tidimensional concept that includes physical and mental health across the lifespan, from prenatal development to old age. It also includes happiness, a more elusive state of being that has been increasingly studied and quantified in recent years. Issues of equity and security are other important dimensions of well-being, and range from safe neighborhoods to secure employment to the ability to pay for food and utilities to peace and security at the national level. Finally, well-being extends across generations; people who know that their children and grandchildren will have the opportunity for good lives enjoy an added measure of well-being. Government plays an important role in creating a sense of well-being; well-being is enhanced when society believes government is functioning in an efficient and effective manner.
A common and useful way of thinking about sustainability is to refer to the three overlapping domains of sustainability. Each domain—environment, social, economic—contributes essential components to sustain human wellbeing (Figure 1-1).
Key features of the sustainability approach include: its “problem-driven” quality, an orientation toward generating and applying knowledge that supports decision making for sustainability; its focus on dynamic interactions between nature and society, using the framework of complex socioeconomic-ecological (also called human-environment) systems (Gunderson and Holling, 2002); its goal of an integrated understanding of complex problems, requiring trans-disciplinary, systems-based approaches; its spanning the range of spatial scales from global to local; and its commitment to the “coproduction” of knowledge by researchers and practitioners (Clark and Dickson, 2003; Kauffman, 2009).
The systems approach is both formidable and necessary, in science as in policy making. Human–environment systems are complex, nonlinear, heterogeneous, spatially nested, and hierarchically structured (Wu and David, 2002). Feedback loops operate, multiple stable states typically exist, and surprises are inevitable (Kates and Clark, 1996). Change has multiple causes, can follow multiple pathways leading to multiple outcomes (Levin, 1998), and depends on historical context (Allen and Sanglier, 1979; McDonnell and Pickett, 1990). One important attribute of systems is their resilience, the system’s ability to maintain structure and function in the face of perturbation and change. A second key attribute is the system’s level of vulnerability: its exposure to hazards (perturbations and stresses) and its sensitivity and resilience when experiencing such hazards (Turner et al., 2003).
The systems approach to science is ideally suited to supporting sustainable management, both in advancing fundamental scientific understanding and in informing real-world decisions. It underlines the importance of linkages among various players at different scales, such as government agencies, private firms, citizen groups, and others.