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 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.


part of the book review, six chapters which I found particularly insightful
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. A Paradigm of
reduction and separation

A Paradigm of reduction and separation is an idea 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, are 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. Furthermore, with information technology,
the situation becomes worse as our most affectionate and confidential
communications become mediated by technology. Human life as we know it is
essentially social, however, the richness and vital functions of relationships fall
and disappear into the abyss of the mindless use of social media. By my
reckoning, nowadays, technologies that have developed such as Linked In,
Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are modifying the aspect of friendship from the
element of relationships to the quantitative count of how many so-called “friends”
one is connected to. The crucial input of key relationships to our ability to
flourish becomes hidden. 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”.