Category Archives: Tools

Resilience and the Euro – networks

The New Scientist recently had an article by Debora MacKenzie on resilience and the Euro.  She writes:

… The diversity of a network’s components and the density and strength of its connections – called its connectivity – affect the system’s resilience, or resistance to change. More connections make a system more resilient: if one component fails others can fill in. But only up to a point. Go past a certain threshold and more connectivity makes the system less resilient because a single failure can cascade to every other component.

The trick is to get the balance right. “Cascades of failure may be controlled by changing the nature and strength of the links between various parts of the networks,” says Fisher. Much current research in complex systems focuses on assessing connectivity correctly to enable that. Other work aims to detect behaviour that indicates an imminent collapse.

So turning 17 separate currencies into one eurozone was a cascading failure waiting to happen?

Yes. That is why Greek debt is a crisis, even though Greece accounts for only 2.5 per cent of the eurozone’s GDP. News of its debts caused the trust that markets placed in Greek government bonds to plummet. Its creditors are mainly in the eurozone, so a Greek default is causing markets to lose confidence in other members, such as Italy – which is too big to bail out.

Could the crisis have been avoided?

Complexity theory shows what went wrong. Yaneer Bar-Yam of the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says his still-unpublished studies show that investors profited by driving down the value of Greek government bonds, triggering the crisis. And, he suspects, they have now moved on to Italy. If instead of national bonds issued by sometimes weak economies, the eurozone had one common bond backed by powerhouses such as Germany, such an attack could not have happened.

Germany rejects eurobonds. But, says Bar-Yam, complex systems such as multicellular organisms show that “if you are going to accept common risk, you have to invest in defences that extend to the weakest member”. Either that or make sure an attack on a weak member cannot spread, a technique that ant colonies have perfected: the death of a single ant has little effect on the colony as a whole. “Biology has solved this problem several ways,” says Bar-Yam.

Scenarios have to be plausible, but reality is under no such constraints

Following up on my comments on William Gibson‘s discuss of his science fiction where I wrote that “Scenarios have to be plausible, but reality is under no such constraints”

Futurist, scenario planner, and co-founder of WorldChanging, Jamais Cascio writes on his weblog Open the Future about Living in a Scenario:

There’s something of a rule-of-thumb among professional futurey-types: scenario elements that sound plausible are almost certainly wrong, while scenario elements that sound utterly implausible are very likely on-target. That’s generally true, although it applies more to the disruptive aspects of a scenario than to the everyday aspects. (That said, a scenario that said “most people in the West continue to live quiet lives, using their barely-sufficient income to pay for disposable commodity goods and overly-processed food,” while both plausible and very likely on-target for the next decade or three, is more depressing than illuminating.) Good scenario disruption points should be things that, in the here-and-now, would make you say “oh, crap” if you heard them in the news.

Oh, crap.

Nanotechnology researchers in Mexico, France, Spain, and Chile have been targeted by a terror group calling itself “Individuals Tending Towards Savagery,” and claiming to be inspired by the Unabomber.

Unabomber-copycat terror cell hits nanotech researchers in the developing world and Europe — I’m not sure anything could sound more like a headline from a scenario exercise.

Earth from space

A beautiful video that shows the extent of human activity over the Earth’s surface.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space | Fly Over | Nasa, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

Time lapse sequences of photographs taken with a special low-light 4K-camera
by the crew of expedition 28 & 29 onboard the International Space Station from
August to October, 2011.

HD, refurbished, smoothed, retimed, denoised, deflickered, cut, etc.

Music: Jan Jelinek – Do Dekor (Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records) | ~scape 007 cd
http://www.janjelinek.com | http://www.scape-music.de

Editing: Michael König | http://www.koenigm.com

Image Courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory,
NASA Johnson Space Center, The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth
http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov

Shooting locations in order of appearance:

1. Aurora Borealis Pass over the United States at Night
2. Aurora Borealis and eastern United States at Night
3. Aurora Australis from Madagascar to southwest of Australia
4. Aurora Australis south of Australia
5. Northwest coast of United States to Central South America at Night
6. Aurora Australis from the Southern to the Northern Pacific Ocean
7. Halfway around the World
8. Night Pass over Central Africa and the Middle East
9. Evening Pass over the Sahara Desert and the Middle East
10. Pass over Canada and Central United States at Night
11. Pass over Southern California to Hudson Bay
12. Islands in the Philippine Sea at Night
13. Pass over Eastern Asia to Philippine Sea and Guam
14. Views of the Mideast at Night
15. Night Pass over Mediterranean Sea
16. Aurora Borealis and the United States at Night
17. Aurora Australis over Indian Ocean
18. Eastern Europe to Southeastern Asia at Night

Visualizations of Adaptive Governance

Inspired by a recent course I taught, and my colleague’s Garry Peterson’s search for visualizations of social-ecological systems, (also here), I found myself looking for illustrations of adaptive governance – that is, modes of governance that play out at multiple levels, and that are able to link institutional, with ecosystem dynamics (see Folke et al. 2005 [PDF].  Here are a few examples of how this has been illustrated in the literature. If you have other examples, please add them in the comment field!

This first one is from Andersson and Ostrom (2008), and their analysis of decentralization of natural resource management, and the need to link these initiatives in a wider polycentric setting.

This second one is from Berkes (2007), and explores institutional linkages at multiple levels, for a conservation project in Guyana.

This illustration is from Hahn et al. (2006), and builds on several articles published about Kristianstad Vattenrike (Sweden).

This beautiful visualization is based on a network analysis by Ernstson et al (2010) about network governance of urban ecosystems in Stockholm.

And lastly, one illustration from a report [PDF] from the finalized European project Governance and Ecosystems Management for the CONservation of  BIOdiversity (GEM-CON-BIO). The figure shows an analytical framework applied for a range of case studies recently published in PNAS.

William Gibson does not think our present was anyone’s future

David Wallace-Wells has a long interview with William Gibson on the Art of Fiction in the Paris Review.  The interview concludes

Do you think of your last three books as being science fiction?

GIBSON

No, I think of them as attempts to disprove the distinction or attempts to dissolve the boundary. They are set in a world that meets virtually every criteria of being science fiction, but it happens to be our world, and it’s barely tweaked by the author to make the technology just fractionally imaginary or fantastic. It has, to my mind, the effect of science fiction.

If you’d gone to a publisher in 1981 with a proposal for a science-fiction novel that consisted of a really clear and simple description of the world today, they’d have read your proposal and said, Well, it’s impossible. This is ridiculous. This doesn’t even make any sense. Granted, you have half a dozen powerful and really excellent plot drivers for that many science-fiction n­ovels, but you can’t have them all in one novel.

INTERVIEWER

What are those major plot drivers?

GIBSON

Fossil fuels have been discovered to be destabilizing the planet’s climate, with possibly drastic consequences. There’s an epidemic, highly contagious, lethal sexual disease that destroys the human immune system, raging virtually uncontrolled throughout much of Africa. New York has been attacked by Islamist fundamentalists, who have destroyed the two tallest buildings in the city, and the United States in response has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

INTERVIEWER

And you haven’t even gotten to the technology.

GIBSON

You haven’t even gotten to the Internet. By the time you were telling about the Internet, they’d be showing you the door. It’s just too much science fiction.

Scenarios have to be plausible, but reality is under no such constraints.

7 Billion

1) Guardian visualizes world population growth estimates from UN. Nice comparison of similar countries, but results for Africa don’t look right 314 million people in Tanzania in 2100? 140 million people in Niger in 2100? A ten fold increase in its current population density?

2) From BBC – how much has the world population grown since your birth? Since mine, its doubled.

3) National Geographic on 7 Billion

4) and from Nature news

Because high fertility is linked with poverty, the big worry globally is the 3.4 billion people who survive on less than US$2 per day, says Joel Cohen, who heads the Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller University in New York. The average number of children per woman in the least developed countries is 4.5, compared with 1.7 for developed countries, Cohen says, and this means that most of the additions to the global count are born where there is little access to energy and education, further fuelling the population steamroller. This reality underscores the importance of international development efforts: small increases in wealth and education can lower fertility and dramatically ease the burden of population growth decades down the road.

5) And population data from the UN Population Divsion.

Cultivating the spread of resilience thinking

It is great to see resilience thinking spreading.

The cooperative Cultivate Ireland has created a new video on community resilience for its ‘resilience month.’ The film uses surfing change as a metaphor for different aspects of resilience building.

The video fits well with the Transition Town movement, but recognizes that resilience has two faces both persistence and transformation.

The video is promoting a report – Carnegie Trust’s Exploring Community Resilience which can be downloaded (pdf). The report is built on a wide variety of approaches to resilience but recognizes the influential work of Buzz Holling and the Resilience Alliance.

Loss of Old Arctic Sea Ice

Age of Arctic Sea Ice in February 2008. The February 2008 ice pack (right) contained much more young ice than the long-term average (left). In the mid- to late 1980s, over 20 percent of Arctic sea ice was at least six years old; in February 2008, just 6 percent of the ice was six years old or older.

Old sea ice, which had survived several summers, used to dominate the sea ice of the winter Arctic. However, today less than half of the sea ice at winter maximum has survived at least one summer.  NOAA’s climatewatch has a video of the loss of arctic sea ice.