All posts by Garry Peterson

Prof. of Environmental science at Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University in Sweden.

Kim Stanley Robinson on the Anthropocene

Below are an interesting excerpt from an interview of Kim Stanley Robinson, a Californian sustainability oriented science fiction writer, in Boom Magazine.

Boom: But, as you’ve said, all of California in some ways has been terraformed. It’s not natural in the way we usually conceive of natural. Are we as gods, as Steward Brand famously proclaimed, so we better get good at it?

Robinson: California is a terraformed space. I think we have accidentally become terraformers, but of course we are not gods. We don’t actually know enough about ecology, or even about bacteria, to do what we want to do here. We could make environmental changes that could do damage that we can’t recover from, so it’s dangerous. We’re more like the sorcerer’s apprentice. We can do amazing things on this planet, out of hubris, and partial ignorance, and yet we are without the powers to jerk the system back to health if we wreck it. If ocean acidification occurs, we don’t have a chance to shift that back. So we’ve accidentally cast ourselves into this role by our scientific successes, but we don’t have the power to do what we need to do, so we need to negotiate our situation with the environment. The idea that we’re living in the Anthropocene is correct. We are the biggest geological impact now; human beings are doing more to change the planet than any other force, from bedrock up to the top of the troposphere. Of course if you consider twenty million years and plate tectonics, we’re never going to match that kind of movement. It’s only in our own temporal scale that we look like lords of the Earth; when you consider a longer temporality, you suddenly realize we’re more like ants on the back of an elephant. By no means do we have godlike powers on this planet. We have a biological system we can mess up, a thin wrap on the planet’s surface, like cellophane wrapping a basketball. But there is so much we don’t know. You can do cosmology with more certainty than ecology.

Boom: Speaking of terraformed, the Delta, where you live here in Davis, is a great example of a terraformed landscape.

Robinson: It’s kind of great. It’s troubled, but I think it’s still beautiful. I like these human-slash-natural landscapes. I like terraformed landscapes. The Central Valley has been depopulated of its Serengeti’s worth of wild creatures, and that’s a disaster. But you could do amazing agriculture in the Central Valley and add wildlife corridors, where the two could coexist in a palimpsest, big agriculture and the Serengeti of North America, occupying the same space. And then it would be that much more interesting and beautiful. If you went out there to the edge of Davis now, you would see nothing in terms of animals. But if you went out there and it was filled with tule elk and all the rest of the animals and birds of the Central Valley biome, occasionally a bear would come down out of the hills; and, well, you couldn’t run alone out there, because of the predators. You’d have to run in a group. But humans are meant to run in groups. The solo thing is dangerous. So it would all come back to a more natural social existence. This is the angle of utopianism that I’ve been following. It’s a kind of natural-cultural amalgam, whereas utopian literature historically was mostly a social construct, and it was kind of urban. Utopia was thought of as a humanist space, but when you think of humans as part of a much larger set of life forms, then you get to a utopia that includes it all and is a process. I haven’t actually written the novel that would put all of this together, because each of my novels has been a different part of the puzzle and a different attempt at it. So I keep having an idea for the book yet to come. Seems like I might start another one like that sometime soon.

California is a terraformed space.

Why bother with Durkheim? Using (classical) social science to understand the social dynamics of social-ecological systems

Reflections on a PhD Course at the Resilience Research School, Thursday 30th January

A guest post form Simon West, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, at Stockholm University.

 This Thursday we began a new 5-week PhD course at the Resilience Research School (RRS). “Why bother with Durkheim?’ will introduce PhD students at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) to some classical social science thinkers – Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Thorstein Veblen. Each class will encourage students to extrapolate the insights of a classical thinker to understand the social dynamics of social-ecological systems (SES). The plan is to run the course in future semesters with a changing roster of ‘classics’ each time. We will be summarizing class discussions in a weekly blog post here on Resilience Science, with the aim of widening the discussion beyond the RRS to the international community of resilience and sustainability researchers. This week – why bother with ‘the classics’ at all?

As course coordinator Wijnand Boonstra has pointed out in a previous blog, the classics often look weird in a contemporary scientific centre devoted to trans-disciplinary sustainability research. In fact, the motivation for this course came from the comments Wijnand received when he was scanning pages from a battered book, published 1949. I had a similar experience when preparing the course reading material this week. A fellow PhD student pointed at the small, well-worn 1924 edition of Thorstein Veblen’s Absentee Ownership I held in my hands and exclaimed, “are you reading the Bible?!” For many researchers it might as well have been, given the ostensible relevance of the work for their research. In our PhD reading group here at the SRC, articles written as recently as 2005 can be dismissed as ‘old news.’

Our aim through this course, however, is to change the perception of the classics as curiosities of a bygone age, and demonstrate their relevance to the study of social-ecological systems. Indeed, the increasing willingness and need for social and natural sciences and the humanities to work together, for example to examine processes of global environmental change in the Future Earth research programme, suggests that interdisciplinary sustainability researchers will need to become much more familiar with the classics in the years to come. As Michel Foucault (1980) has indicated, there is no better tribute to a classic than to “use it, deform it, make it groan and protest.” We look forward to the various deformations applied by course participants in the coming weeks, coming from such varied backgrounds as ecology, literature, industrial engineering, political science, computer science and modeling, and development studies.

What are the social science ‘classics’?

Understanding ‘the classics’ is essential for grasping not only some of the core debates in the social sciences, but also the conceptual tools used by social science research to produce knowledge. But what are the classics? Alexander (1987: 22) defines classics as “earlier works of human exploration which are given a privileged status vis-à-vis contemporary explorations in the same field.” For Alexander privileged status means that, “contemporary practitioners of the discipline in question believe that they can learn as much about their field through understanding this earlier work as they can from the work of their own contemporaries.” The classics of sociology (the disciplinary focus for the coming lectures) are generally thought of as the works of Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. But these ‘big three’ are often complemented by a host of other thinkers that are cited as ‘minor’ classics in the social science canon, e.g. August Comte, Georg Simmel, Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton.

What makes a classic classic? The factors that determine which books and thinkers becomes classic and which are simply forgotten are multiplex. In fact there is a whole sub-field of research on this topic – Reception Theory. As Baehr (2002: 111) notes, to find answers we must not look at classicality as a quality inherent to particular works but rather “as a dialectic in which the text, its evaluation and re-evaluation define what is exemplary.” There are several crucial factors that help to explain the development of classics’ privileged status.

Firstly, death. Dead authors are less likely to compete with others for prestige and academic standing, and therefore living academics can valorize them without fear of being superseded. Death also signifies the passing of time, which provides context to works and separates classic work from the chaff. Death also prevents authors from ‘fighting back’ against the dispersion, re-interpretation and appropriation of their work – all necessary components for the spread and use of ideas. Stinchcombe (1982: 3) joked that aspiring social scientists therefore better first find “a dead German who said it first” before they publish anything.

Secondly, cultural resonance. Texts do not become classic simply because they are ‘better’ or ‘truer’ than others, but because they are provocative and strike a chord about enduring aspects of human existence. Merely providing solutions to a discrete problem may prevent a text becoming a classic because it provides “no challenges for contemporaries to embrace and successors to ponder” (Baehr 2002: 118). So classics become classics because of the questions they pose and the mistakes they make, as much as the answers they provide. For instance Durkheim’s 1894 book The Rules of Sociological Method is widely regarded as a classic – yet it is just as widely panned. Indeed, it has been criticized and demolished repeatedly for over one hundred years because of the usefulness of its mistakes.

Thirdly, academic and social circumstances. While Durkheim became known fairly rapidly after his death as a founder of sociology, for Marx it took more than seventy years to be recognized as a classic sociologist. This difference in reception is a product of academic discovery and re-interpretation, but also linked to Marx’s posthumous entanglement with events in ‘the real world.’ As John Gray has written in a recent review of Jonathan Sperber’s book Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life, “if World War I had not occurred and caused the collapse of tsarism, if the Whites had prevailed in the Russian Civil War as Lenin at times feared they would and the Bolshevik leader had not been able to seize and retain his hold on power … Marx would now be a name most educated people struggled to remember.”

Finally, textual suppleness. Texts must contain enough ambiguity to mean different things to different people in different situations. As this is a course at the SRC, we can say that they must have the ability to adapt to change through transformation – they must be resilient.

Why are there no natural science classics?

The idea of providing privileged status to works published over one hundred years ago would seem bizarre to many natural and interdisciplinary sustainability scientists. You do not hear SRC researchers continually debating and publishing on what Norbert Wiener ‘really meant’ in his 1948 complex systems classic, Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Most will have never heard of Wiener. Why not?

The classics highlight the predominantly discursive character of the social sciences. Alexander (1987: 22-23) argues that social sciences proceed primarily through argument and reasoning rather than through prediction or attempts at verification or falsification. This reasoning is conducted at a greater level of generality and speculation than normally takes place in the natural sciences (see Baehr 2002: 82). This is not because the social sciences are inherently more discursive than the natural sciences. It is widely accepted in the philosophy of science that knowledge produced by natural science relies on similarly metaphysical assumptions, but the natural sciences are simply better at hiding their discursive elements. These assumptions can be black-boxed and ‘normal science’ can progress through debate purely about the operational elements of research (see Kuhn 1970), without the need for classics.

Some would argue that the social sciences should therefore just ditch the classics and follow the model of the natural sciences. Indeed, this narrative was what motivated many early founders, and classics, of sociology – especially Durkheim. But to do this, argues Alexander (1987), would be to run away from the crucial problems that face the social sciences in the first place: the non-linear, complex and essentially discursive dynamics that drive human social behavior and shape human knowledge. Instead of modeling the study of social dynamics on the natural sciences, sustainability researchers should perhaps embrace the classics – in search of novel ways of knowing and becoming truly transdisciplinary.

What is the use of the social science classics for the study of social-ecological systems?

Firstly, the classics deal with key questions concerning the dynamics of social change, the origins of social action, the (in)stability of social systems – all essential for analyzing social dynamics today. Knowing the classics helps interdisciplinary sustainability researchers to avoid past mistakes and stimulates new hypotheses.

Secondly, the treatment of human-nature relationships in the classics has fundamentally shaped the academic landscape of today – take for example the influence of Marx in political ecology and the lineage of Durkheim’s functionalist approach in systems theory. Study of the classics can therefore help to contextualize social-ecological systems approaches in the wider academic terrain and help researchers to grasp the context of criticisms relating to, for example, the supposed neglect of power relations and conflict in social-ecological systems research.

Thirdly, while social-ecological systems research has long recognized the desirability of becoming trans-disciplinary, it is fair to say that SES research to date has been driven by researchers versed primarily in the natural sciences. However, the concept of the Anthropocene and the role of humans in generating global environmental change is mobilizing closer collaboration between social scientists, humanities researchers and natural scientists. Classics literacy among sustainability researchers will enhance ability to collaborate productively. Such intermingling of epistemological traditions offers real potential to create new ways of thinking and knowing the Anthropocene.

Fourth, study of the classics prompts sociological interpretation of social-ecological systems research. While in many ways transcending the origins of their birth, the classics came from somewhere at some time. Durkheim posed his central question, ‘what social bonds hold men together?’ in a cultural climate where fear of societal collapse was widespread. Indeed, sociology as a discipline emerged through attempts to understand mass transformation in human organization and relationships with nature (including the rise of capitalism and industrialism). Durkheim’s personal fears about the imminent collapse of society arguably led to a conservative approach focused on maintaining social order. Reflection on the social factors influencing SES research as a product of its time (e.g. economic collapse, teleconnected vulnerabilities) may help researchers to reflexively assess the assumptions underlying their own work.

Next week, Karl Marx …

References

  • Alexander, J. 1987. ‘The Centrality of the Classics.’ In A. Giddens and J.H. Turner (eds.) Social Theory Today. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Baehr, P. 2002. Founders, Classics, Canons: Modern Disputes over the Origins and Appraisal of Sociology’s Heritage. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.
  • Foucault, M. 1980. Gordon C (ed.). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon.
  • Kuhn, T.S. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Stinchcombe, A.L. 1982. Should Sociologists Forget Their Mothers and Fathers. The American Sociologist 17(1): 2 – 11.

Bruno Latour thinks about the Anthropocene

Bruno Latour‘s Gifford Lectures Facing Gaia: A new enquiry into Natural Religion, which were given at University of Edinburgh over the last few months are now on the web.

Bruno Latour’s website has the text (pdf) of the lectures and describes them as:

Those six lectures in ‘natural religion’ explore what it could mean to live at the epoch of the Anthropocene when what was until now a mere décor for human history is becoming the principal actor. They confront head on the controversial figure of Gaia, that is, the Earth understood not as system but as what has a history, what mobilizes everything in the same geostory. Gaia is not Nature, nor is it a deity. In order to face a secular Gaia, we need to extract ourselves from the amalgam of Religion and Nature. It is a new form of political power that has to be explored through a renewed attempt at political theology composed of those three concepts: demos, theos and nomos. It is only once the multiplicity of people in conflicts for the new geopolitics of the Anthropocene is recognized, that the ‘planetary boundaries’ might be recognized as political delineations and the question of peace addressed. Neither Nature nor Gods bring unity and peace. ‘The people of Gaia’, the Earthbound might be the ‘artisans of peace’.

The lectures are organized by groups of two, the two first ones deal with the question of Natural Religion per se and show that the notion is confusing because on the one hand ‘nature’ and ‘religion’ share too many attributes and, on the other, the two notions fail to register the originality of scientific practice and the specificity of the religious regime of enunciation.

Once the pleonasm of Natural Religion is pushed aside, it becomes possible to take up, in the next two lectures, the question first of Gaia as it has been conceived by James Lovelock and of the Anthropocene as it has been explored by geologists and climate scientists. It is thus possible to differentiate the figure of the Earth and of the agencies that populate it from the notion of nature and of the globe thus bringing to the fore the geostory to which they all belong.

In the last two lectures, after the notion of Natural Religion has been put aside, and after the complete originality of Gaia and geostory have been foregrounded, it becomes possible to reopen the political question at the heart of what will be life at the Anthropocene. Once the key question of war has been introduced, the search for a peace along the delineations allowed by politically relevant ‘planetary boundaries’ to which Earthbound (the new word for Humans) accept to be bound become again possible.

 As mentioned on Resilience Science previously, Canada’s CBC radio has a great accessible series – How to think about science – on science studies and philosophy of science, which includes an introduction to Latour and his work.

Connecting the Instability of Markets and Ecosystems – C.S. Holling and Hyman Minsky

Both markets and ecosystems can, and have, been viewed as being shaped by feedback processes that push them towards a steady state – in markets this is the “invisible hand” – in ecology it is “succession.”  However, what has been appreciated in ecology, and has been reluctantly included in economics is that these invisible hands can push systems into turbulence or even tear them apart.

The 2008 financial crisis revived widespread interest in the work of American economist Hyman Minksy who developed a theory on the evolution of financial crises that not only provides a strong framework to understand the forces that created the crisis but also has strong parallels to the work of Canadian ecologist C.S. “Buzz” Holling, an originator of resilience thinking, who developed a theory of social-ecological crises that shares many features with Minksky’s theory.

Minsky and Holling both showed how successful regulation could lead systems into a trap of decreasing resilience and increased vulnerability.

Minsky’s “Financial instability hypothesis” argues that as an economy flourishes people and organizations lose their motivation to consider the possibility of failure, because the costs of concern are high and apparent while the benefits of a relaxed attitude are immediate.  Loans become less and less secure, bad risks drive out good, and the resilience of the entire economy to shocks is reduced. Minsky argued that economic resilience is slowly eroded as there is a shift of dominance between three types of borrowers: hedge borrowers, speculative borrowers, and Ponzi borrowers.   Hedge borrower have a cash flow that they can use to repay interest and principal on a debt, while the speculative borrower can cover the interest, but must continually roll over the principal, and Ponzi borrowers, who have to borrow more to cover their interest payments.  Hedge borrowers are least vulnerable to economic changes, while Ponzi borrowers are the most.  As the economy does well, speculative and Ponzi borrowers can outperform safer borrowers.  For example, highly leveraged investments in housing can yield big profits as house prices increase, driving further investment in housing and housing price increases.  As the use of Ponzi finance expands within the finance system the financial system becomes increasingly vulnerable to any change in the perceived value of Ponzi borrowers assets can trigger a collapse that includes speculative and hedge borrowers.  When a shock or change in perception causes the networks of loans to unravel, crisis moves from the financial sector other parts of the economy.  This theory fits many aspects of the 2008 financial crisis where public and private risk regulations were relaxed, and there was a lot of speculative and Ponzi borrowing in the US housing market.  For example, financial market regulationaccounting standards were lowered, and mortgage risk assessments were abandoned.

Similarly, Holling’s “Pathology of ecosystem management” argues that the management of ecosystems to increase the production of a desired ecological services often achieve their goal by simplifying ecosystems and reducing environmental variation. For example, forest management removes undesired species and suppresses wildfire and produces more timber which leads to sawmills and jobs. While these efforts are often initially successful, over the longer term these effort can trap a system into a situation where there is:

1) a high societal dependence on continuous supply of ecological benefits and

2) a declining ability of an ecosystem to recover from and regulate environmental variation.

Holling’s adaptive cycle concept grew out of the pathology of natural resource management.

Societal dependance arises as investment follows the initial success.  The decline in ecological resilience occurs because of management’s simplification the spatial pattern, food web, and disturbance dynamics of the managed ecosystem.  Often as resilience declines, management has to increasingly invest in artificial ecological regulation to maintain ecological benefits and protect its sunk investment infrastructure.  This dynamic can trap people within a social-ecological system which is unprofitable, has low resilience, and is difficult to disengage from due to sunk cost effects.  For example, logging and forest can lead to more investment in timber mills and towns and the simplified forest, which is more vulnerable to insect outbreaks.  These continual outbreaks require investment in pest control, which decreases the profitability of the logging.  Simultaneously, it is difficult to stop logging or pest control due to the people living in the towns and the investment in the timber mills.

Holling’s pathology was originally developed in the 1980s.  Since then Holling’s ideas have been substantially developed by ecologists and others environmental scientists over the past twenty years (notably in the book Panarchy).  Researchers have tried to identify different types of social-ecological traps.  Resilience researchers have created quantitative models explore and statistical methods to detect instabilities, and expanded upon the pathology to explore the roles of leadership and agency in creating new social-ecological trajectories.

Unlike Holling’s work, Minsky’s work has been largely marginalized within mainstream economics, though it has retained a dedicated following among financial and some hetrodox economists.  The lack of a rigourous mathematical structure to Minsky’s ideas seems to have been much more of a barrier in economics, than the similar lack in Holling’s ideas was to ecology.  However, I expect that the main reason for the lack of interest was that instability was not seen as a particularly relevant idea. The financial turmoil of the last few years has shown that despite economists dreams of a great moderation due to wise regulation, regulators and markets have not been able to tame the destabilizing dynamics of global markets.  Indeed, the financial crisis of 2008 and the recession that has followed has demonstrated that many regulations likely have made this crisis worse by reducing diversity, tightening couplings, and decreasing adaptive capacity.  For example, the Euro prevented countries, like Greece or Spain, from shifting their exchange rates with other countries.

However, the crisis has provoked substantial new interest in Minksy, and now eminient mainstream economists such as Paul Krugman have now attempted to connect his work to the central core of economics (see Eggertsson & Krugman 2012  paper & a critique from hetreodox financial economist Steve Keen).

The financial, political, price turbulence since 2008 has increased interest in theories of instability, but most theory is based upon stability, or short term departures from stable points.  This undersupply of theories of instability, makes the work of Holling and Minksy more valuable.  In separate realms and identifying different mechanisms, the work of Minsky and Holling suggests instability cannot be avoided, as stability creates instability.  This understanding can be used to help navigate instability, and it highlights the value of working to create new theories to understand, analyze, and navigate social-ecological instability – something that we are working on at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Further readings:

Holling (many followup articles are available in Ecology & Society)

  • Holling, C.S., 1986. The resilience of terrestrial ecosystems: local surprise and global change. In: Clark, W.C., Munn, R.E. (Eds.), Sustainable Development of the Biosphere. Cambridge University Press, London, pp. 292–317.
  • Holling, C.S., Meffe, G.K., 1996. Command and control and the pathology of natural resource management. Conservation Biology 10, 328–337.
  • Gunderson, L.H. & Holling, C.S. (Eds.). 2002. Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press.

Minsky (lots of his publications are available on the Levy Institute’s website)

  • Minsky, H. P. (1975). John Maynard Keynes. New York, Columbia University Press.
  • Minsky, H. P. (1982). Can “it” happen again? : essays on instability and finance. Armonk, N.Y., M.E. Sharpe.
  • Minsky, H. P. (1986). Stabilizing an unstable economy, Twentieth Century Fund Report series, New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
  • Wray, L.R. 2011 Minsky Crisis in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Online Edition, 2011.  Edited by Steven N. Durlauf and Lawrence E. Blume. Palgrave.

On the web Ashwin Parameswaren has been building on Minksy and Holling’s ideas at his websites Macroeconomic resilience and All systems need a little disorder.

Ecology & Society papers that best connect different author groups

As part of a project I am working on, I did a quick network analysis of co-authorship structure among papers in Ecology and Society. Based on this preliminary analysis, the papers below are the papers that most connect different research communities within the group of people who publish in Ecology & Society*.

  1. Toward a Network Perspective of the Study of Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss1/art15/
  2. Water RATs (Resilience, Adaptability, and Transformability) in Lake and Wetland Social-Ecological Systems http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss1/art16/
  3. Shooting the Rapids: Navigating Transitions to Adaptive Governance of Social-Ecological Systems http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss1/art18/
  4. Governance and the Capacity to Manage Resilience in Regional Social-Ecological Systems http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss1/art19/
  5. Resilience and Regime Shifts: Assessing Cascading Effects http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss1/art20/
  6. Scale and Cross-Scale Dynamics: Governance and Information in a Multilevel World http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss2/art8/
  7. A Portfolio Approach to Analyzing Complex Human-Environment Interactions: Institutions and Land Change http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss2/art31/
  8. From LTER to LTSER: Conceptualizing the Socioeconomic Dimension of Long-term Socioecological Research http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss2/art13/
  9. Linking Futures across Scales: a Dialog on Multiscale Scenarios http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss1/art17/
  10. Linking Ecosystem Health Indicators and Collaborative Management: a Systematic Framework to Evaluate Ecological and Social Outcomes http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss2/art6/
  11. The Role of Old-growth Forests in Frequent-fire Landscapes http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss2/art18/
  12. Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art32/
  13. Navigating Trade-Offs: Working for Conservation and Development Outcomes http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss2/art16/
  14. Spanning Boundaries in an Arizona Watershed Partnership: Information Networks as Tools for Entrenchment or Ties for Collaboration? http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss3/art22/
  15. Resilience and Vulnerability: Complementary or Conflicting Concepts? http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss3/art11/
  16. Urban Ethnohydrology: Cultural Knowledge of Water Quality and Water Management in a Desert City http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss4/art36/
  17. Adaptive Comanagement: a Systematic Review and Analysis http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol17/iss3/art11/
  18. Waypoints on a Journey of Discovery: Mental Models in Human-Environment Interactions http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol17/iss3/art23/
  19. Resilience Management in Social-ecological Systems: a Working Hypothesis for a Participatory Approach http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol6/iss1/art14/
  20. Markets Drive the Specialization Strategies of Forest Peoples http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art4/

It is good to see that a network analysis paper is the paper that most connects authors.

While this set of papers has some overlap with the 20 most ‘typical’ papers of E&S, this set of papers includes a much broader set of authors and topics than those from the last post, and also includes many recent papers.

* This analysis is based on applying betweenness centrality to the network of papers defined by co-authorship relationships, not content. So, these papers are those that most link together different networks of authors.

Ecology and Society’s most ‘typical’ paper

The journal Ecology and Society publishes a lot of work related to resilience and social-ecological systems.  As part of a project I am working on, I did a quick network analysis of co-authorship structure among papers in E&S, and based on this preliminary analysis, the papers below are the most typical of Ecological and Society based on authorship*.

  1. Resilience Management in Social-ecological Systems: a Working Hypothesis for a Participatory Approach Vol 6 Issue: 1:14
  2. A Handful of Heuristics and Some Propositions for Understanding Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems Vol 11 Issue: 1:13
  3. Resilience Thinking: Integrating Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability Vol 15 Issue: 4:20
  4. Shooting the Rapids: Navigating Transitions to Adaptive Governance of Social-Ecological Systems Vol 11 Issue: 1:18
  5. Water RATs (Resilience, Adaptability, and Transformability) in Lake and Wetland Social-Ecological Systems Vol 11 Issue: 1:16
  6. Drivers, “Slow” Variables, “Fast” Variables, Shocks, and Resilience Vol 17 Issue: 3:30
  7. Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity Vol 14 Issue: 2:32
  8. Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Socialecological Systems Vol 9 Issue: 2:5
  9. Resilience and Vulnerability: Complementary or Conflicting Concepts? Vol 15 Issue: 3:11
  10. Resilience: Accounting for the Noncomputable Vol 14 Issue: 1:13
  11. Exploring Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems Through Comparative Studies and Theory Development: Introduction to the Special Issue Vol 11 Issue: 1:12
  12. Assessing Future Ecosystem Services: a Case Study of the Northern Highlands Lake District, Wisconsin Vol 7 Issue: 3:1
  13. Resilience, Adaptability, and Transformability in the Goulburn-Broken Catchment, Australia Vol 14 Issue: 1:12
  14. Fifteen Weddings and a Funeral: Case Studies and Resilience-based Management Vol 11 Issue: 1:21
  15. Scenarios for Ecosystem Services: An Overview Vol 11 Issue: 1:29
  16. Editorial: Special Feature on Scenarios for Ecosystem Services Vol 11 Issue: 2:32
  17. Resilience and Regime Shifts: Assessing Cascading Effects Vol 11 Issue: 1:20
  18. Governance and the Capacity to Manage Resilience in Regional Social-Ecological Systems Vol 11 Issue: 1:19
  19. Toward a Network Perspective of the Study of Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems Vol 11 Issue: 1:15
  20. Transforming Innovation for Sustainability Vol 17 Issue: 2:11

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of these papers are authored by people from the Resilience Alliance and frequently address resilience and social-ecological networks.  However, papers on scenarios, networks, and innovation are also present.

* This is based on a applying eigenvector centrality to the network of papers defined by co-authorship relationships, not content.  So, these papers are those that most link together networks of authors.

WEF’s Risk Report and the misperception of environmental risks

World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2013 report is an interesting, but one eyed view of the global risk landscape.

I think the main weakness is lack of consideration of how the financial, economic, and social systems that support the global elites at Davos are producing most of the risks that threaten those same systems.  Some of these systems are part of what sf writer Kim Stanley Robinson has called Gotterdammerung capitalismwhile others are what resilience researchers have called Holling’s pathology of management.  But in either case, assessing the symptomns, but not examining the causes is not particularly useful and a bit pathological.

However, I thought one interesting point in the report was the the assessment of expert risk assessment.  The report found a substantial difference between environmental experts view of risks versus that of experts in other sectors.

Unlike all over sectors environmental experts thought that environmental risks were substantially more likely and would have a bigger impact than other people.  While I don’t find this result surprising, I am a bit surprised that this is the only problem domain in which this is the case.  Because I don’t think there is a big difference between environmental experts and experts in other fields, I think this suggests there is something special about societies ability to detect or understand environmental problems.

Below is the relevant figure from the report.

The report writes:

The differences between environmental experts and their peers from other fields are striking – they assign higher impact and likelihood scores to all 10 risks in the environmental category, with most of these differences being statistically significant at the 5% level (see Appendix 2).

Also there are a number of societal risks where specialists are more alarmed than other respondents, such as rising rates of chronic diseases, unsustainable population growth or unman- aged migration. In the economic category, this pattern holds only for chronic fiscal imbalances. For most other risks in this category, as well as in the geopolitical and in the technological domains, there are few statistically significant differences.

On the other side of the equation, experts in economic issues worry less about the impact and likelihood of severe income disparity than non-experts. Similarly, technological experts worry less than non-experts about the likelihood and impact of unforeseen consequences of nanotechnology.

These findings raise interesting questions. Are economists more informed about economic issues than others, or are there ideological differences at play? Are the technological specialists more knowledgeable here, or does their excitement about new technologies dampen their risk perceptions? And where experts are more worried, does that mean that we should listen to them more, or do they just feel more strongly about their issue without knowing enough about other threats?

The Risks report asked about 6000 experts using an online survey from the “World Economic Forum’s communities, which comprise of top experts and high-level leaders from business, academia, NGOs, international organizations, the public sector and civil society.”  Who were male (7:3)   Their survey had about 1,200 responses which included about 230 environmental experts.

Two research positions at Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to work with SRC

Exciting job opportunities here in Stockholm at Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to work with Stockholm Resilience Centre:

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is pleased to announce two positions as Early Career Academy Researcher, one for a scholar with a documented background in economics and one for a scholar with a documented background in research on social-ecological interactions. The positions will be part of the Family Erling Persson’s Academy Program on The Ecological Economics of Global Change, lead by Prof. Carl Folke.

Human wellbeing and the Earth system on which it depends are in transition. In a globalised world the economy, society, technology and the environment interact in novel and even unexpected ways. A key challenge is to foster development that is favourable and sustainable for current and future generations, taking into account and respecting the capacity of the biosphere to support such development. Research will address the complex, multi-scale dynamics of social–ecological systems, economic development and critical ecosystem services in the new global context. The dynamics include nonlinear thresholds that can lead to large, persistent changes but also transformations of human actions toward stewardship of social–ecological systems for global sustainability. Part of the program will focus on marine issues in this context.

The Ecological Economics of Global Change program aims to address such challenges and is searching for key collaborators to achieve this. The positions are two plus three years, with potential for continuation. We envision a early career researchers at the level of post-doc or similar. Documented experience from interdisciplinary collaboration is a bonus. The two Early Career Academy Researcher positions will be part of a team with two Academy Researchers, a visiting professor and two other early career researchers, which will form the core of the program.

The program provides a forum for researchers in economics and social-ecological systems to interact and develop joint research, seeking a deeper understanding of the interplay of social-ecological systems and economic development from local to global levels. There will be opportunity for researchers of the program to closely collaborate with the Academy’s Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics and the Stockholm Resilience Centre. A stimulating, trusting and friendly research environment in collaboration with diverse disciplines is provided, focusing on understanding the new global dynamics and the challenges towards sustainability.

The Academy is accepting applications from researchers with a PhD in economics and ecology or related disciplines. We are looking for open minded candidates with exceptional scholarly promise and a rigorous approach to problem solving. We value documented capacity to synthesize knowledge, analyze large data sets and build empirically grounded theory. The successful candidates must be team players who understand how their particular expertise fits within the greater global picture and can collaborate with other researchers in an open-minded and creative way. Salary will depend on the merits of the candidate. The program starts 1 January 2013 and the positions, which are full time, are to be filled as soon as possible for an initial period of two years.

Applicants should submit a single document containing a short letter of interest including a vision of research focus to further the understanding of social-ecological systems in the context of new global dynamics (1-2 page) and Curriculum Vitae including relevant publications (max 3 pages). In addition the applicants should ask a person of their choice to send a letter of recommendation.

Please submit the applications to Christina Leijonhufvud (chris@beijer.kva.se) by 20 February 2013.

Trade union representatives are Magnus Lundgren (SACO), 0046-8-673 95 25 and Peter Jacobsson (ST), 0046-8-673 97 92.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is an independent organisation whose overall objective is to promote the sciences and strengthen their influence in society.

Digging the Anthropocene

Human material use has rapidly and massively increased over the past century.  This is nicely illustrated in a 2009 paper by Krausmann and others at the Institute of Social Ecology in Vienna.

Fig. 1. Materials use by material types in the period 1900 to 2005. (a and b) total materials use in Giga tons (Gt) per yr; (c) metabolic rate (materials use in t/cap/year); (d) share of material types of total materials use.

The use of material has exploded:

  • overall use of material grew 8X
  • construction minerals grew 34X
  • ores/industrial minerals 27X.
  • fossil fuel energy carriers 12.2X
  • biomass extraction 3.6X.

This expansion is due to the growth of the human economy and population. Despite advances in efficiency (i.e. the amount of materials required per unit of GDP has declined), the economy has grown faster so total materials use per capita doubled from 4.6 to 10.3 T/cap/yr.

For most of the 20th century, biomass was the most significant of the four material types in terms of mass and only in the 1990s it was overtaken by construction minerals.

In 2000, the 15% of the world’s population living in rich countries were directly responsible for 1/3 of global resource extraction; however this inequality is more pronounced  for key materials the 15% of the world’s population living in rich countries consume more than 50% of  fossil energy carriers, industrial minerals and metallic ores (a 6X greater rate for the 15% vs. the 85%).

If global economic development continues its current trajectory (with a population growth of 30–40% until 2050) the will be a continuing sharp rise in global material extraction.

From:

Krausmann, F., Gingrich, S., Eisenmenger, N., Erb, K.-H., Haberl, H. & Fischer-Kowalski, M. 2009. Growth in global materials use, GDP and population during the 20th century. Ecological Economics, 68, 2696–2705. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2009.05.007

Resilience Alliance & the Integration of Social and Natural Science in Global Change Research

In a new paper Evolution of natural and social science interactions in global change research programs in PNAS (doi:10.1073/pnas.1107484110), Harold A. Mooney, Anantha Duraiappah, & Anne Larigauderie look back on the history of the integration of Social and Natural Science in global change research and relate this history, the barriers overcome, and the lessons learned to the development of the new global research programme on sustainability science – Future Earth.

The paper places the Beijer Intitute of Ecological Economics efforts build communication between ecologists and economists as very import.  They write:

Much of the mistrust between the ecologists and economists was minimized, because cooperation between these groups was increased through a series of workshops organized by the Beijer Institute of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences under the leadership of Karl-Göran Mäler in 1993 on the Swedish island of Askö. Many seminal papers on the interface between the environment and economics were crafted at these meetings.

The also value the role of the Resilience Alliance, which was also highly connected to the Beijer Institute:

A somewhat parallel approach to sustainability science to integrating social and natural sciences is embodied in the Resilience Alliance that was established in 1999 (http://www.resalliance. org/). This alliance is a network of scientists and institutions that uses a conceptual framework that was first articulated by C. S. Holling in 1986 (42) and updated in 2001 (43). This frame- work is built on the nature of hierarchies and cyclic properties of both ecosystems and social–ecological systems and their adaptive nature. Concrete examples of resilience approaches for sustaining ecosystems and societies in the face of change were clearly articulated in a book published in 2006 by Walker and Salt (44), and the basic principles were described in a textbook by Chapin et al. (45) in 2009. An important component of this framework is developing resilience in systems to avoid crossing over irreversible thresholds (regime shifts) that move systems into a less favorable state for society. Thus, the resilience approach is an important approach to sustainability and has the same goal as sustainability science, but it is built on an overarching theory that sustainability science per se lacks.

The also place a high importance of the contribution of Elinor Ostrom whom, they write:

What About Progress at the International Science Program Level Within Social Sciences?
One of the important contributions from the IHDP community over the past 10 y has been on environmental governance. The first thrust began with the work by Elinor Ostrom and col- leagues under the LUCC. The governance of the commons and the role of local communities in overseeing the use of local resources in contrast to government regulations and private market instruments were a central contribution by the IHDP community over these years. Following the governance of land resources, Oran Young and others began a 10-y study on global governance, bridging the local to global spectrum.

The paper also discusses the key role of geographers and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in the integration of social and natural sciences, and assesses the post-normal, transdisciplinary research terrain that Future Earth must navigate.

Now the sustainability science community needs build on this success, but also better connect with communities of engineers, architects, planners, and designers so we can all figure out how to actually build a “Good” Anthropocene – or a future that is a good place for us all to live.