How much time do we have? Urgency and rhetoric in sustainability science

Abstract

Sustainability challenges are multitudinous, urgent, and complex. They are beyond the capacities of our current institutions to address, caused by path-dependent behaviors, and require substantial change from systems with crippling inertia. These problems are born of large-scale industrial economic policy, the rise of materialism, and the supremacy of profit over sustainability. Currently, academia is poorly positioned to address sustainability problems because of anachronistic pedagogy, mismatched incentives, insufficient expertise, lack of personal commitment, and insular products and communication. What transformational methods for research and practice, which involve relevant communities throughout problem-solving processes in meaningful ways, does sustainability science offer? Though rhetoric outweighs real-world sustainability transitions so far, we argue that operationalizing the goals of the field, developing the necessary competencies, and seeking novel partnerships between society and the academy will position academic institutions to make a bigger impact on the transition to sustainability.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Communication at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability on 8 February 2010.

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Correspondence to Arnim Wiek.

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Handled by Kensuke Fukushi, The University of Tokyo, Japan.

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van der Leeuw, S., Wiek, A., Harlow, J. et al. How much time do we have? Urgency and rhetoric in sustainability science. Sustain Sci 7, 115–120 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-011-0153-1

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Keywords

  • Sustainability science
  • Path dependency
  • Institutional development
  • Collaborative partnerships
  • Actionable knowledge
  • Real-world impact