Addressing the "super wicked problem" of sustainability

Sustainability is a broad area of inquiry, rapidly changing as we develop new knowledge on human practices that are more sustainable or less sustainable. Seek a hard vision of sustainability and you will surely be disappointed. Our gaps in knowledge are great, but the task of growing a more sustainable global community is greater. We are faced with immense challenges that grow greater by the day. The social, political, economic, and environmental complexity of the task often confounds and defeats simplistic approaches, yet many of our solutions will lie in a simplification of our approach to community and commerce.

Crafting a sustainable present and future has all the elements of a "super wicked problem" (Levin et al., 2007):

  1. Time is running out.
  2. No central authority.
  3. Those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it.
  4. Hyperbolic discounting occurs.

It is the mission of the Principles of Sustainability course to provide students with a broad understanding of sustainability in the multiple human dimensions that it is manifested. Upper division and graduate level students from many disciplines will find the courseware of broad interest, intense in some areas and introductory in others, but complete in a desire to present the landscape of a rigorous study in sustainability. The course attempts to synthesize linkages and commonalities of understanding through a presentation of the major elements in the field. Other specialty courses in a student's disciplinary area may give a sidebar or complete disciplinary treatment to sustainability that will help organize a more complete understanding in a particular focus area of sustainability, and thus complement this course.