. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
- Stewart, Iain; Gill, Joel (April 2017). "Social Geology - Integrating Sustainability Concepts into Earth Sciences". Proceedings of the Geologists' Association. 128 (2): 165–172. doi:10.1016/j.pgeola.2017.01.002. hdl:10026.1/10862. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
- Hickmann, Thomas; Partzsch, Lena; Pattberg, Philipp; Weiland, Sabine (3 September 2018). The Anthropocene Debate and Political Science. New York: Routledge. pp. 1–278. ISBN 978-0-8153-8614-8. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
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- "Graduate degrees and programs".
- "MSRS Master of Science in Regenerative Studies | Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies | College of Environmental Design - Cal Poly Pomona".
- "MS Master of Science in Sustainability Science | Earth Institute | School of Professional Studies - Columbia University".
- "Master of Science | Environment + Sustainability | University of Michigan SEAS".
- "Master of Landscape Architecture | Environment + Sustainability | University of Michigan SEAS".
- "PHD | Environment + Sustainability | University of Michigan SEAS".
- Bernd Kasemir, Jill Jager, Carlo C. Jaeger, and Matthew T. Gardner (eds) (2003). Public participation in sustainability science, a handbook. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-521-52144-4
- Kajikawa Yuya (2008), "Research core and framework of sustainability science", Sustainability Science, n° 3, pp. 215–239, Springer DOI 10.1007/s11625-008-0053-1
- Kates, Robert W., ed. (2010). Readings in Sustainability Science and Technology. CID Working Paper No. 213. Center for International Development, Harvard University. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, December 2010. Abstract and PDF file available on the Harvard Kennedy School website
- Jackson, T. (2009), "Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Final Planet." London: Earthscan
- Brown, Halina Szejnwald (2012). "Sustainability Science Needs to Include Sustainable Consumption". Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 54: 20–25
- Mino Takashi, Shogo Kudo (eds), (2019), Framing in Sustainability Science. Singapore: Springer. ISBN 978-981-13-9061-6.