logo n1

Building Sustainable Future Needs More than Science

“Because human decisions and behavior are the result of ethics, values and emotion, and because sustainability directly involves our values and ethical concerns, science alone is insufficient to make decisions about sustainability”- Thomas Dietz, assistant vice president for environmental research at Michigan State University

At a recent conference of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) which was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, many of the experts present argued that the path to a truly sustainable future is through the muddy waters of emotions, values, ethics, and most importantly, imagination. I found this very interesting. This is very similar to what I, a none-scientist, but an economist, have been saying about economics for a long time now. This is why I wish to share the gist of the Vancouver forum with you, followed by a recommendation for your consideration.

The conference observed that, contrary to popular belief, humans have failed to address the earth's worsening emergencies of climate change, species' extinction and resource over-consumption, not because of a lack of information, but because of a lack of imagination. I very much agree with this, as I believe same could be said for the failures of modern economics.

“Humans' perceptions of reality are filtered by personal experiences and values… as a result, the education and communication paradigm of "if we only knew better, we'd do better" is not working… "We don't live in the real world, but live only in the world we imagine."

“We live in our heads. We live in storyland," and "When we talk about sustainability we are talking about the future, how things could be. This is the landscape of imagination,"… "If we can't imagine a better world we won't get it."

“This imagining will be complex and difficult. Sustainability encompasses far more than just scientific facts – it also incorporates the idea of how we relate to nature and to ourselves.” Once again, I find myself in total agreement with these comments.

This is why I am calling for a dialogue between science, economics, ethics, spirituality and moral philosophy. Our disciplines whilst firmly committed to the highest standards of scholarly excellence, should nonetheless, be firmly for the common good, pursue and encourage discussion of the practical and ethical dimensions of economic and scientific action, with the intention to contribute to both the advancement of a good and valueable science, as well as the building of a good economy in a good society.

I will be delighted to hear from you, if you are interested to follow this call for dialogue and action further.

To read more on the Vancouver conference see: