Integrating Science and Society

Perceptions of sustainability instinctively turn to physical parameters, as is largely the case in this volume. Most of the contributions relate primarily to one or another of four types of resources: land, nonrenewable resources, water, and energy. Among the obvious questions related to each of these is: "Will we have enough?" This question, however, is not solely about supply (a largely physical parameter); it also involves demand (a largely sociological factor).

Demand rears its head most vigorously in urban areas, especially in urban areas that are undergoing rapid development. New cities in China and India are obvious examples, but anticipated advances in wealth and urbanization throughout the developing world will mimic enhanced Chinese and Indian demand. It has been well established that urban residents use higher per-capita levels of many resources of all kinds than do rural dwellers (e.g., van Beers and Graedel 2007; Bloom et al. 2008). Urban people live in smaller dwellings and use energy more efficiently. The spatial compactness renders recycling more efficient and resource reuse more likely. However, cities are also "point sources" of pollution, which often overwhelm the assimilative capacities of adjacent ecosystems.

Whatever the level of demand for resources, it will largely be dictated by the choices made by individuals and influenced by the institutions of which they are a part. In this volume, insufficient attention is paid to these human driving forces, in large part because they are less quantifi able and more difficult to incorporate into the more quantitative views of sustainability. This approach should not be interpreted as lack of relevance of these social science-related topics, but rather that their inclusion is so challenging. Ultimately, the social and physical sciences must become full partners in the study (and perhaps the implementation) of actions related to sustainability. We recognize this challenge, but only hint at how it should be met.

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