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Sustainability science suffers from being “everything to everyone,” leaving the discipline, and its educational curriculum, without a central organizing theory. However, data show that exponential global economic growth now exceeds the limits of Earth’s biophysical and social systems. Thus growth, as the dominant purpose of neoclassical economics, drives both environmental conditions and social equity away from, rather than towards, sustainability. The grand challenge of sustainability science, and indeed society, is to find solutions that simultaneously reduce environmental damage and improve social equity. Given the current disequilibrium between the socioeconomic and environmental systems, contraction of the industrial sociometabolism via degrowth, combined with redistribution of remaining resources, may be the only serious, long-term approach to achieving both objectives.

Thus, degrowth should be the central organizing theme of sustainability science education. This framing would require training so students can apply sustainability norms with a systems-based approach to degrowth. Degrowth would require students to confront deeply-held values about the economic system in which they have benefited. They must create evidence-based solutions to diverse growth-driven problems like urban sprawl and industrial agriculture. Ultimately, if they are to be leaders of change, students must apply strategic thinking, like transition management, and develop interpersonal skills to engage with diverse stakeholders about degrowth initiatives. This educational agenda can be based on the key competencies in sustainability science, a transformational research and education agenda.

This media entry was a contribution to the special session „Degrowth as a Central Theme for Sustainability Science Education“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.