Category Archives: Tools

Applying resilience thinking

The Stockholm Resilience Centre has just produced a beautiful new booklet that outlines seven principles for applying resilience thinking.

The 20 page free pdf booklet Applying resilience thinking – Seven principles for building resilience in social-ecological systemsPDF (pdf, 1.4 MB), presents  seven principles for building resilience in social-ecological systems:

  1. maintain diversity and redundancy
  2. manage connectivity
  3. manage slow variables and feedbacks
  4. foster complex adaptive systems thinking
  5. encourage learning
  6. broaden participation
  7. promote polycentric governance systems.

Each principle is presented along with an example of how it has been applied.

7 principles

The booklet builds on a in-depth, multi-year comprehensive review of the resilience literature conducted by the Resilience Alliance Young Scholars network.  The first product of this review was a 2012 paper by Oonise Biggs and others “Towards principles for enhancing the resilience of ecosystem services” in Annual Reviews of Environment and Resources (2012), and now  a book “Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems” that will be published by Cambridge University Press later this year.

Oonsie Biggs and company will be running a session on their book at the Resilience 2014 conference, on Tuesday 6 May, 11:30-12:30.

Why Bother with Walters? Revisiting the “classics” of resilience science

Classic Resilience Readings

Recently at the Stockholm Resilience Centre I’ve been working on update our suggested reading list for our PhD students based on recent research, critiques of various aspects of resilience, and the diversity of research in our centre’s research clusters.  However, I also thought it was important to not just identify the most interesting recent papers but also to identify a set of older (>10 years old) key papers and books that could provide some of the roots of resilience research.

Partly inspired by SRC researcher Wijnand Boonstra’s great initiative to produce a PhD course on the lessons from classic social science for social-ecological research, but also recognizing the shorter history of resilience research, I gave the first of several brief ‘speed talks’ to advertise some of the neglected classics of resilience research that many researchers center are not directly familiar, and explain what useful insights that could offer to them.

Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources

The first key reading I suggested, was Carl J Walters, classic book 1986 Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources.  Below, I describe the book and why it is a classic.  I’ll follow up with some other books and papers over the next few months.

Carl J Walters is a professor at University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre, and while he is a leading fisheries scientist, he has also worked on many non-fisheries related problems, ranging from land-use and logging  in British Columbia to the complex social-ecological problems of the Florida Everglades.

His 1986 book is one of the three key early texts in adaptive management.  Walter’s book is practical, technical and empirical.  While the other books Adaptive Environmental Assessment & Management, edited by CS Holling, and Kai Lee’s Compass & Gyroscope are respectively more diverse, and more theoretical and more focussed on social learning.  While the other books are good, in many ways I think Walter’s book is the key adaptive management reference.

So what is the book about?  In Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources, Carl Walters motivates his approach by arguing that because the world is complex and continually evolving it is essential that resource harvesting, management & environmental policies explicitly confront uncertainty.  When the book was written, his argument that management is improved by an explicit focus on uncertainty was unusual, and continues to be unusual in practice, even though adaptive management has been widely adopted in name, but often not in practice or in only an extremely shallow form that misses the deep engagement with the unknown that Walters advocates.  Indeed while quantitative approaches to risk assessment and hedging have greatly expanded over the past several decades, there has not be an increase in thinking about structural uncertainty, unknown, and surprise.

Walters also proposes that science, practice and policy have a lot to gain from mutual engagement, and he has an early and strong advocate of large scale ecological experiments, and noted that such experiments are often required to build strong ecological policies, and to advance large-scale scientific understanding.  While not highlighted in the book, this perspective also opens the way to ecological models that include models of resource harvester behaviour or management or policy processes

Finally, and indeed in many ways the main part of the book, Walters provides a diverse set of soft and hard methods for actually practicing adaptive management.

So why does this book matter today?

I think that sustainability scientists should read this book, or at least parts of it, for several reasons:

  1. It provides a practical primer on how to think about decisions when considering there is both variation in the world and uncertainty about the rules by which the world works.  Such type of thinking is at the centre of sustainability, because sustainability absolutely requires an increase in our ability to build robust strategies for navigating a turbulent world and for planning how and where to invest in monitoring or learning.  While Walters barely mentions resilience in the book, such approaches are essential to the development of resilient strategies, plans, or policies.
  2. The introductory chapters, especially Chapter 3, provide really useful practical advice on how to think about and run participatory modeling workshops.  Walters focuses on participatory modeling workshops but such approaches are equally useful for thinking about planning scenario or assessment workshops.
  3. The bulk of the book provides a solid, clear introduction to a set of methods for linking data and dynamic models using Bayesian statistics.  These approaches quickly get quite technical and are developed primarily for a fisheries context, but for people who are trying to link models and data in a variety of situations they provide a useful toolbox.
  4. Finally, while resilience and optimization approaches can complement one another in theory they are often presented as conflicting in practice (see: Fischer et al 2009  vs.  Holling & Meffe 1996).  This book, clearly links optimization approaches to resilience, and demonstrates by changing what variables are the focus of optimization, optimization approaches can be useful for improving decisions about how to invest in resilience and can provide an good understanding of tradeoffs.

References

Holling, C. S., & Meffe, G. K. (1996). Command and control and the pathology of natural resource management. Conservation Biology10(2), 328-337.

Fischer et al (2009) Integrating resilience thinking and optimisation for conservation. TREE24, 549–54.

Walters, C. 1986. Adaptive management of renewable resources. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, NY374. (note the book was out of print for a long time and is now reprinted by Blackburn press.)

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.

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

James C Scott on the value of an anarchist squint

Political scientist James C. Scott, author of a series of ground breaking books that explore some of political and anthropological aspects of resilience has a new book out Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play.

On this blog I’ve frequently mentioned his book “Seeing Like a State“, and also enjoyed his “The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia” with its interesting perspectives on state resistance.  I found it particular interesting due to the connections I could see between his work on fugitive societies from the state, resonated with my own experience working with and researching Maroons in the Americas.

He introduces his new book with a preface which argues for the value of an “anarchist squint,” which I believe has many resonances with resilience research.  In the preface (pdf) he writes:

James C. Scott in his preface to his new book “Two Cheers for Anarchism:”

Lacking a comprehensive anarchist worldview and philosophy, and in any case wary of nomothetic ways of seeing, I am making a case for a sort of anarchist squint. What I aim to show is that if you put on anarchist glasses and look at the history of popular movements, revolutions, ordinary politics, and the state from that angle, certain insights will appear that are obscured from almost any other angle. It will also become apparent that anarchist principles are active in the aspirations and political action of people who have never heard of anarchism or anarchist philosophy. One thing that heaves into view, I believe, is what Pierre-Joseph Proudhon had in mind when he first used the term “anarchism,” namely, mutuality, or cooperation without hierarchy or state rule. Another is the anarchist tolerance for confusion and improvisation that accompanies social learning, and confidence in spontaneous cooperation and reciprocity. Here Rosa Luxemburg’s preference, in the long run, for the honest mistakes of the working class over the wisdom of the executive decisions of a handful of vanguard party elites is indicative of this stance.  My claim, then, is fairly modest. These glasses, I think, offer a sharper image and better depth of field than most of the alternatives.

Scott goes on to define what he means by an anarchist squint:

My anarchist squint involves a defense of politics, conflict, and debate, and the perpetual uncertainty and learning they entail. This means that I reject the major stream of utopian scientism that dominated much of anarchist thought around the turn of the twentieth century. In light of the huge strides in industry, chemistry, medicine, engineering, and transportation, it was no wonder that high modernist optimism on the right and the left led to the belief that the problem of scarcity had, in principle, been solved. Scientific progress, many believed, had uncovered the laws of nature, and with them the means to solve the problems of subsistence, social organization, and institutional design on a scientific basis. As men became more rational and knowledgeable, science would tell us how we should live, and politics would no longer be necessary. …. For many anarchists the same  vision of progress pointed the way toward an economy in which the state was beside the point. Not only have we subsequently learned both that material plenty, far from banishing politics, creates new spheres of political struggle but also that statist socialism was less “the administration of ” things than the trade union of the ruling class protecting its privileges.

Unlike many anarchist thinkers, I do not believe that the state is everywhere and always the enemy of freedom.

Nor do I believe that the state is the only institution that endangers freedom. To assert so would be to ignore a long and deep history of pre-state slavery, property in women, warfare, and bondage. It is one thing to disagree utterly with Hobbes about the nature of society before the existence of the state (nasty, brutish, and short) and another to believe that “the state of nature” was an unbroken landscape of communal property, cooperation, and peace.


The last strand of anarchist thought I definitely wish to distance myself from is the sort of libertarianism that tolerates (or even encourages) great differences in wealth, property, and status. Freedom and (small “d”) democracy are, in conditions of rampant inequality, a cruel sham as Bakunin understood. There is no authentic freedom where huge differences make voluntary agreements or exchanges nothing more than legalized plunder.

What is clear to anyone except a market fundamentalist (of the sort who would ethically condone a citizen’s selling himself—voluntarily, of course—as a chattel slave) is that democracy is a cruel hoax without relative equality. This, of course, is the great dilemma for an anarchist. If relative equality is a necessary condition of mutuality and freedom, how can it be guaranteed except through the state? Facing this conundrum, I believe that both theoretically and practically, the abolition of the state is not an option. We are stuck, alas, with Leviathan, though not at all for the reasons Hobbes had supposed, and the challenge is to tame it. That challenge may well be beyond our reach.

For more on Scott, here is a profile in the New York Times and his entry in Wikipedia.  Here are some reviews of “Two cheers” from a diverse set of places: Wall Street Journal, the Coffin Factory, the LA Review of Books, and Fortune Magazine.

Tim Daw on ecosystem services tradeoffs

  • In the video below Tim Daw, from the University of East Anglia’s School of International Development and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, explains his project Participatory Modelling of Wellbeing Tradeoffs in Coastal Kenya. The project, in which I’m also participating, has examined tradeoffs between social wellbeing and ecological conservation in small scale fisheries in Kenya using a combination surveys, models, scenarios, and participatory workshops.

For more information on the project is available on the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s website. The project is funded by the UK’s Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation programme. and there is more information on the ESPA website.

For more on poverty and ecosystem service tradeoffs see:

  • Bennett, E.M., Peterson, G.D. & Gordon, L.J. (2009) Understanding relationships among multiple ecosystem services. Ecology letters, 12, 1394–404. DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01387.x
  • Daw, T., Brown, K., Rosendo, S. & Pomeroy, R. 2011. Applying the ecosystem services concept to poverty alleviation: the need to disaggregate human well-being. Environmental Conservation, 38, 370–379. DOI: 10.1017/S0376892911000506
  • Raudsepp-Hearne, C., Peterson, G.D. & Bennett, E.M. 2010. Ecosystem service bundles for analyzing tradeoffs in diverse landscapes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107, 5242–7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0907284107

Planet Under Pressure: Understanding the Anthropocene

The above video on the Anthropocene was created for the Planet Under Pressure global change and sustainability conference in London, UK, which starts today, March 26th, and continues to the 29th. The movie is:

A 3-minute journey through the last 250 years of our history, from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the Rio+20 Summit. The film charts the growth of humanity into a global force on an equivalent scale to major geological processes.

It presents a contemporary picture of the world in which we live in, and how dynamics of the biosphere and the ways it supports human wellbeing. The shifting anthropocene provides the basis for how people can act to improve their lives in this decade and that provides the background for the conference.

The conference, which is attempting to better integrate the community of researchers working on sustainability and global change (importantly not just climate change), and to focus more on how to solve rather than only document problem. There are lots of resilience researchers at the conference. A partial list of Stockholm Resilience Centre participation is on our website.

The conference website is live streaming on the web, the conference programme is here, the conference has the tag #planet2012 on twitter, and also has a blog.

The conference organizers are also experimenting with a variety of atypical scientific conference activities (e.g. a debategraph, globally distributed events ) to try and improve innovation and connect the conference to the world. And that is helping me watch a bit of the conference while I am on parental leave in Stockholm.

Forty years of Limits to Growth

The first presentation of the influential environmentalist book Limits to Growth was on March 1 in 1972 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, four decades ago.

The study was both hugely influential and hugely controversial, and the authors were quite strongly attacked, often for analytical flaws that their study never said or did.  However, after two followup books, and renewed discussions of peak oil (etc) & planetary boundaries, there has been an increased appreciation of Limits to Growth.

After 40 years it seems that:

  1. Limits to Growth was a pretty good first stab at a global model (look at the number of models based on it)
  2. That the scenarios in Limits to Growth were fairly reasonable  (see here and here, here)
  3. That humanity has avoided some really bad trajectories, but could have done a lot better
  4. And that today, global civilization is pushing up against all sort of boundaries and we require more and more innovation to keep going and
  5. We probably need to have a major societal transformation to create a good Anthropocene.

For more on this, see Australian corporate environmentalist Paul Gilding‘s book Great Disruption, just is based on a similar assessment of the world – and he just gave a TED talk based on the book.

Various Limits related events have been timed for this 40th anniversary.

First, the Smithsonian is hosting Perspectives on Limits to Growth – which will feature two of the original members of the team that wrote Limits.  They describe the seminar:

The Club of Rome and the Smithsonian Institution’s Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet are hosting a symposium on March 1, 2012 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the launching of Limits to Growth, the first report to the Club of Rome published in 1972. This book was one of the earliest scholarly works to recognize that the world was fast approaching its sustainable limits. Forty years later, the planet continues to face many of the same economic, social, and environmental challenges as when the book was first published.

The morning session will start at 9:00 a.m. and will focus on the lessons of Limits to Growth. The afternoon session will begin at 1:45 p.m. and will address the difficult challenges of preserving biodiversity, adjusting to a changing climate, and solving the societal issues now facing the planet. The symposium will end with a thought-provoking panel discussion among the speakers on future steps for building a sustainable planet.

The meeting will be live-streamed and video archived on the internet at Perspectives on Limits to Growth.

Second, coinciding with the with anniversary is the release an interesting report Life beyond Growth 2012.  Alan AtKisson, author of Believing Cassandra and colleague of many limits authors, wrote the report for the Japanese Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy, and Society.

Life Beyond Growth is the product of a year of research and reflection, during which the world experienced tumultuous changes, ranging from the Arab Spring to the Great East Japan Earthquake to the “Occupy” movement to the near-meltdown of the Eurozone.

Despite all the economic and political turmoil, a revolution in economic thought continued to gain steam. From “Green Economy” to “Gross National Happiness” to the more radical notion of “De-growth,” governments around the world have continued to explore new ways to frame, and measure, the idea of national progress. Most recently, the United Nations has formally joined the dialogue, with its own high-level panel calling for “new ways to measure progress” in advance of the Rio+20 global summit.

And third, one that was not planned to coincide with the anniversary, but is importantly connected Victor Galaz and many other have a new paper Planetary boundaries’ — exploring the challenges for global environmental governance, which is not freely available, in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2012.01.006).  The article (from the abstract):

… provides an overview of the global governance challenges that follow from this notion of multiple, interacting and possibly non-linear ‘planetary boundaries’. Here we discuss four interrelated global environmental governance challenges, as well as some possible ways to address them. The four identified challenges are related to, first, the interplay between Earth system science and global policies, and the implications of differences in risk perceptions in defining these boundaries; second, the capacity of international institutions to deal with individual ‘planetary boundaries’, as well as interactions between them; third, the role of international organizations in dealing with ‘planetary boundaries’ interactions; and fourth, the role of global governance in framing social–ecological innovations.