Plant ecology and sustainability science

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Sustainability is concerned with meeting the essential needs of the large numbers of people on this planet whose needs are not being met. The novel insight provided by the concept of sustainability is that humans and their local and global environments exist as complex social-ecological systems. Sustainability science is a new field of research that deals with the interactions between natural and social systems and with how those interactions affect the challenges of sustainability. In sustainability science, human/nonhuman and basic/applied dichotomies are abandoned for a new way of viewing the natural world - one in which human demands on global ecosystems is integrated into the capacity of those ecosystems to persist. Developing the science of sustainability forces a deep questioning of what the appropriate role of science in society is. The focus of sustainability science and most modern socio-ecological studies is to work for improvements in human health, ecosystem health, societal health, and economic health. One of the best examples of how the new conceptual model of sustainability science has been put into practice is in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. This is a paradigmatic example of how sustainability science, working at scales from local to global and studying processes occurring from short to long time scales, fully integrates existing knowledge into a framework useful for supporting sustainability. All systems consist of three component categories: parts, interconnections, and functions. The concept of sustainability as operationalized in sustainability science reminds us to have a conversation: How should the current social-ecological system be replaced with one that has, as its purpose, human well-being? Further, sustainability reminds us that there is no human well-being that is separate from the well-being of the social-ecological system as a whole.

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Ecology and the Environment

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