By Joern Fischer
For the first time this year, I’m teaching a Masters level course in “sustainability science”. I was pretty free in designing this course. As I was putting it together, I often wondered what are the key aspects of sustainability science that students really should know about?
That, combined with some thinking about my own expertise and which colleagues I could draw on, then led me to develop the curriculum. Here are some key things that I think anyone doing “sustainability science” needs to know at least a little bit about:
– Origin of the notion of sustainability, including alternative definitions and the history of sustainable development;
– Global change, the Anthropocene, and the Great Acceleration;
– Systems thinking: including the role of feedbacks and different types of leverage points to intervene in a system;
– Resilience thinking: key concepts such as resilience, thresholds, regime shifts, and transformation;
– Social-ecological systems, human-environment systems, or coupled human and natural systems (depending on whose jargon you prefer…); and
– Interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity — how to integrate science and problem solving.
In addition, I felt it was useful to know something about how to measure sustainability (e.g. via various indicators) and specifically about the role of participation. And the course I have now put together also involves a couple of in-depth case studies. (I’m very glad that some of the teaching is done by others, including Daniel Lang, Jacqueline Loos, Jens Newig, and Dave Abson.
By necessity, this is my biased view of what matters in sustainability science. If people have strong opinions on what is missing here, I’d be interested to hear those thoughts.