1. chapters within this book, in varying scope, briefly

1.   
Introduction

Establishing
how a university can, in a logical and practical sense, be re-envisioned
through a disciplinary informed frame, “Transdisciplinary Perspectives on
Transitions to Sustainability” edited by Edmond Byrne, Gerard Mullaly and Colin
Sage, portrays how through an open and scholarly character of inquiry, the most
varied issue of contemporary societal unsustainability can be addressed and
understood in a way that eclipses cramped disciplinary work. In addition, a
practical epitome of how more essential options for action in relation to
contemporary sustainability-related crises can crop up than could be accomplished. The book exhibits how only real
progress can be achieved through a transdisciplinary ethos and approach. 1 Dr. Edmond Byrne is a Senior Lecturer in
Process & Chemical Engineering, Dr.
Gerard Mullaly is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and finally Dr. Colin Sage is a Senior Lecturer in
Geography at University College Cork, Ireland. All three are lead collaborators
on the “Sustainability in Society” transdisciplinary research group at University
College Cork. 2 Transdisciplinary, by definition of the Oxford dictionary,
is: “Relating to more than one branch of knowledge; interdisciplinary”.
Considering much has been written about transdisciplinary and sustainability,
this book provides a logical pattern which signposts the way others can follow
in the common journey for real progress. The chapters in this book consist of a
range of different viewpoints on making the transition to sustainability that
can only come to fruition by overcoming a path of obstacles. However, while the
creators of this book stem from different respective backgrounds, the sections
contained within this book in an exacting sense, cannot be proven to be
integrated solely around transdisciplinarity. The chapters within this book, in
varying scope, briefly reach transdisciplinarity. However, among this
collective, a burning ember of ambition lies at the centre, to look outward and candidly, connected with a disciplinary
bashfulness which is an important basis for convincing and legitimate
transdisciplinary conversations and abstract knowledge formation. The
collaborators share an admirable enthusiasm and spirit
of inquiry which has led them to venture beyond the bounds of normal
disciplinary barriers, delving into new synergetic possibilities outside the
university walls. Due to the prevailing mood of techno-scientific rationality
that has prevailed throughout the Irish higher education, a collaborative
effort has been made by the editors to find a means of evolving
interdisciplinary partnership within the university; seeking others who share
similar anxieties for the need of a united push to work on the philosophical
and interconnected challenges faced in the present world.

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2.   
Overview

As
part of the book review, six chapters of particular interest were selected. In
the first part of the book, “Setting the Scene”, which consists of three
chapters, the book’s editors turn their attention to a series of applicable
facets of the essence of transdisciplinarity, most notably in the context of
sustainability. 3 Following this includes a chapter by Dr Edmond Byrne, which
analyses some paradigms of sustainability, which are established on a “process,
relational, dialectical and integrative view” of convoluted reality, and which
detail to expansive “ontological, historical, social and scientific contexts”.
This promotes an exposure of transdisciplinary thinking, a framework that is
both involved in the recognition and understanding of, and is required to
construct, the preceding understandings. 4 In this context, it is presented
how such a model and ideology can add to a redirection of the commanding
conception of progress, veering from the monist ideal and approaching one which
would consider it in an argumentative and contingent sense, to encourage
“integrative (ecological-, social-, techno-economic-) system
sustainability-as-flourishing”. These chapters are followed by the key part of
the book on “Transdisciplinary Conversation and Conceptions”. Byrne follows on
from his previous chapter with a view across four contrasting areas to indicate
how a modern and rising model, based on the transdisciplinary approach of
complicated thought, is embodying itself
in varying but comprehensible ways, across disciplinary conceptions of
existence. These areas scope from the tough scientific to the socio-technical
and from the socio-economic to the profound and abstract. These areas relate specifically
to: Chemical phase equilibrium thermodynamics, Electrical power generation and
transmission and distribution, Management and leadership and Influence of
process thought and integrative thinking on theology. In chapter 10, Professor
Brian Ó Gallachóir, Dr Paul Deane and Dr Alessandro Chiodi acknowledge how
modelling respective energy futures schemes can support policy decisions. 5 Modelled
schemes are presented for the energy blend in the Republic of Ireland within
this chapter in the hope of carbon emission targets being lessened over the
impending years to come. The task aids in exposing the extent of the current test;
“the scenarios presented, which include both 80% and 95% reductions in carbon
dioxide emission levels”, need not important alterations to renewables, but
additionally critical reductions in overall energy consumption. A lot more than
a technological adjustment is required, a matter that the collaborators
acknowledge alongside additional restraints of the model. This conclusively leads
to a crucial stride to expand the learning that would not be primarily reliant
on communicating with a variety of other disciplines, but in a quality of
transdisciplinarity, to also communicate with society on a more widened scope.

6
The final chapter is a contemplative section, conducted by the editors, which
deals with the campaign so far and concentrates on “emergent possibilities” and
tasks around the utilisation of transdisciplinary approaches within, without
and across the university.

3. A Paradigm of
reduction and separation

A Paradigm of reduction and separation is a model that
I found very striking and insightful. 7 Sustainability, as defined by John R.
Ehrenfeld, is the “possibility that humans and other life will flourish on the
planet forever.” 8 Ehrenfeld would plea that principal narratives around
sustainability use the idea in a form that excludes the encouragement of
flourishing, a word defined by John as “the realisation of a sense of
completeness, independent of our immediate material context”, but wholly
involves the increasing material consumption and consideration of the financial
bottom line.             9 Ehrenfeld and Hoffman make the point that by “reducing
unsustainability, although critical, does not and will not create sustainability”.
10 Although this idea is tough to visualise at first, in my view, Byrne
describes “The way they advertise and publicise their (green) program lulls the
public into believing that the firms are taking care of the future (but) almost
everything being done in the name of sustainability entails attempts to reduce
unsustainability.” Many companies nowadays provide glossy “sustainability
reports” along with their annual reports as indicators of their work and
achievement. In my opinion, the dilemma is that none of this altruism builds
authentic sustainability. At best, it briefly slows humanity’s progressing
drift towards unsustainability. At worst, it serves as feel-good marketing for
products and services that deteriorate and contaminate our environment. From my
observation, to get companies to change their direction in a serious way, the
adjustment has to come from within the business walls, either from leadership
or from the businesses customers or stakeholders. This claim on companies is supported
by Ehrenfeld, who describes in his book “Flourishing”, by saying that, for
example, Coca-Cola create an absurdity by broadcasting their environmentally
oriented water management programs while supplying the ever-growing problem of
obesity around the world. 11 As Byrne describes, “”Reducing unsustainability”
here manifests itself as the concept of “sustainable development””, which is
defined by John R. Ehrenfeld as “conventional economic development as the best
way for human beings to move forward, with the proviso that we have to do it
more efficiently and fairly.” This “development” turns to drive further consumption
and growth due to a call for eco-efficiency, which by in large, is a good thing
in the short term. Personally, I feel this idea remains firmly established,
relaxing on the impression that the more cash-laden
a nation and its individuals are, the better off they will be. There is a great
contrast in wealth between the North and South of the world and an explicit
awareness of this contrast needs to be developed. It is a call to arms to share
the resources available on this planet more reasonably, both for the present
and the foreseeable future. By grouping together less harmful material
consumption and incorporating more reasonability in the sharing of the
prosperity of those resources, a satisfying temporary path is forged. However,
critically, it is not a solution. 12 It is a path, as defined by Byrne,
“which can never hope to wean society off its unsustainable habit of
growth-based consumerism”. It is paramount to change the structural way we live
from my standpoint. My impression is that although it is imperative to be more
efficient and to reduce impacts, this will not transport us toward
sustainability. Principal models and ideas of sustainability originate from and associate with the commanding social
paradigm. 13 This is described by Byrne as the “modern neo-Cartesian paradigm
which has obtained and developed over the past four centuries or so.” The main
neo-Cartesian paradigm of reduction and separation would weaken the theory of
sustainability by separating the composition of sustainability’s three domains
of environment, society and economy and visualise that they can be handled, as
Byrne describes, “as part of a bigger reductive zero-sum game where overspills
from one domain can conveniently be accounted for as quantifiable
externalities”. In Cartesian thinking, we
become detached from the world, the unfolding of truths that structure human behaviour and consciousness is split between an
external, ahistorical existence and the mind, which through its logical powers,
re-creates that external world inside the body. 14 By reductionist scientific
reasoning, the human body is perceived as, what Ehrenfeld would describe as “a
mechanistic organism”, that imprisons the world in its mind and operates on
that awareness according to some logical calculus reasoning, propelling a
mental computing machine that is always navigating its operations to
manufacture the most pleasure. My view of the Cartesian idea is of a mind seizing
the information coming in via the senses and shaping those images using our
so-called “logical machinery”, which has led to a false depiction of the mental
system as a computer with built-in logic. However, humanity and the world
cannot be reduced to such a mechanical metaphor. Humanity and the world are
convoluted and behave in non-linear and erratic ways. This exercise, in theory, is visualised
as a value-free endeavour, stripped of normativity, where an ethical domain cannot
be visualised nor contained.
Reversibility, another main archetypal theorem, is the principal cause of this
and in reversible systems, directionality is futile. 15 Dr. Edmond Byrne
writes how it is “assumed that “all else is equal”, using this as a mechanism
to simplify complexities and effectively bracket the social (and its
accompanying baggage of values).” The outcome is that a quick fix is established
in the form of an ever-increased efficiency, but when repeated aftermaths of
complex systems inevitably rise, we label these as “unintended consequences”. Personally,
in the reductionist world, unintended consequences are always someone else’s
problems to solve. In the world of complexity, no such easy alibi can be
invoked. Hence, sustainability is lined up with the concept of progress. 16 Sustainability
and progress, examined through the lens of the reductionist model of modernity,
represents, as described by Byrne, “the ultimate destination on a directed
linear causal path”. The adventure along this road is fed by the philosophies deep-rooted
in reductionist science such as a pointless techno-optimism, suppression of
risk and uncertainty, blind hope in efficiency and positivistic and
materialistic theories of science and reality. By this dogma, the expansive
scientific reality, paradigm shifting implications such as the double-edged
nature of technology, including its deep-rooted increased tendency for disruption
and susceptibility, is essentially rejected. From my angle, technology stands
between humanity and the world, and in that separation, something is absent, leading
to the creation of a clear and visible barrier on our path to sustainability and
hinders our progress. 17 Byrne makes the point that “Essentially our
modernistic goal of controlling the uncontrollable only serves to exacerbate
the problems we have created”. Technology becomes a device that safeguards us
from the disorderliness of human experience and the responsibility of our
actions. 18 From the words of Ehrenfeld “The root cause of unsustainability
is that we are trying to solve all the apparent problems of the world, large
and small, by using the modernistic frame of thinking and acting that has
created the meta-problem of unsustainability”. In my perspective, humanity
has concluded that technological gadgets are the answer to meet the needs of both
humans and the world, alleviating us of the responsibility to reflect on those
needs and act appropriately. Slowly, as humans we become detached from the
world that we would guide towards sustainability. 19 To venture outside the
limits of reductionism and grasp a model of complexity, Byrne describes how
Ehrenfeld “steps into the breach and proposes a definition which envisages
sustainability in qualitative terms as an emergent system property.” From my view,
complexity refers to a system whose elements are multiply attached that it is impractical
to anticipate how the system will act when bothered. As discussed previously,
sustainability becomes possible when we first identify what it is that we are sustaining.
20 Therefore, Ehrenfeld proposes the property of flourishing which is
described by Ehrenfeld as a “dynamic quality changing as its context changes”. 21
Flourishing is “the result of acting out of caring for oneself, other human
beings, the rest of the “real material” world, and for the out-of-the-world,
that is, the spiritual or transcendental world”.  This idea of sustainability strongly places it
outside the limits of reductionism and alternatively inside the dimension of values,
ethics and philosophical discussion, described by Byrne through the words of
Ehrenfeld “an entity built “not just on technological and material development,
but also on cultural, personal and spiritual growth””. 22 From my standpoint,
in relation to contemporary scientific concepts of reality, this idea makes
sense once a complexity informed theory of science is acknowledged and stretches
outside the limits of what Byrne would describe as “a narrow reductionist
materialism”.