place-based sustainability science: governance strategy needed

sustainability strategy

How will your community transition toward sustainability? Not alone and in the dark, one hopes.

When the world's best thinkers are stressing the need to prepare for climate change, peak oil, and growing social unrest, we might hope that every community is placing a top-of-mind priority on their sustainability strategy.

Many transition towns are forging sustainability strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage everyone to take responsibility for their own environmental impacts, and create a change of attitude toward renewable energy.

The sustainability mission is to inspire communities in this transition as they unleash the collective genius of their own people. How to govern this?

To be effective,  a local sustainability strategy must integrate many elements:

Let's catch up with some recent learning on each of these elements.

Earlier this year, John Holdren’s president’s address to the AAAS concluded that we need sustainability science (ecological and social) to provide a stronger, clearer focus by scientists and technologists on the largest threats to human well-being, and greater emphasis on analysis of threats and remedies by teams that are interdisciplinary, intersectoral, inter-regional, and intergenerational.

Holdren said this will require:

  1. education and training better matched to these tasks
  2. more attention to interactions among threats and to remedies that address multiple threats at once
  3. larger and more coordinated investments in advances in S&T that meet key needs at lower cost with smaller adverse side effects
  4. clearer and more compelling arguments to policy-makers about the threats and the remedies.

At the same time, MIT President Susan Hockfield exhorted the Alliance for Global Sustainability to “turn up the volume” in our sustainability conversation. Introducing Rajendra Pachauri, Hockfield said, we most need pathways to a sustainable future that deliver solutions that are:

Just last week, a UNEP’s UNEP report noted that the pace of “green job” creation is likely to accelerate in the years ahead as part of a global transition to a low-carbon and sustainable economy, and indeed can become an engine of development.

Now, communities across the globe are joining forces with ICLIE to create the Sustainability Community Index for clear and consistent measurement of local progress.

We know that, like SLIM on Maui and Kohala Center on Hawai`i island, Kauai will need an institutionalized research capability based largely on the environmental social sciences and drawing upon aspects of geography, sociology, politics, planning, economics, management, development studies and science and technology studies,. We will need to bring together government, business, NGOs and local communities to foster participatory, action-oriented research to enhance the relevance, quality and practical influence of our research.

Kauai has already learned from the AIA's SDAT initiative that the inter-linked spheres of sustainability call for a collaborative process of systems thinking in order to design in ways that remove rather than contribute stress from systems.

So, how can we transform communities to be sustainable? Current research on conceptualizing the One Planet Community addresses two major questions (via worldchanging):

  1. What can be done to restructure the physical form of cities? What strategies are available to reduce the footprint of a city, and how close can a city get to ecological sustainability or “one planet living”?
  2. How do city dwellers become fair and equitable stewards of the planet in our patterns of consumption and production? When we’ve pushed physical city restructuring as far as it can go, what opportunities exist for changes in social behavior?

Making cities sustainable will require this kind of integrated approach: physical restructuring together with cultural and behavioral change.

Does your community have a strategy for that?

Published by Ken on September 28th, 2008 tagged Best Practices, Systems Thinking

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