Environment and Multidisciplinarity: Three Examples of Avoidable Confusion


  • F Laroui Faculty of Earth and life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • B.C.C. Van Der Zwaan Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of G


nature, natural resources, reserves, raw materials, renewability, sustainability.


Nature, natural resources, reserves, raw materials, these are notions common to a number of different disciplines: geophysics/geology, economics/ecology and environmental/energy studies. There is manifestly a risk of confusion regarding their precise meaning, when one switches from one discipline to another, in the same way as their definition can change from one author to another, or even from one language to another. In interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary research, much misunderstanding vis-a-vis the wording used can be avoided by employing strict definitions. Therefore, a clear characterisation and delineation of concepts, as well as transparent statements on the relations that link them, is a prerequisite to any fruitful discussion between researchers from different disciplines. In this paper, we suggest precise definitions for the concepts nature, natural resources, reserves and raw materials. Using these definitions, and interpretations of the interactions between them, we give three examples that show that semantics matter. The examples are taken from the increasingly important field that researches global and regional environmental problems, par excellence an area characterised by inter- and multidisciplinarity. The proposed definitions and the description of three cases in point provide the opportunity to discuss the recently emerged concepts of renewability and sustainability, today paramount terminology in environmental sciences.