Skip to main content
20.04.2023 | כט ניסן התשפג

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Sustainability

In honor of Earth Day, Prof. Oren Perez of BIU's School of Sustainability and Environment, addresses the "wicked dilemmas" endangering our environment

זרקור יום כדור הארץ

Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, is an annual reminder of the critical environmental challenges facing humanity. In anticipation of the launch of the multidisciplinary School of Sustainability and Environment at Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Oren Perez emphasizes the "wickedness" inherent in environmental problems. These complex challenges, which researchers refer to as "wicked problems," are characterized by deep uncertainty, nonlinear dynamics, and multidimensional data. The severe and diverse environmental issues of our time, such as climate change, ecosystem resilience to persistent pollution, and the health consequences of exposure to chemicals, all exhibit these characteristics.

A hallmark of these wicked problems is the multitude of factors that interact in complex ways, creating feedback loops that give rise to dynamics that are difficult to predict. Moreover, these problems are subject to tipping points that can trigger sudden changes in the system's state, such as the rapid proliferation of toxic algae in the Kinneret. Addressing these wicked environmental problems necessitates a multidisciplinary approach that covers a wide range of fields, including energy and chemistry, ecology and biology, regulation and law, urban planning, environmental education, and the philosophy of sustainability. This multidisciplinary approach enables researchers and practitioners to develop comprehensive solutions that rely on interdisciplinary collaboration.

For instance, the transition to alternative energy requires the development of storage technologies capable of handling energy supply fluctuations. These are needed to resolve planning dilemmas that reflect the tension between preserving open areas and allocating land for the establishment of solar fields, addressing environmental justice concerns regarding the distribution of profits from solar fields, and regulatory dilemmas related to the circulation of batteries used for storage.

The comprehensive transition from fossil fuels, which cause air pollution, greenhouse effects, and resulting climate change, is not feasible without a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of alternative energy transition. Other environmental challenges, such as identifying substitutes for plastic, developing water sources, and preserving biological diversity, pose similar dilemmas that require comprehensive and interdisciplinary solutions.

Protecting Israel's nature reserves in an era of increasing water scarcity, for example, entails philosophical and economic discussions about the right of nature to receive water, detailed ecological analyses of ecosystem resilience to water scarcity, and an assessment of Israel's future rainfall levels. Additionally, it necessitates the resolution of tensions between the preservation of "wild" nature and the creation of planted forests and artificial parks for recreational purposes.

In light of these challenges, the School of Sustainability and Environment at Bar-Ilan University aims to cultivate the next generation of environmental professionals equipped to navigate the multidisciplinary complexity inherent in environmental problems. The school's launch conference offers an opportunity to hear from some of its top researchers in a series of Ted lectures, followed by a panel featuring environmental entrepreneurs, some of whom are Bar-Ilan University alumni.