Creating long-term human sustainability – which means learning how to meet our needs today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs – is an immense challenge. Some would say it is the greatest challenge of our time and one of the greatest imperatives that humanity has ever faced.
Why? Because we know so little about how to manage agricultural systems and ecosystems sustainably over the long term (decades to centuries) and because unless we learn how to do it well, we put at great risk not only the well-being of humanity, but also the survival of human civilization. If we do not rise to this challenge and meet this imperative, some day in the not-too-distant future we will wake up to find that we have ‘fouled our nest’ and the Biosphere is no longer capable of nourishing the whole of humanity on Planet Earth.
What are our options? There is really only one: to develop broad knowledge and deep understanding of the only Biosphere we have and to use this knowledge and understanding wisely and creatively to develop new ways of drawing sustenance from the Biosphere that no longer mortgage its ability to provide for future generations.
The natural sciences will play a central role in humanity’s learning process as we progress toward true sustainability because they allow us to learn the properties, mechanisms, and networks that allow organisms to grow, ecosystems to function, and environments to change over time. Deep understanding of these properties, mechanisms, and networks will be required for engineers technologists, and managers, as well as social scientists and policymakers, to design and operate diverse, new agricultural systems and to manage ecosystems that together are sustainable over the very long term.
Reaching the goal of long-term sustainability of the Biosphere requires us to coordinate and collaborate on a scale that has never been seen before, likely a scale beyond our ability to conceive at this time. We cannot simply design a program to ‘save the Biosphere’. Rather, the first prerequisite for solving such an unprecedentedly large and complex problem (which is really a diverse, interconnected network of numerous, smaller problems spanning all disciplines of science and engineering) is to guide development of the ‘Global Brain’, an emergent property arising from the integration of People and Knowledge on a vast, unparalleled scale. In fact, as explained by Nova Spivack, the Global Brain is already arising out of the ‘MetaWeb’. Also known as the ‘Relationship Web’, the MetaWeb itself is arising out of the integration of the Semantic Web – which connects Knowledge – and Social Software – which connects People (for discussion implications of Spivack's ideas, see "The Shape of Tomorrow" by Ismail Serageldin at serageldin.com).
The name ‘iBiosphere’ is intended to describe all aspects of the MetaWeb which together facilitate the conduct and application of Biosphere Science toward the goal of long-term sustainability. Being part of the MetaWeb, iBiosphere will be both people-based and knowledge-based. It will be served by a cyberinfrastructure platform that provides access to all relevant tools, data, and knowledge and that will facilitate the formation of new communities that are coincident with needs. The result will be a global collaborative, that might be called 'The iBiosphere Collaborative', comprised of all interested participants, from natural scientists and engineers to social scientists and policymakers and to educators, students and citizen scientists. (The concept of an iBiosphere Collaborative is similar to the original concept of the Plant Science Cyberinfrastructure Collaborative (PSCIC) proposed by the US National Science Foundation, but on a grander scale.)
This blog explores aspects of sustainability sciences relevant to development of the iBiosphere.
(Originally posted 9/19/11)
(Originally posted 9/19/11)