SPROWT ARTICLE | Mario Forjaz Secca
Considerations on Science and Sustainability
Currently, words are used and misused to such an extent that their real meaning gets lost and obscured, often becoming clichés wielded for ideological reasons without the concern of returning to their true etymological meaning, to the source of wisdom. Thus, words become hollow, irrelevant. If we do not wake up to the meaning we are giving to the words we use in our conversations, in our dialogues, they become sterile and cannot lead to anything, only to a clash of words. Nor can there be ideas because that requires an agreement on concepts.
Two of these words, used and abused, are “Science” and “Sustainability.” It may seem strange that the word “Science” is misused, but when we hear bombastic statements like “it is scientifically proven that…” or “I believe in Science,” we immediately realize that many people do not understand what Science is.
Science is not definitive or peremptory; therefore, saying “it is scientifically proven that…” closes the door to the continuous advancement of Science, to a possible alternative explanation in a future scientific advance. There are observations and findings that seem valid and work within the current scientific framework, the current paradigm. However, despite much technology working based on this, future scientific refinements, future alternative explanations, can bring a different approach, a different interpretation.
Science is also a constant questioning; it is not a dogma or a belief, so saying “I believe in Science” is a meaningless statement. In Science, one does not believe; one follows and applies its method.
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines Science as “any system of knowledge that deals with the physical world and its phenomena and involves unbiased observations and systematic experimentation.” And the Oxford Dictionary defines Science as “knowledge about the structure and behavior of the natural and physical world, based on facts that can be proven, for example, by experimentation.”
We can see a physical, material, and experimental bias in the scope of Science.
Even in Wikipedia, which defines Science as “a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe,” there is the final idea of the Universe, which is normally seen as a physical, material entity.
Thus, the more human and philosophical side of our inner world is left out of the scientific approach.
Currently, we invariably associate the term Science with the concept of Technology. Not only do we say “Science and Technology,” but we also often confuse Science with Technology.
In reality, Science does not explain, does not provide philosophical answers, does not carry meanings. Science finds relationships between things, points to larger problems, and allows us to produce Technology. But let us not confuse Knowledge with Technology!
However, we must always bear in mind that Science opens doors for us to think and question the world philosophically.
We still know so little! The proof of this is that if we look around us, there are so many unresolved problems for which we have no solutions.
With Science, we learn about the relationships of the natural world around us and apply this knowledge to innovative ideas that allow us to produce new technologies. And one of these ideas is Development. However, Development is also a concept that needs definition.
Development for development’s sake alone is very vague and empty. It seems like we are advocating numbers for the sake of numbers. What truly matters in development is its human side. We should have a goal, a human goal. What do we want to develop, and for whom? The concept that makes the most sense is a development of the human condition worldwide. A development that improves this condition in all its aspects, both internal and external. Not only an improvement in physical conditions and well-being but also an improvement in emotional conditions and well-being. We need to focus on living conditions, nutrition, health, the environment, education, and the possibility for each individual to develop and reach their full potential.
Here, political, philosophical, and ideological questions come into play. And it is often very difficult to set aside political issues, not in the concept of current governments but in the concept of how to govern the world for the good of all.
But all this development must be approached sustainably. And here, we come to another term that needs definition: “Sustainability.”
Wikipedia defines “Sustainability” as “a characteristic or condition of a process or a system that allows its permanence at a certain level for a certain period.” To maintain this level, it is necessary to preserve, not destroy. To know how to transform without wasting.
We live in a limited, global world, with limited resources and an increasing population (we have reached 8 billion!) where it is not possible to grow indefinitely. Growing on one side probably implies shrinking on another side. Therefore, we must be very careful to be sustainable, not to deplete the planet’s resources or destroy the fragility of the world in which we live.
And this is where Science can help us in sustainability, in two different ways: through technology and knowledge.
On the practical and technical side, Science plays a fundamental role in producing appropriate, efficient, and sustainable development. Science can help a lot with all the technology related to energy, construction, health, and food, seeking innovative solutions and the most efficient ways of production, in addition to exploring new materials, renewable processes that involve minimal expenses, and the optimized use of natural resources, preserving them.
But let us not forget that Science also has a philosophical and questioning side that can and should help us in our human and attitude towards sustainability, using acquired knowledge, questioning scientific principles, and internalizing the need for balance between human beings and nature. With a better and deeper knowledge of the natural world around us, we can more easily accept and seek solutions that fit into and align with this global sustainability.