Definition of Life Support Systems in the Context of the Eolss

“A life support system is any natural or human-engineered (constructed or made ) system that furthers the life of the biosphere in a sustainable fashion. The fundamental attribute of life support systems is that together they provide all of the sustainable needs required for continuance of life. These needs go far beyond biological requirements. Thus life support systems encompass natural environmental systems as well as ancillary social systems required to foster societal harmony, safety, nutrition, medical care, economic standards, and the development of new technology. The one common thread in all of these systems is that they operate in partnership with the conservation of global natural resources.”

“In the past, equipment in the intensive care units of hospitals were referred to as ‘life support systems’ until global concerns about human activities and their impact on our planet came to the fore. The first Earth Summit of 1992, held in Rio de Janeiro, issued a document that is now famous as Agenda 21. This document refers to the Earth’s life support systems, considering the whole of our planet as a grand intensive care unit which supports all forms of life. The EOLSS is based on this concept and the above definition of ‘life support systems’.

Knowledge of the Earth’s life support systems encompasses diverse fields such as: the natural sciences (like chemistry and biology); social sciences (such as history, economics, law, psychology, archeology, etc.); humanities (literature, civilizations, etc); engineering, and technology. It also deals with interdisciplinary subjects, like earth and atmospheric sciences and environmental economics as well as the most effective approaches for managing natural resources like renewable and non-renewable energy, biodiversity, ecology, hydrology, health and agriculture. Pathways and interchange need to be established between disciplines in order to address contemporary problems. Transdisciplinary aspects of the relationship between nature and human society (the anthroposphere) are essential in this context.

Knowledge of life support systems builds on the best of our culture to engender a new attitude towards the quality and sustainability of life on earth. Development of this knowledge is based on the following paradigm: knowledge should be at the service of humanity as a whole, and should contribute to providing everyone with a deeper understanding of nature and society, a better quality of life and a sustainable and healthy environment for present and future generations.

To build a sustainable society for our children and future generations—the great challenge of our time—we need to redirect and redesign many of our technologies and social institutions so as to bridge the wide gap between human design and the ecologically sustainable systems. This means that organizations need to undergo fundamental change in order to engender a positive attitude towards sustainable development, to adapt to the new business environment, and to become ecologically sustainable in terms of use of natural resources and environmental impact.

The EOLSS is unique in many ways. Unlike most encyclopedias, the contents of which are alphabetically arranged, EOLSS has a thematic organization. It can almost be regarded as an ‘encyclopedia of encyclopedias’, presenting a wide range of major core subjects in a process of gradual development, from broad overview to great detail.

The EOLSS attempts to forge pathways between disciplines in order to show their interdependence and help foster the transdisciplinary context required to fulfill the vision of sustainable development. It deals in detail with interdisciplinary subjects, but it is also disciplinary as each major core subject is covered in great depth, by world experts.

Every chapter is reviewed to ensure that the contributions meet the required standards of comprehensiveness, clarity, coherence, and consistency and that the material is factually correct and helpful in self study.

The EOLSS is self-contained and very suitable for self study, as all the elements required for understanding any subject are available within it.