Chapter 1: Why is sustainability science needed?
Research over the last two decades has shown that human influences on global life-support systems have reached a magnitude unprecedented in human history (Jerneck et al., 2010). On the one hand, pro-growth economic policies have encouraged rapid accumulation of consumption goods and technological innovations (Komiyama and Takeuchi, 2006; Orecchini et al., 2012). This has resulted in increased human prosperity in many parts of the world, although in a globally disproportionate manner. As already stated in the Brundtland report 25 years ago: Those looking for success and signs of hope can find many: infant mortality is falling; human life expectancy is increasing; the proportion of the world’s adults who can read and write is climbing; the proportion of children starting school is rising; and global food production increases faster than the population grows (WCED, 1987, p. 19). On the other hand, by depleting the world’s stock of natural wealth on a global scale – often irreversibly – the prevailing, and predominant, economic and development models increasingly have detrimental impacts on the well-being of present generations, in particular leading to a broadening ecological crisis and ever widening social disparities. Concomitantly, these models present tremendous risks and challenges for future generations. To document the most salient features of this global crisis, researchers throughout the world have engaged in vast enterprises of collaborative peer-reviewed research.