Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sustainability science explained

“What the heck is this thing called sustainability science?” Assistant Professor Sarah Trainor asked high school students at UAF’s Inside Out event March 27. “It’s about solving problems, not just doing interesting science. It’s striving to improve society’s capacity to use the Earth to meet the needs of a growing population and sustainably support systems.”
Students experienced a college lecture by Assistant Professor Sarah Trainor (middle with orange scarf). At far left is NRM senior Nicole Warner, who led the visiting high schoolers for Inside Out March 27.

During a mock lecture designed to give students a taste of college academics, Trainor gave a preview of her course, Natural Resources Management 111. She asked the students what sustainability means to them. Some answers were: “consistency,” “something that won’t run out” and “something that keeps going.”

“Sustainability is a verb, a process, a way to use the environment and resources to meet our needs and the needs of people in the future,” Trainor said.

People are part of the system, she emphasized. And while the Earth is full of challenges, her class doesn’t focus on the negative but rather on ways to create solutions. Students work with the UAF Office of Sustainability to problem solve real issues facing the campus today, such as studying the use of LED lights on the ski trails, alternate fuel for vehicles and the amount of waste from vending machines.

Ecosystem services encompass natural capital such as air, water, soil and land and each system has assets that are natural, human made or social. Sustainability science focuses on water and food security, clean energy, mitigating human health impacts of pollution and environmental degradation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, protecting biodiversity and environmental justice.

“Sustainability science transcends disciplinary boundaries,” she said.

She described a complex system covering relationships between science, policy, management and decision making. “We use science to solve problems and can be the connection between science and government.”

A way to make science relevant is to use it to solve problems in practical ways. “For science to be relevant it must be credible and legitimate.”

In her course, she emphasizes the importance of reading, writing, listening and giving presentations. “It all comes down to communication,” she said.

The goal is for students to learn skills so they can be out in the world solving problems.

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