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Science by Another Name

Director Steve Bortone

Normally in "Bow Watch" the staff or I take up space with prose that, hopefully, clarifies Sea Grant's position, outlook, or accomplishments. This time it's a bit different. Here I aim to prompt you to read "New Science Looks at Big Picture for the Future," the pithy article David Suzuki, noted scientist and environmentalist with the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, gave us permission to reprint. I first read this article while stalled on a tarmac waiting to become airborne. Dr. Suzuki's deft treatment of basic and applied science impressed me. As a scientist, I have had many and extensive conversations about the virtues of basic science and applied science. Admittedly, certain circles view basic science disdainfully, while others hold applied science in contempt. At Sea Grant, we acknowledge that both basic science and applied science are essential to society's ability to understand and survive in the universe.

Suzuki's short, lucid article not only establishes the framework and necessity for both approaches toward science but also suggests a different perspective is necessary sustainability science. The beauty of sustainability science as a concept is that it brings disparate disciplines together, takes advantage of what each has to offer, and attempts to use multiple methods to attain a world that is sustainable in every sense of the word. Briefly:

  • Applied science solves practical problems,
  • Basic science reveals the world,
  • Sustainability science prepares for Earth's future.

The sustainability science concept is not new, having originated in the 1880s. It grew into a legitimate science in the 1960s and 70s thorough the work of many individuals Howard T. Odum (known for pioneering work on ecosystem ecology and general systems theory) was one of its biggest proponents. The concept of sustainability science has moved to the forefront of how science needs to operate. If science is to help resolve complex problems that are simultaneously ecological, social, and economic (can you say "climate change"?), embracing both fundamental understanding and practical application is essential.

I also hope you'll take a moment to read about the new research projects Sea Grant is funding for the next year. Just scanning the titles makes it clear that we're pursuing the principle of sustainability science. The Sea Grant concept that was developed some 40 years ago (based on the earlier Land Grant model) helps bring together information and formulate new knowledge for the purpose of facilitating a better environmental, social, and economic tomorrow. By supporting both basic and applied scientific endeavors, our expectation is that these new investigations will contribute to a deeper understanding and application of coastal science to support a sustainable economy and environment.

Lofty goals you say? Well, maybe. But they're necessary if we are to leave a legacy that is more than just a tomorrow. Let's at least strive to leave opportunities for a better tomorrow. Please read the article by David Suzuki and let me know what you think (sbortone@umn.edu).

Steve Bortone signature

Steve Bortone
Minnesota Sea Grant

By Steve Bortone
December 2008

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