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New AAAS Sustainability Website Draws Global Interest
With global interest rising in sustainability science and related social issues, AAAS's Center for Science, Innovation, and Sustainability has launched a new Web site to serve as the hub of an international network in the challenging years ahead. In its early weeks of operation, the site has drawn thousands of readers from around the world.
The site—http://sustainabilityscience.org—is an advanced, one-stop shop for scholars, governments, agencies, and others working to understand how humanity can grow and develop in an environmentally sustainable way. It offers a virtual library, discussion forums, commentary, and international listings of events and programs on sustainability. And it does so with a no-frills visual approach that is accessible even to users with limited bandwidth.
“The forum brings together leading scientists from developed and developing countries to begin grappling with some of the most fundamental science questions at the nexus of environment and development,” said Vaughan Turekian, AAAS chief international officer.
“Forum: Science and Innovation for Sustainable Development” has already had viewers from around the world. Many of the readers have come from the United States, Japan, the U.K., Sweden and Brazil. Inquiries and applications to join the network have come from Uganda, Iraq, Nigeria, India, China, Bulgaria, and Albania, among others.
The forum is an updated and reinvigorated version of a site hosted for several years at Harvard University. The concept grew out of discussions at the path-breaking Friibergh Workshop on Sustainability Science, which drew 24 influential scientists and scholars to Sweden in 2000. They and others had come to believe that biology, chemistry, hydrology, and other individual fields of science, operating independently, had limited ability to chart the dynamic interactions between nature and society. A new, inter-disciplinary approach was needed.
The Friibergh workshop gave rise to the Initiative on Science and Technology for Sustainability (ISTS). The Web site originally was seen as a depot for Friibergh documents and deliberations; soon, however, the organizing committee began to envision a bigger role.
The old site—like sustainability science itself—“has outgrown its original construct,” geographer Robert Kates, a 1991 U.S. Medal of Science winner and co-convenor of the initiative, said earlier this year. At first, sustainability was defined largely in scientific terms, he explained recently in an e-mail interview. But after a series of meetings around the globe, it was clear that social issues and issues related to the interaction of society and nature are just as important.
“The new Forum will give equal prominence to these using at a global level the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals and the water, energy, health, agriculture, biodiversity, and urban sectoral framework of the United Nations,” he said.
The effort to bring the Web site to AAAS was led by Shere Abbott, then the association's chief international officer; Abbott and Lars Bromley, a senior program associate in the AAAS Office of International Initiatives, collaborated on the project with ISTS leaders, including Kates and William Clark, an ecologist and key initiative organizer based at Harvard.
Currently, the forum has more than 300 members in 41 countries. That number is expected to jump as word of the Web site circulates and outreach activities restart.
“What I especially value about the commitment of AAAS to the forum is its experience and concern for the next generation of science and technology, both in its Web sites and in its creative programs of introducing young scientists to policy,” Kates said. “Sustainability science measures a transition to sustainability in terms of generations. Its task to support such a transition will extend across this century and many of its most productive contributors are still unborn.”
Edward W. Lempinen
26 July 2006