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The Problem of the Future: Sustainability Science and Scenario Analysis

Unsustainable tendencies in the co-evolution of human and natural systems have stimulated a search for new approaches to understanding complex problems of environment and development. Recently, attention has been drawn to the emergence of a new “sustainability science,” and core questions and research strategies have been proposed. A key challenge of sustainability is to examine the range of plausible future pathways of combined social and environmental systems under conditions of uncertainty, surprise, human choice, and complexity. This requires charting new scientific territory and expanding the current global change research agenda. Scenario analysis—including new participatory and problem-oriented approaches—provides a powerful tool for integrating knowledge, scanning the future in an organized way, and internalizing human choice into sustainability science.

Originally published in Global Environmental Change 14 (2004): 137–146.