Since it was founded three years ago, The Sustainability Review’s mission has been to provide a broad readership with meaningful and accessible art, opinion, research and journalism relevant to sustainability. When the new editorial staff came together we attempted to build on this mission by defining what we meant by sustainability. This was intended to clarify what types of submissions we wanted from potential contributors. But in the pursuit of clarity, we realized that ‘defining sustainability’ is synonymous with ‘simplifying complexity’—something that years of interdisciplinary work has yet to accomplish, let alone an editorial staff of ten graduate students. I interpreted this exercise as a metaphor for sustainability dialogue in general. If one person or group tries to define it, they restrict the diversity of topics that may be discussed. For example, we attempted to list different subjects that might fit into social, economic and environmental sustainability categories and were quickly gridlocked over how to categorize "agriculture." We found that the more granular our focus, the less flexible our outcomes. But with a subject too flexible, we risked saying nothing at all. The inherent tension between focus and flexibility is a challenge faced in sustainability science and practice.
We view sustainability as a space where questions and ideas interact across scales and levels to explore a better way forward for humankind. For instance, this issue presents articles that focus on different temporal levels: some are about current happenings (Occupy movement, coral reef degradation), some are about the past (learning from ancient agriculture practices to solve today’s food problems, history of rainforest products), and some are about the future (how the world will sound if dominated by electric transportation or how future sustainability visions could transcend current social order). Also, there are articles about sustainability in general (the critique of sustainability ideology) and articles that zero in on specific areas (pros and cons of integrated water management). The breadth and depth of these topics are diverse, and we hope they will further our understanding of coupled human-environment systems.
With this issue we hope to create a unique arena in which to discuss the rich interplay among discipline- and sector-specific questions and ideas. It is difficult to discuss scale-spanning sustainability topics with any certainty or consensus in the short term. The only interim solution to this communication challenge is to keep muddling through the complexity toward shared understanding. TSR is a forum for this conversation. Keep asking questions. Keep sharing ideas. Keep learning from each other.
I encourage you to read the opinion section in this issue which presents two insightful articles about the Occupy Wall Street movement. The authors pose questions like "what are our shared visions for the future of our environment and human well-being?" and "why aren’t you and I putting these issues at center stage?" The links between the sustainability and Occupy movements are waiting to be articulated. I hope you will consider these questions and respond by commenting on these articles, on our Facebook and Twitter pages, or in your own opinion piece for our winter issue. We hope our publication will provide a space for focused but flexible dialogue about sustainability research and practice, and also serve as a jumping off point for you to respond and keep the conversation going.
Cameron Childs Editor-in-Chief The Sustainability Review