||The project''s most basic thesis is that a global environmental crisis cannot be analyzed as though it were simply the sum of local environmental problems. Indeed, it becomes apparent that there exist at every level new phenomena, namely processes that are systemic and contingent. In terms of social systems, these processes refer to the relevant specific interrelations and relations of exchange between a local society and other societal units such as nations, regions, or other local societies. The nature of the interaction between social systems and their natural environment, as well as the resulting environmental problems and options for societal intervention must also be seen as dependent upon the level of analysis (global - regional - local). If one wishes to work toward sustainable development on a global level, then one must have a grasp of precisely these interrelations and influences, and must make this knowledge - the necessary basis for intervention - available and comprehensible for the relevant societal protagonists. Empirically, this project is based upon the secondary analysis of a series of international studies undertaken in varying geographical areas (Southeast Asia, the Amazon, Austria), where research was done at the local, regional, and national levels. The analysis is to be carried out in terms of exactly specified categories: socio-economic metabolism, colonization of nature, land use, time use, economic structure, demography, quality of life, and cultural change. The results of this research work will allow conclusions to be made about trends and options for sustainability in a variety of societies. An understanding of the typical process patterns and potentially self-intensificating processes within and between the categories will provide the necessary context to answer the question of how regions could cooperate in the common project of achieving ecological modernization.
Further, the results of this analysis are to be developed for industrial societies and societies in transition into integrated strategies that, taken together, contribute to a reduction in environmental impact and to a viable societal model for the future. This must be a model in which the relations of exchange of resources and labor between society and nature can be stabilized for the long term within the limits of ecological capacity.
These questions regarding the interrelations between society, economy, culture, and nature in different geographical regions and at different levels of systemic integration cannot be answered within the boundaries of any one discipline; an interdisciplinary research team is necessary. The suggested project consortium, comprised of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies of Austrian Universities (IFF), Dept. of Social Ecology and the Institute for Anthropology (University of Vienna), includes representatives of the necessary spectrum of disciplines and has the necessary experience in interdisciplinary research project cooperation. In pursuing a socio-ecological vision for the future, we take a modern approach to the issues of intervention. We differentiate between the process of scientific cognition and the creation of societal knowledge. Empirical knowledge becomes societal knowledge only once its users have understood it and are also able to apply it.