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In this episode of the PLoS Biology podcast, Senior Editor Liza Gross interviews Georgina Mace, professor of conservation science and director of the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Population Biology.
This week, world leaders re-examine their commitment to “green” economic growth at Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, in Rio de Janeiro. Although governments agreed to factor environmental and social impacts into development plans 20 years ago at the last Earth Summit, we've since ushered in the sixth great extinction, pushed the climate toward a tipping point, decimated wetlands, and even set a few rivers on fire.
In the podcast, Professor Mace discusses the challenges ahead through the lens of three articles published this week in PLoS Biology that revisit an old debate on the limits to growth: Must we drastically reduce our exploitation of Earth's resources or can technological innovation allow continued development?
In “The Macroecology of Sustainability” John Burger and colleagues argue that sustainability science fails to account for the ecological and physical constraints that govern life (http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001345). In response, “The Shifting Boundaries of Sustainability Science: Are We Doomed Yet?” John Matthews and Frederick Boltz of Conservation International argue that human ingenuity will forestall disaster long enough to overcome resource limits and allow continued economic growth (http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001344). In an accompanying editorial, Professor Mace argues that nothing in sustainability science makes sense except in light of ecology--and evolution, equitable development, natural resource management, and individual rights and responsibilities (http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001343). "It's a complicated set of problems," she acknowledges.
Gross and Professor Mace will discuss the sustainability crisis, the philosophical tension between ecological pessimism and technological optimism, the prospects for finding a path to true sustainability, and much more.