Socioenvironmental sustainability and actionable science


Stories of nature have been a common narrative tool to describe real and imagined human relationships with the natural world. Nearly 10 years ago, I wrote an essay that began with various stories, including a utopian tale in which “science is an essential element in enabling a future in which larger populations are supported without permanent damage to the planet's living infrastructure. A balance is found between the need to use the world and the need to maintain functional ecosystems. [It would be] a future in which natural ecosystems are sustained while providing essential services to a human population that shows no signs of a decrease in growth.” I knew that for such a story to become a reality, changes in how researchers approach their work were required. As part of a visioning plan for the Ecological Society of America, I worked with a team to develop an action plan to enhance access to ecological knowledge; to stimulate more innovative, forward-looking research; and to build effective partnerships with natural resource managers (Palmer et al. 2005). Today, many of the authors of that plan call for even more changes, including new research frameworks, in order move toward a more sustainable world in which the health of ecosystems and human well-being are improved (Collins et al. 2011). Such frameworks are stimulating exciting new research, but I find myself thinking a great deal about the limits of that research in solving real-world problems. How much should we scientists really expect our work to influence policies in a way that leads to a more sustainable future?

Publication Type
Journal Article

Related Content