December 8, 2023

When does science about sustainability reach its limits?

HThere is no doubt that science, research and innovation will play a central role in achieving the EU’s climate goals. The six EU environmental targets provide a variety of approaches for research. In addition, research has measurable impact, can be based on broad social consensus and is hardly constrained by the techniques and procedures to be used. It is undeniable that science can make a significant, even crucial, contribution to the Green Deal. Whether she should or even should, that is the question.

The use of science – even for supposedly good purposes such as climate and environmental protection, sustainability, responsibility and justice for future generations – raises suspicions that the freedom of science and research is being undermined. The Federal Constitutional Court has formulated this with admirable clarity. In order to “enable research and teaching to focus unhindered on the pursuit of truth, science was declared a sphere of personal and independent responsibility for the individual scientist, free from external control by the state.” In the absence of freedom, good science diminishes – and thus solutions to social problems may become less good. At first it may seem paradoxical, but we might expect science to be of social benefit if science and research are freed from the imperatives of utility and external purposes.

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