Science and Sustainability: Discussions and Comments on Selected Papers on IIASA's 20th Anniversary

Keyfitz, N. (1994). Science and Sustainability: Discussions and Comments on Selected Papers on IIASA's 20th Anniversary. IIASA Collaborative Paper. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: CP-94-003

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IIASA celebrated its twentieth anniversary on May 12-13 with its fourth general conference, IIASA '92: An International Conference on the Challenges to Systems Analysis in the Nineties and Beyond. The conference focused on the relations between environment and development and on studies that integrate the methods and findings of several disciplines. The role of systems analysis, a method especially suited to taking account of the linkages between phenomena and of the hierarchical organization of the natural and social world, was also assessed, taking account of the implications this has for IIASA's research approach and activities.

No phrase that has come out of a conference has had more resonance than "sustainability." It was well chosen, with a suitable measure of ambiguity yet specific enough to ring a bell in most people's minds. In the one word it could claim to summarize the vast literature that took off from Rachel Carson and the Club of Rome. It is positive, where "limits" is for many unacceptably negative. It goes well in combination with other desirable entities, as in "sustainable growth." This latter enables it to appeal to the poor who look to growth, as well as to those better off who focus on the damage that growth causes to the natural environment. To hear "sustainable growth" is reassuring, for it seems to tell us that, in Harvey Brooks' expression, "economic development and protection of the environment are not necessarily in conflict with each other."

Environmental study requires the contributions of a number of disciplines, and its models bring together variables not ordinarily associated with one another. In these regards it exemplifies the ideas of systems analysis. But there are other fields that also bring out those ideas. The pension problem that will soon face every country as it develops, just as it now faces the industrial countries; uncertainty is universal whenever models are used to illuminate the long-term future; every model faces questions of identification, in its attempt to infer the underlying structure that generates the observed data; that the several world models now extant reach such different conclusions throws light on the difficulty of identification and on the uncertainties of world modeling.

We believe that the papers contained in the first volume, "Science and Sustainability: Selected Papers on IIASA's 20th Anniversary" (IIASA, 1992) dealing with these themes, along with the comments on the papers and the reports of the discussion groups contained in this volume, will at least help clarify difficulties that will always be with us in science as they are in policy making.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Collaborative Paper)
Research Programs: Directorate (DIR)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 02:04
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:15

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