What we don’t know can hurt us – the final open thread

So far this month, we’ve asked what sustainability mean to you, what changes you’ve made to lead a more sustainable life, and what changes society needs to make. Our final open thread for Science and Sustainability month is not about the things we know, or the things we believe, but the things we don’t know. Sustainable living is fraught with ambiguity. As I hope we’ve shown a little over the month, there are no hard answers. What works well in one instance may be totally inappropriate in another instance. Making decisions based on poor data may often be necessary but must be contingent on continuous reassessment.

When thinking about a future for sustainability, what don’t we know that we need to know? What information is missing from our assessments? What information do you find lacking when trying to make personal sustainable decisions?


  1. Mark Gibson · April 25, 2011

    I find it difficult to know what lifestyle choice will have the biggest ‘bang for the buck’. If I had tons of time and money, I would just do it all. But I don’t. So which personal choice have the greatest benefit for the environment?

    For example, should I spend my time recycling and reusing more? Or waking up earlier to ride my bike to work instead of taking the metro?

    Should I buying more expensive local produce? Or donate the money to nonprofits supporting renewable energies? Or buy carbon offsets?

    I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in our knowledge of impacts, but this will probably always be more of an art than science.

    Same goes for the more macro decisions we make as voters and countries. We need a way to compare environmental decisions. A great start there is to finally get that Green GDP measure going.

  2. John · April 25, 2011

    I think the biggest part of understanding what we don’t know about sustainable living isn’t wishing for information we don’t have, but acting upon the information we do have. I don’t think that making decisions based on poor data “may” be a necessity, it -is- a necessity. We have to remove ourselves from this idea of concrete, hard solutions, and accept the soft solutions and the uncertainties associated with them. This is the biggest need for the future of sustainability, a recognition and acceptance of the soft. This isn’t an easy thing for any scientist or really any person to do. Uncertainty scares us to death, or at least to the point of inaction and we wait until more data can be acquired. I know this is a little off-topic of the question, but I believe the questions represents a fundamental flaw in the move toward “sustainability”. What is needed is action. Try things out, do things within your means that you can do, and share your experiences with everyone (willing to listen). If it doesn’t work the way you want it to, try something different. Sustainability is inherently localized, anecdotal, and squishy, and will never happen in the way we want it to waiting for ‘more data’.

Comments are closed.