ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Science and the Scientist in a Changing Climate

Is sustainability an idea, a science, a philosophy or a way of life? The premise of this article is that sustainability is all of these and more. Furthermore, science and technology of both today and the future must be re-visioned to understand and enable sustainability.

The idea of sustainability is not new if we understand it as coexistence of humans and nature rather than domination of nature by the human species. Without going back to hunter-gatherer days of the human species, sustainability is evident even in the industrial and post-industrial era. Practices by local and indigenous communities such as: protecting specific areas as sacred spaces since they were sources of water and biodiverse forests; practising shifting cultivation in hilly areas, with long periods of fallow (between 10 and 20 years); raising multiple crops agro-ecologically; restoration and recovery of ecosystems through seasonal fishing and grazing animals in different locations at different times of the year; accommodations between settled agriculturists and pastoralists which allowed animals to graze on crop residues while they deposited their manure on the fields, etc, are all ways of living sustainably.

Built into this understanding of sustainability, are two important precepts: (i) interdependence of the resilience of human life with the resilience and stability of natural ecosystems; and (ii) the understanding of time—time for the natural ecosystem to recover, to restore, and to stabilise after use and depletion. This recovery and restoration is necessary if the resources are to be available for human needs for a long time, possibly across generations. Such a practice of sustainability is built on experiential knowledge and inherited skills of living rather than merely a theoretical understanding of one’s environment.

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