Establishing unsustainability can be addressed and understood in

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 spirt 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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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.

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. Models, Paradigms
& Concepts

In this section of the book review, several models and
concepts analysed from the chapters, are discussed below.

3.1 A Paradigm of
reduction and separation

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. 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”. 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 how “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. 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. 14 Dr. Edmond Byrne writes how it is “similarly
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).”