Knowledge practices and action for sustainability: some questions and gaps needing further examination in 2016

I recently reread an important commentary/thought piece on the future of sustainability science which argues that the field needs to substantially change in order “to ensure that science is focused on facilitating sustainability outcomes” (Miller et al. 2014). In particular, these sustainability researchers believe that a stronger focus on contributing to real-world solutions is required …

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The politics of ‘green transformations’ and efforts to realise them

The politics of green transformations is increasingly a key theme in sustainability-related research and books. Recently published examples include The Politics of Green Transformation (edited by Scoones et al., 2015), The Politics of Sustainability: Philosophical Perspectives (edited by Birnbacher & Thorseth, 2015), The Politics of “Big Brand Sustainability” (Dauvergne & Lister, 2014), Frank Geels’ recent …

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Reflexivity, experimentation and anticipatory action – considering Emma Marris’s Rambunctious Garden

For a while I’ve been meaning to re-read Marris’s book Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-wild World. The book’s central thesis is that we must abandon the idea that the central goal of conservation is to preserve nature in a pristine, prehuman state, and consequently must rethink conservation goals and practices. I recall at …

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New ecomodernist manifesto released

A group of scholars, scientists, campaigners, and citizens – many of which are associated with The Breakthrough Institute in the US – have released a new “ecomodernist” manifesto (available here). It’s an interesting document which is sure to spark debate. In the preamble they state that “we affirm one long-standing environmental ideal, that humanity must …

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The “compressed foresight” of deterministic sustainability thinkers

Consider these contrasting perspectives. Giles Parkinson in http://reneweconomy.com.au writes: “Solar and storage means “game over” for traditional utilities” (note: that’s the intentionally dramatic headline). He quotes Jon Wellinghoff, the chairman of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) who stated:  “Once it is more cost-effective to build solar with storage than to build a combustion turbine or …

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Reconsidering the theoretical foundation of prospective practices (PART 3): the causal logic of interventions and achieving transformative change

Prospective practices often try to change the course of change, not just anticipate or predict change. However, the underlying causal logic of such interventions tends to be under theorised and/or remains mostly tacit. In the evaluation literature this causal logic is often termed the “intervention theory”, or the “program theory”, or underlying “theory of change”. …

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One of the most important sustainability-related articles you have never read

This may be a big call, but I think one of the most important sustainability-related articles which few people have read is ‘Verification, Validation, and Confirmation of Numerical Models in the Earth Sciences’ by Naomi Oreskes et al (published in Science back in 1994).** Sure it sounds dry, but it usefully considers the increasing use …

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Dealing with complexity in evaluation, foresight and sustainability practice

I’ve just finished reading The Science of Evaluation: A Realist Manifesto by Ray Pawson (SAGE, 2013), which re-states the case for realist forms of evaluation and further explicates ways of doing it (e.g. in systematic reviews). Pawson is Professor of Social Research Methodology at the University of Leeds and he describes social science inquiry as …

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