Reflections Looking Forward: Science Collaborations for a Just, Equitable, Regenerative World

February, 2021

Valerie Luzadis, Ph.D., Chair, GCSE Board of Directors

In many ways, it feels to me like we are remembering a great deal as we progress. We are remembering that we are all part of this Earth community, in relationship with all, human and non-human. We are remembering what that means and how we can learn from one another. We are remembering what provides us life – clean air, clean water, sun-powered plants to sustain us, soil that regenerates with care and appropriate attention, and so much more. We are remembering how to live in gratitude and reciprocity. We are, in a way, remembering our future. 


What does this mean for science? The NCSE Drawdown Conference 2021 John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture on Science, Policy, and the Environment on “Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science: Collaboration, Relationship, and Climate Solutions'' provided an insightful example of the collaborations and relationships we are pursuing. You can view the recordings from the multi-part session below.


The future of science collaborations is about relationships. It is about sovereignty, respect, and reciprocity. It is about our very survival. It is with gratitude that we learn from our indigenous brothers and sisters as we remember these important foundations.  


To move into these relationships, we must realize the importance of acknowledging the elitist history of Western science and the need to truly respect and collaborate with other knowledge systems to solve our most pressing problems. We need to build the infrastructure necessary to intertwine multiple knowledge systems in our quest to live sustainably. To do this requires humility, willingness to learn, knowing we will make mistakes, but clear in our intent to honor each other and the natural world – as citizens, human and non-human alike. 


The dominant paradigm of Western science continues to provide us with incredibly valuable knowledge. Acknowledging that this alone is not enough is critically important to advancing the relationships necessary to address global issues like climate change. By weaving together multiple knowledge systems we will resolve these issues peacefully. 


Taking a cue from the National Science Foundation (NSF), we can think of this endeavor as being one of transformation and convergence. 


Transformation is defined as a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance, according to Oxford. UNESCO describes social transformation as taking positive steps for social and political action to protect communities against negative consequences of global change. It can be argued that climate change is destabilizing our environment. Adapting to climate change, even as we strive to mitigate it, requires transformational action as we seek to re-establish or to maintain a stable yet dynamic environment. This means acting to change system characteristics, including technological, economic, political, and cultural restructuring. Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Nation, on whose ancestral lands I currently live and work, addresses this as “Value Change for Survival”, the need for a fundamental change of heart.  


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The second concept is convergence. NSF defines convergence research as “a means of solving vexing problems, in particular, complex problems focusing on societal needs. It entails integrating knowledge, methods, and expertise from different disciplines and forming novel frameworks to catalyze scientific discovery and innovation.”  Convergence spans disciplines to embrace multidisciplinarity – bringing together many perspectives; interdisciplinarity – learning to work together across disciplines; and transdisciplinarity – bringing people from everywhere together and discovering how to learn together.  This is exactly what the Global Council for Science and the Environment does:  drawing together people from different disciplines, different cultures, different knowledge systems, community leaders and citizens, pursuing common challenges, intermingling knowledge, theories, methods, and data to form new frameworks and paradigms to address demanding issues as we face the uncertainties of climate change together. 


By intentionally focusing on transformation, we recognize that incremental change in the face of environmental and social destabilization is not enough. We have learned through many different knowledge systems, that everything is connected, and that uncertainty is a baseline and continuing condition. Connections and uncertainty -- collectively, we are still coming to terms with much of this. As we bring together multiple knowledge systems, including social and biophysical sciences, one of the big issues we must grapple with is the question of how we can know to have confidence in any information, including science. In fact, last year on the NCSE conference main stage the conversation I moderated with Martha McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences and renowned scientist Tom Lovejoy went right to this issue in Western science. While we have that conversation about Western science, we should also build our understanding of confidence in other knowledge systems. What are the indicators that we can use to know to trust information? 


I think of this as a complexity-rigor challenge.  As we contend with effectively researching complex systems the issue of rigor is raised; and as we engage multiple knowledge systems the issue of rigor is raised. Rigor is necessary, and we need to rethink how we understand and maintain it. The trade-offs between predictive capability, adequate reflection of complexity and uncertainty in a rigorous way, and the desire -- the need --for science to inform policy decisions suggest that we need to consider what it means to achieve scientific rigor when working across disciplines and knowledge systems to address the most vexing issues of our time. 


Rigor implies a structure and control in how we conduct research.  We have understood this as strict adherence to “truth” – and this is challenged when working in transdisciplinary ways on complex problems. In Western science, the importance of identifying and articulating bias and value foundations of such inquiries provides a means to guard against being blind to demonstrations of fallacy of prized hypotheses. I am not advocating devolution to relativism; rather we must treat complexity in its own terms.  And we do not know yet how to effectively do this. Without directly addressing this issue, we run the risk of retreating from embracing complexity in transdisciplinary ways to the comfort of our disciplinary foundations and scientific rigor as we have always (so far) defined it. 


The concept of convergence – looking across disciplinary and community lines – can help us to meet the complexity-rigor challenge. Convergence can help us to better understand and address climate change. By respecting and working across boundaries of all sorts, including geographical, cultural, and knowledge systems, we can better organize ourselves for resilience through relationship – with each other and with the Earth’s systems on which we are mutually dependent for life support. Through convergence we can achieve transformation to a just, equitable, regenerative world by weaving the threads of connections and uncertainty with creativity and consciousness. The Global Council for Science and the Environment leads the way as we pursue these collaborations. 


The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the GCSE or its members.


 "Indigenous Knowledge & Western Science: Collaboration, Relationship, and Climate Solutions"





Introductory Remarks

Valerie Luzadis, Chair of the GCSE Board of Directors 







Lecture and Discussion

Sherri Mitchell, Indigenous Rights Attorney and Director of The Land Peace Foundation

Darren Ranco, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Chair of Native American Programs, University of Maine

Moderated by: Laura Weiland, Senior Advisor for Special Projects, GCSE



Live Q&A Session

Sherri Mitchell, Indigenous Rights Attorney and Director of The Land Peace Foundation

Darren Ranco, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Chair of Native American Programs, University of Maine

Valerie Luzadis, Chair of the GCSE Board of Directors 

Moderated by: Laura Weiland, Senior Advisor for Special Projects, GCSE

Bonus Material: “On Prophecy: Sacred Instructions to Shift Course Toward Sustainable Life on This Planet''

Sherri Mitchell, Indigenous Rights Attorney and Director of The Land Peace Foundation