By Joern Fischer
Working in a sustainability context quite regularly leaves me frustrated. Quite regularly, my sense is that, on balance, we’re continuing to move away from sustainability rather than towards it. And to my mind anyway, this sucks, because it’s screwing up the lives of people who are already disadvantaged as well as the lives of countless other organisms.
But occasionally I’m struck by a glimmer of hope, and because there’s so much bad news out there, I thought why not share such a glimmer of hope. The thing that gives me more hope than anything else – and hence is more motivating than anything else – is working with “the next generation” of sustainability scientists. In the last few weeks, I have read numerous applications, grant proposals and PhD proposals, and a surprising proportion of them made me very happy. There’s a highly skilled, intelligent, and motivated generation of scientists emerging; people who are not (yet?) cynical, and whose motivation is not primarily tied to h-indices but to doing research for a better world.
Of course, a little while back, I was one of those people, so one might ask if anything has changed since then. In some ways, I think, it has. As reported in our recent paper, there has been a real coalescing of different ideas, disciplines and methodologies. Today’s generation of young scholars can “hit the ground running” when it comes to integrating insights for the benefit of the world, because a lot of the disciplinary ground-work has been done. This is a great challenge (because integration is hard) but also a great opportunity.
My occasional glimpse of hope about the state of the world thus stems from seeing a growing, increasingly well equipped generation of new sustainability scientists. Two challenges emerging from this are (i) fostering the academic development of such people as much as possible, and (ii) building bridges between different people so they can join forces. The latter strikes me as particularly important because many disjointed, individual efforts at “doing good” may not suffice to turn around the trajectory of the world.
Here’s a goal worth thinking about then: Within my lifetime, I’d like to get the sense that humanity is managing to “bend the curve”, that is, at least begin to turn towards a sustainable future, rather than keep racing away from it. It will take scaling up existing efforts, but with all the good people involved … perhaps we can do it?