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David V.J. Bell – 1997

July 25, 1997 @ 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Senate Chamber, N940, Ross Building, York University

Title: Sustainability and the Role of Science: The Case of Transportation, Air Quality and Human Health.

Abstract: The challenge of sustainability requires that we find ways of adapting our institutions and practices so as to permit the continued survival of humankind beyond the next century. In relation to this challenge, knowledge from the natural sciences will prove to be critically important.

As in the past, the role of the natural sciences includes identifying “problems” in the natural environment, assessing the impacts of human activity, and predicting the consequences of continued patterns of stress.

Successfully responding to the challenge of sustainability involves additional considerations such as concern for both economy and social equity. Understanding these aspects requires collaboration between natural and social sciences (or sciences humaines) including attention to both “pure” and “applied” dimensions. Questions of values, ethics and judgement are ineluctably implicated (thus challenging the notion of “value-free science” and requiring a strong philosophical/humanistic emphasis.) Sustainability also entails new ways of thinking about the future: the “precautionary principle”, for example, runs counter to the usual reluctance of natural scientists to act (or recommend in the face of uncertainty).

Sustainability has challenged dominant ideas in the social sciences, including the basic paradigm of neoclassical economics, and has given rise to a new “ecological economics” on which the natural sciences (physics in particular) have had a seminal impact (e.g. through consideration of the laws of conservation of matter and energy). Ecology has also been a formative science for sustainability studies, forcing attention on the “big picture” and reminding us that “everything is connected to everything else” (in short encouraging a “systems approach”).

But how does one move from knowledge to action? How can our understanding of sustainability problems can lead to appropriate changes in public policy and private behaviour?

In his lecture, Dr. David Bell will explore these issues and relate them to the development of the Conference on Transportation, Air Quality and Human Health which was co-sponsored by the York Centre for Applied Sustainability and Pollution Probe in April 1996. The lecture will conclude with a discussion of the implication of sustainability for the education of scientists, and for science education in the elementary and secondary school system. Brochure


Updated on August 7th, 2014.