Harvard sustainability scholar to deliver William W. Taylor Distinguished Lecture

William C. Clark will speak on "Sustainability Science: Toward a synthesis" on March 29 on Zoom.

Portrait of William Clark

William C. Clark, a world-renowned sustainability scholar will deliver the inaugural William W. Taylor Distinguished Lecture via Zoom at noon Wednesday, March 29.

Dr. Clark is the Harvey Brooks Research Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  Trained as an ecologist, his research focuses on sustainability science: understanding the interactions of human and environmental systems with a view toward advancing the goals of sustainable development. He is particularly interested in how institutional arrangements affect the linkage between knowledge and action in the sustainability arena.

At Harvard, he co-directs the Sustainability Science Program. Dr. Clark is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  He is a recipient of the MacArthur Prize, the Humboldt Prize, the Kennedy School’s Carballo Award for excellence in teaching, and the Harvard College Phi Beta Kappa Prize for Excellence in Teaching. He also received an MSU Honorary Degree and was a Commencement Speaker in 2022.


Abstract for his lecture, "Sustainability Science: Toward a synthesis:"

“Sustainable development” has emerged as a globally recognized goal for achieving long term advances in human well-being that are equitably shared within and between generations.   “Sustainability science” is one convenient umbrella term for the research community's contributions to the informed agitation required to achieve the goals of sustainable development.  Those contributions draw from a great variety of perspectives, including tacit (traditional and practical) knowledge, ecology and economics, engineering and medicine, political science and law, and a multitude of others. These multiple perspectives are generally a source of strength, bringing potentially complementary bodies of theory, data, and methods to bear on the challenges of sustainable development. But they also have meant that the field has remained somewhat fractured into distinct schools of thought, research programs, and other island empires, each characterized by its own idiosyncratic origins, terminologies, publication venues, case studies, and conceptual frameworks.

No “unifying theory” of sustainability is yet in the offing.  But across the multiple lines of relevant research there has emerged a shared understanding that nature and society in the Anthropocene have become intertwined in a globally interconnected, complex adaptive system.  A basic set of elements (variables) and relationships (interactions) have proven particularly powerful in illuminating that system in ways that have helped to meet the challenges of sustainable development in at least some contexts.  Dr. Clark will summarize them as plausible candidates that all researchers should now consider in designing studies aimed at crafting generalizable theory and models in sustainability science.


B_Taylor+mug_CroppedThe William W. Taylor Distinguished Lecture will be presented by MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS) and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, in honor of Dr. William W. Taylor, MSU University Distinguished Professor in Global Fisheries Systems, visionary leader, pioneering researcher and caring mentor.

It is a platform for prominent scientists and scholars to share their ideas about global challenges and opportunities with MSU students, faculty, staff and the general public.






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