Towards sustainable societies
An appeal to engineers and scientists
Sustainability is a value-based aim and process with environmental, technological, political, social, economic and institutional implications. Sustainability requires that we organize our societies so that they evolve in harmony with nature; dominance over nature is a failed option.
Sustainability calls for a significant reduction in use of global natural resources and a sharing of these resources between individuals, societies and generations so that a maximum of well being and dignity is achieved for all. It calls also for the creation of safe and peaceful living conditions and for respect for human, cultural and biological diversity.
2. The current situation
While encouraging initiatives and possibilities exist, the overall thrust of our economic systems, social structures and science and technology is working against sustainability; radical changes are required to preserve the options for future generations.
Human activities are producing unprecedented changes in the biosphere, degrading, for example, soil fertility, ground-water supply and biodiversity.
We are overusing natural resources, thus eroding our life-support basis; these resources are being used in an inefficient way, creating too little of value, too few jobs, and too much waste; further, there are growing inequalities, both on a national and on a global level, in the distribution of income, labour and wealth derived from the use of the resources; marginalization of individuals, societies and even whole regions has become a major threat to sustainability. In most countries, employment has become increasingly precarious and poverty is spreading. All these distortions diminish governability, give rise to insecurity and tensions that often result in excessive reliance on military force, and this reliance in turn exacerbates the problems referred to above.
3. A sustainable future
A positive alternative to the current situation is the development of new economic, technological and social structures and implementation of societal values, aiming at sustainable societies. Any process of development seeking sustainability should take the following criteria into account:
protecting the integrity of the biosphere:
- practice sustainable agriculture and forestry;
- preserve marine resources and biodiversity;
- establish networks of nature protection.
- efficient use of resources:
- social innovation in production and product distribution and use;
- development of new technologies and designs to increase efficiency.
enhancement of endogenous production capacity in the non industrialized countries using all opportunities available, adding value to the resources and creating jobs in the countries and communities of origin;
- participatory democracy:
creation of structures that ensure access without discrimination of any sort including gender or income level to education, participation in civil and political life, health care, food and other resources, and means of production and labour opportunities; these structures should encourage people to bring their creativity into the political planning and decision process, and thus contribute new ideas and life styles to global sustainability;
- fair trade:
establishment of fair trade patterns and regulatory mechanisms;
- peace and non-violence:
creation of a culture of non-violence; establishment and strengthening of structures for peaceful resolution of conflicts; prohibition, elimination and verified safeguards against all weapons of mass destruction; severe restrictions on the development, transfer and use of all weaponry.
4. The role of science and engineering
Science and technology have become instrumental to the present patterns of development, and in many countries have evolved from mere instruments into autonomous driving forces; they are as much a part of the problem as they can be part of the solution. In some societies there is an impressive capacity for technical innovation; however, it is clearer than ever before that not every innovation can be considered as progress. Natural science draw their strength frequently from reductionist analysis, thus inherently favouring specialization and selective perception of problems. Consequently, the solutions proposed often fall short of an integrated approach.
A thorough reorientation of science and technology is necessary based on integrated system approaches and the acceptance that science can never claim to fully tackle all aspects of reality. Only through innovative reorganization and public accountability can the scientific and engineering communities meet their obligation to contribute to a sustainable future.
We, the undersigned engineers and scientists, commit ourselves as professionals and citizens, to work for a sustainable society, and appeal to other colleagues to join us by undertaking the following actions:
We appeal to decision-makers from the scientific and engineering communities wherever possible to
support and fund the integration of sustainable development in programs and projects;
emphasize a systematic interdisciplinary approach to the development of alternative technologies and the organization of their use.
We appeal to the scientific and engineering communities at large and to their institutions to:
be open for new, innovative contributions;
foster participation, freedom for and encouragement of innovative thinking and openness for ideas from inside and outside the academic community;
support integration of, rather than discriminating against, non-mainstream approaches;
investigate and promote all means by which deep inequalities between peoples and between countries can be reduced;
apply our insights to our own institutions, buildings, and ways of working.
We commit ourselves in our professional work to:
support the sustainability perspective in the way we develop and conduct projects, to foster systemic integration of different disciplines, schools of thought, and regional perspectives wherever possible;
uncover all available information about environmentally, socially or otherwise unsustainable developments.
For many scientists and engineers there is only limited scope for acting; nonetheless, other options apply:
to dedicate some of our time (5 to 10 percent) to active participation in citizens organizations;
to support personally, financially and scientifically engineers and scientists who are ill-treated or persecuted for having acted for sustainability in their professional work, or for equity and democracy in their country and in international relations.
Aria-Maria Cetto, Mexico;
David Krieger, USA;
Gerhard Rohde, Switzerland;
Joachim Spangenberg, Germany;
Hartwig Spitzer, Germany.
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