Observation: the western way of life is reaching the planetary boundaries.
The work of the STEEP team is based on the following observation: the lifestyles of the so-called “high income” countries (OECD countries) are incompatible with planetary boundaries in terms of resource availability but also in terms of environmental impacts. This exceeding of limits generates an erosion of the Earth system’s capacity to support life and our societies. The collapse of biodiversity, climate change, water scarcity, soil erosion, etc. are only symptoms of this. Moreover, the deadlines corresponding to the depletion of a certain number of critical non-renewable resources (liquid fossil fuels, metals, phosphorus, potassium, etc.) are incompatible with our ability to substitute these resources.
Rationale: How can we transform our production methods in order to respect environmental boundaries, increase our resilience and satisfy our vital needs?
Exceeding global limits is directly linked to our consumption and production patterns, which are also inherently vulnerable. Faced with these observations, we set ourselves the objective of providing answers to the following issues:
It is necessary to radically and rapidly modify our modes of production and consumption. These transformations must be articulated at all scales; territorial scales being the pillar of this transformation.
All territorial actors, and in particular citizens, must take an active part in the choices and implementation of these transformations. To ensure their relevance (related to the issues), their appropriation and the speed of implementation of the transformations, these choices must be decided by participatory democratic processes. This also requires that all stakeholders have information, tools and methods that enable them to imagine and appropriate alternatives. Finally, the need to make choices requires the ability to evaluate the different alternatives in terms of vital needs, environmental pressures (resources, pollution) and resilience, in relation to environmental boundaries and future regional and global risks.
This issue raises a number of questions:
What does the notion of environmental sustainability of territories mean in a context of continuous and, to an increasing extent, irreversible environmental degradation?
How can we characterize the possible socio-technical alternatives that would allow to adapt to these changes? How to analyze them in terms of their relevance to changing and interacting global and local environmental limits, but also in terms of socio-economic performance (responses to needs) and resilience?
How do the potential dynamics of collapse or socio-environmental decline constrain the question of sustainability? How robust is the scientific understanding of these dynamics?
Method: Analyzing issues at different scales to help democratic decisions
The STEEP team develops methods and tools to diagnose and evaluatesociotechnical alternatives at different territorial scales. The team focuses in particular on their evaluation in terms of environmental impacts and resilience to the various shocks that our society will now undergo. Our objective is to provide operational tools directly integrated into participatory decision support protocols.
The analytical approach constructing the models and the participatory approach allowing collective decisions to be made must be carried out in a complementary manner.
Scientific positioning: enlightening the political debate with scientific and ethical rigor
We wish to shed light on the debate, necessarily political, that must be conducted in order to decide in which directions to undertake the transition to a more sustainable society. To this end, we intend to describe, with their advantages and disadvantages, different possibilities rather than producing a prescription of what should be implemented.
The importance of the issues we are facing requires great scientific rigor for the analytical part as well as ethical rigor for the political questions. This research requires a multidisciplinary approach, an open mind and the necessary hinsight to address these issues in all their complexity.