A sustainable society at present world population levels is faced with many complex issues: curbing further human population growth, preventing nuclear, biological or chemical wars, soothing social and political tensions, fighting poverty, protecting the environment from poison and climatic change, coping with resource scarcity, and managing vulnerable ecosystems. Each one of the items in this list transcends our conventional disciplines. Considering further that all of the problems are connected makes it obvious that neither a scientifically illiterate public nor our professionals, traditionally trained in narrow disciplines, are capable of creating or maintaining a sustainable society.
Scientific and ordinary literacy of the general public is a desirable if not a necessary preparation for a sustainable society. Can it be achieved through our present educational means, or is it necessary for education to change? Today, the alphabet and grammar have become simple enough for all to learn how to read and write with a minor effort, and illiteracy in developed countries is now the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately, this is not the case with scientific literacy. To learn science today is hard and time consuming. Our scientific and engineering knowledge is fragmented into many disciplines, and our curricula in these fields are cluttered with insignificant details. The frustrating information overload prevents most contemporaries from becoming scientifically literate, and it is difficult to get even the simplest of scientific truths to a wide public.
A new knowledge structure for the development of a unified science curriculum is presented in this paper. By using universal concepts and universally applicable algorithms of thinking, a knowledge core is presented which connects all the disciplines and avoids duplication. It is concluded that such a unified science reduces the quantity of information required for a broad view of existing knowledge, that the reduced effort in learning such a universal mental tool will motivate more students to think scientifically about broad issues, and that the professionals trained in transdisciplinary sciences will be able to see the "big picture" of the problems facing a sustainable society.
Burkhardt, Helmut, "Appropriate Curriculum: Enabling The Student To Meet The Transdisciplinary Challenges Of A Sustainable Society" (1991). Electrical and Computer Engineering Publications and Research. Paper 14.