Sustainable water resource management: the science behind the scene
Working in the field of research is—in very many respects—challenging and intriguing. In fact, we as researchers are eager to challenge the unknown although we never can reach the ultimate truth. The most we can hope to accomplish is to draw, on the basis of new evidence and understanding, a model of the world that brings us closer to reality than any previous model. Progress along this road is the goal of all our efforts, but the target remains unreachable. The Greek philosopher Plato (427–347 BC) pictured this dilemma in his famous ‘‘cave allegory’’ (Plato 360 BC), which suggests that we as human beings are enchained in front of a wall, seeing the real world only as shadows made by objects moving behind us. We cannot visualise these objects directly, and we do not know the reasons why shadows appear and disappear. We can only keep working towards a better understanding of the world around us by cleverly interpreting the observations we make on the basis of what we already know or what we believe we know. We find ourselves in the midst of such a transient state of cognition when discussing the very essence of the science of sustainability in general, and sustainable water resource management in particular. We acknowledge the rapid change in the conditions to which mankind is exposed in various regions of the world—climate change, growth of urban areas, aging societies, and globalisation are among the issues that concern us more and more. Immediate action must be taken in order to ensure that conditions on planet Earth will continue to sustain life, i.e. support the functioning of the ecosystem, as well as human wellbeing, prosperity and happiness. But what exactly is to be done, and when, and how? Which road should be taken? The idea for establishing the Journal of Sustainability Science came from the realisation that the concept of sustainability requires a strong common level of understanding, assuming that only then can sustainable development be set on track, and taught effectively at school and university level. Consequently, the first issue of the Journal of Sustainability Science was successfully published. But now—whether still in time or too late critical questions arise. We as editors, and many others, have begun to question how exactly to define the term ‘‘sustainability science’’. Which model(s) may cover the essence of sustainability science satisfactorily? Such questions were addressed at a symposium entitled ‘‘The evolution of sustainability science—energy, resources and environment’’ held at the University of Tokyo on 1–2 February 2007. In the following, I have outlined some thoughts on this subject with the intention of triggering further discussion and eventually to reach a higher level of common understanding of what sustainability science is all about.