The contrasting roles of science and technology in environmental challenge

NV atCEPImperial
Published on Mar 10, 2019

The contrasting roles of science and technology in environmental challenges by Nikolaos Voulvoulis & Mark A. Burgman published at Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology…


Sustainable development is widely recognised as an existential challenge. To address it, humanity needs to change its ways. However, people seem slow to act, not always understanding and often denying environmental imperatives, creating substantial social and psychological barriers. Social inertia and denial have been allegedly amplified by a public discourse increasingly distrustful of science. But is this discourse a rejection of science or an erosion of trust in how science is applied? The paper examines the main differences between environmental science and technology, reviews how the wider science- technology convergence has affected them and evaluates potential implications for sustainability challenges. We question whether the ‘convergence’ between environmental science and technology, could be behind the growing public dissatisfaction and distrust of environmental science and policies. Although environmental science plays a role in enabling understanding and communicating complexity, technology requires political, social and economic skills, beyond conventional disciplinary expertise. To avoid putting academic freedom at risk, environmental technologists, a new breed of professionals, should have a clear understanding of scientific capacity and uncertainty and be able to engage with stakeholders, policy makers and the public to design integrated, interdisciplinary and holistic solutions, and also better define the many environmental problems we face.

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