Panarchy: Reflections Pt 7

panarchyThe essence of our conclusions to the Panarchy book occurred to me on a plane as I flew to a meeting with officers of a foundation that was new to me. I had to summarize, succinctly, the whole resilience project for them, and this became the way to do exactly that. There were, initially 12 conclusions- my 12 Commandments from the Resilience Mountain! But I do like those conclusions. They appear in Discoveries for Sustainable Futures Chapter 15 of the Panarchy book.

A broad, flexible and openly managed MacArthur Foundation grant made integrative work possible for that project. A marvelous group of people became the heart of the panarchy component – Buz Brock, Steve Carpenter, Carl Folke, Lance Gunderson, Don Ludwig, Lin Ostrom, Garry Peterson, Martin Scheffer, Brian Walker and Frances Westley. This is a mix that is strongly ecosystemic but also has powerful economic, social and mathematical science expertise.

One workshop was held in Zimbabwe at a moment in the nation’s history where experiments were being tried and successfully implemented that shifted from disastrous drought-sensitive cattle ranching to larger spatial scale cooperative wildlife management and tourism. Ranchers learned to remove the barriers in their minds and the fences on their land. They learned to abandon the ideas of the past because there was literally no alternative- loans and insurance were impossible to get and savings had disappeared.

During that period, the government watched and security agents stalked. Ultimately the larger scale of federal government action destroyed the imaginative regional experiments on recovery. And now the country erodes and slowly collapses. It is truly destruction, without much sign, yet, of recovering creative destruction.

In that workshop, the economists proposed a specific route to theory expansion that seemed to me to be too limiting, too much a useful stretch for economics, but insufficient for our larger theme. So I encouraged two projects to emerge: One, (the economists’) was called the theory project. It faced the difficulties presented by non-linearities in their models- an important step in itself. The second (the ecosystem/social) was therefore named the ante-theory project (or to some, caught by the humor of the situation, the “anti”- theory project).

We could have attempted a synthesis at that time. But spawning two separate activities seemed to have a greater potential for discovery. That happened, but it was with something of a sacrifice in quickly joining ecology and economics. That still requires interesting further steps in order to achieve a deep and useful synthesis that might join ecosystem science, non-linear economics and social science.

That is all part of the penalty and opportunity in cross-disciplinary investigation among brilliant, accommodating but stubborn participants. In such cases, the best for the moment often is not to solve the problem, but just separate, encourage two streams, and continue to see what develops. I think we are still in that slow, but healthy process.

I got involved on the Science Boards of the Beijer Institute and Santa Fe Institute and a bit in Beijer’s biodiversity project run by the economist Charles Perrings. Later I launched my own “Resilience Project”, with Karl-Goran Maler and Carl Folke at Beijer that led in five years to well over 100 papers written by a wide disciplinary range of participants, that were published in specialist and interdisciplinary journals. We guessed that over 300 scholars became part of the sequence of workshops

In addition, a core part of the project was the design and preparation of four books. One was the integrative Panarchy book (Gunderson and Holling, 2002) that was meant to show what we developed to test and integrate the separate theories and knowledge in ecosystem science, economics and aspects of the social sciences. The other books were designed to address separately the ecosystemic, social and economic dimensions of resilience. The ecosystem book focused on multi-stable states in large scale ecosystems – Resilience and the Behavior of Large-Scale Systems (Gunderson and Pritchard, 2002). The social one was a lovely book on governance of and institutions for social-ecological systems – Navigating Social-Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change (Berkes, Colding and Folke, 2003). The economic one concerned non-linear economics focused on renewable resource ecosystems – The Economics of Non-Convex Ecosystems (Dasgupta, P. and K.-G. Maler 2003).

Younger colleagues are now becoming the “engines” and spirit that are now taking over and driving the intellectual advances. I think in particular of Marty Anderies, Graeme Cumming, Line Gordon, Marco Janssen, Ann Kinzig, Jon Norberg, Per Olsson, and Garry Peterson. I have learned from each of them directly, and perhaps helped them, as well as from a bunch of others who are working closely with other folks who helped lead the Panarchy project.

Resilience and multi-stable states now seem to be pervading notable parts of ecosystem science and related social sciences, and even emerging in policy. Both features are affecting international policy of some nations. And I note in a bibliographic survey by Marco Janssen, that the original 1973 resilience paper has been a central reference that links vulnerability and resilience research. That is indeed pleasing since it took such a long time to happen. And it was delightful to have a major review paper on resilience – Regime shifts, resilience, and biodiversity in ecosystem management – appear in the same Annual Review series that my original paper did 31 years earlier (Folke et al 2004). Carl Folke made that happen!

Finally, among the emerging influential pieces, Martin Scheffer has a major book on the same subject in press with Princeton University. It was inspired by his own remarkable experimental demonstrations of ecosystem flips in shallow lake systems in Europe- the first experimental demonstrations of the reality of multi-stable states in ecosystems.

And Thomas Homer-Dixon’s 2006 book on political change in a turbulent world, culminates with the significance of resilience and panarchy. He names it The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization. Now that is Panarchy! It is where crisis and opportunity merge in the affairs of man. It is a book that expands the theoretical and applied relevance to the profoundly important issues underlying international, religious and economic extremism of our times.

And recently I read the new book by Frances Westley and colleagues (2006), Getting to Maybe! The title is a take-off on the well known book on negotiation techniques, “Getting To Yes”. But the work avoids the certainty of “Yes”, replacing it with the realistic, evolving reality of useful “Maybe’s”. She describes the paths achieved by ordinary people designing mutual relationships and creating imaginative organizations at local, and regional scales. She describes the way to move to engage real politics. It is a deeply revealing book based in large measure on the complexity theories of Panarchy, and the practical experience of Frances, a very wise person!

Berkes, Fikret, Johan Colding and Carl Folke , 2003. Navigating Social-Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change. Cambridge University Press.

Dasgupta, P. K.-G. Maler (editors). 2003. The Economics of Non-Convex Ecosystems. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Gunderson, Lance H. and Lowell Pritchard Jr. ( eds.) 2002.. Resilience and the Behavior of Large-Scale Systems. Scope 60, Island Press, Washington.

Holling, C. S., S.R. Carpenter, W.A. Brock, and L.H. Gunderson. 2002. Discoveries for a sustainable future. In. Gunderson, L.H and Holling, C.S (eds) (2002) Panarchy: Understanding transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press, Washington and London, Chapter 15, 395-417.

Homer-Dixon, Thomas, 2006. The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization., Knopf Canada.

Westley, Frances, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quin Patton. 2006. Getting to Maybe. Random House Canada.

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