These questions were addressed by faculty at the workshop, Systems, Society, Sustainability and the Geosciences, held in July 2012. Workshop participants worked with others in their discipline to generate a list of key concepts that are essential for students to learn and also allow opportunities to bring sustainability into the curricula.
Goal of this activity:
Integrate sustainability concepts, skills, and habits of mind part of courses in ways that have curricular integrity and "standing" – both for faculty members and students.
Key concepts common to many disciplines (compiled from all of the groups)
- Systems thinking and the relationship between systems
- Energy flow
- Understand Earth through repeatable observations
- show how to think and act like a geologist
- careful observation of natural systems helps us understand processes and interactions within those systems
- Interconnectedness, connectedness: emphasis on relationships (people and environment, different places, different systems)
- Importance of place and scale: sustainability will look different in different places (physical and social environments vary); sustainability will also "look different" and need to have different emphases based on scale (global vs. regional vs. local)
- Systems thinking: everything is connected, in context, and interrelated
- Interdisciplinarity: no sustainability problem comes from a single discipline, and no solution will either
Environmental Science and Sustainability Science
- Basic principles: (1)
Principles of ecosystem sustainability; (2) Nutrient cycling in human
& natural systems; (3) Energy flow in natural systems; (4)
Population growth models
Engineering and Technology
- Supply and demand - balance, optimization
- Risk and reliability - design criteria (e.g., sizing, resistance, capacity), disaster planning and mitigation
- Systems thinking - cradle-to-grave, cradle-to-cradle, life-cycle assessment
- Atomic structure - isotope abundance: atmospheric composition, fossil fuel tracing, geological aging/historical climates
- States of matter - energy: dependence on solid, liquid and gas forms of fossil fuels
- Periodicity - abundance of elements, mineral sourcing (cell phones, lithium batteries, etc.), geo-political stability of sources
- Diversity of life - relevance to ecosystem resilience globally. It is essential for the resilience of the ecosphere and also for agricultural resilience in an era of monocropping.
- Unity of life - Precautionary principle: small changes can have unintended, widespread consequences. This has been an issue that has been raised with genetically modified organisms.
- Scarcity and the coordination of scarce resources with human wants.
- Production, costs, and technology. E.g. direct vs. indirect costs and internal vs. external costs.
- Social institutions (rules and norms) shape incentives.
- Incentives shape the behaviors of consumers, firms, and government.
- Competitive environments (e.g. firms, consumers, government) impact market outcomes and resource use.
History and Philosophy
- There are other legitimate ways of knowing outside of the scientific paradigm, that includes our bodies and our histories.
- Introducing humanistic considerations into the conversation:values, power structures, ideology, etc.
- Questions about who, what, when, and why are vital in discussing sustainability.