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.

Cityscapes :: An urban magazine from the global south :: New issue #3: The Smart City?

How to think cities anew? When what we are seeing are not new londons, parises, new-yorks or even tokyos growing, we need to start re-thinking what urbanization and urbanism is about.

New Cityscapes issue #3 out. Speaking from the south on ‘Smart Cities’.

This is when we need a magazine like Cityscapes. Started in 2011 by artist-desginer-urbanist Tau Tavengwa and Sean O’Toole, backed up by southern urbanist stalwart Edgar Pieterese, the magazine gives a provocative shot or sip of a matured postcolonial critique of knowledge production.

Indeed when urban Theory, capital T, is not longer valid for the type of cities we see in Rio de Janeiro, Lagos, Johannesburg, Mumbai, and Jakarta, we need new tools, registers and ways of engaging that allows for new theories of the urban to grow and influence city-making, including planning and design professions. This is when we need to ask, like Indian historian Dipesh Chakrabarty of how to “provincialize Europe”—re-inserting the ‘localness’ of European thought to allow for experiences of urbanization and scholarship from different regions to take hold and influence theory-making. If Europe and USA is merely a province in the world of knowledge-making, then how have other regions thought and enacted their cities?

The Cityscapes magazine makes the amazing balancing act of being popular and punchy, while delivering a relentless critique that cities should not only be thought about from a EuroAmerican experience. But from locations like Lima, Nairobi, Mogadishu, Bangalore, Jakarta, Harare, and Medellín. This builds upon decades of academic critique of how theory—or established ways of thinking—has been critiqued.

Indian urban scholar Ananya Roy (2009) and South African cultural geographer and comparative urbanist Jennifer Robinson (2002, 2005 etc.) have in a series of articles argued for a comparative urbanism, a cosmopolitan urbanism that can de-centre EuroAmerican theory and experience.

Cityscapes #2 – the previous issue.

In response to the ‘world city’ theory created by Saskia Sassen and in part Manuell Castells—which traces the economic relations for global capitalism and has come to create hierarchies of cities based upon the number of transnational companies that chooses to place their offices there—Robinson argues for theories of the ‘ordinary city’.

This is not to say that the world city theory is not helpful to understand the internationalization of capitalism, and how it necessarily needs cities, but to say that its focus comes with effects.

These ‘ordinary cities’ does not only ‘fall off the map’ of the ‘world city theory’, making these cities uninterested locations for research and policy, but these cities also suffer in the way that investment—private and above all public—are spent increasingly in cities that aspire to become ‘world class cities’.

Rather than spending money on improving essential infrastructure to deliver safe water, sewage, electricity and food, money are spent on business parks, luxurious water front developments, and big event buildings (think the World Cup soccer stadium built in Cape Town, now standing mostly empty; or the Formula 1 racing track in the Omerli Watershed outside Istanbul, used once a year).

Consequently, backed by the world city theory, a whole industry of consultants and thinkers have carved out a policy field to influence how decision-makers can turn their own cities into ‘world cities’. This shapes the urban agenda away from the problems and possibilities of the ‘ordinary city’ and in particular the needs of the urban poor.

In Cityscapes last issue #2 the world city theory is under scrutiny. Through interviews and photography, the magazine unpacks infrastructural investment in Johannesburg, and also visits Bangalore. Increasingly many Indian cities are aspiring to become world-class. “As an instance of homegrown neoliberalism, the Indian world-class city is inevitably a normative project”, writes Ananya Roy in Worldling Cities edited book (2011). As reported, “Why? And for whose benefit is the world-class city?”.

In the current issue #3 focus is on ‘The Smart City’, the increasing tendency to invest in high-tech monitoring and surveillance techniques to govern city-life. This represents a move to allow technicians and experts not only a greater say in defining the problems of the city, and its solutions, but also in the actual day-to-day governing of the city. As expressed by the editors in promoting this issue:

This fuzzily defined term speaks to the increasing use of networked information and communications technologies in ordering of large-scale urban phenomenon. The magazine visits Rio de Janeiro to find out what this means practically. “Technology gives you a faster response,” explains Dario Bizzo Marques, a technology systems coordinator at Rio’s $14-million integrated city management centre, home to Latin America’s largest surveillance screen.

“We increasingly share the space and time of cities with semi-autonomous agents of a nonhuman, indeed non-biological, nature, from drones to algorithms,” offers Adam Greenfield in his provocative 100-point manifesto appearing in Cityscapes and addressing the pervasive use of tech-savvy urban management solutions. Noted urban theorist Ash Amin, in a cornerstone 5000-word interview with Matthew Gandy, is also wary of the ideological implications of reducing city management to the top-down marshalling of abstract data.

If you are intrigued and need a stylish, punchy, provocative shot of postcolonial critique, make sure to get a copy of the new Cityscapes #3. It will hopefully come to destabilize how you think about cities. You can find more information here.

If you are interested in the academic debates, I have just with Mary Lawhon and James Duminy submitted a paper to the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (IJURR) with the title “Conceptual vectors of African urbanism: ‘engaged theory-making’ and ‘platforms of engagement’. The manuscript summarizes debates but also pushes towards clarifying some of the contribution from the recent research on urbanism in Africa and what it could bring to theoretical conversations about cities. I could send you a copy if you are interested. For other entry points, see papers by Chakrabarty, Roy, Robinson, Simone and Pieterse below.

/Henrik Ernstson, Cape Town, 20 March, 2013

PS. The Cityscapes issue #3 will be launched Mar 27, 2013 at The Book Lounge, 71 Roeland Street, Cnr Buitenkant & Roeland Street, Cape Town. More information here.

References
Chakrabarty, D. (2007). Provincialising Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Second.). Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Parnell, S., & Robinson, J. (n.d.). (Re)Theorizing Cities from the Global South: Looking Beyond Neoliberalism. Urban Geography.

Pieterse, E. (2008). City Futures: Confronting the Crisis of Urban Development. Global Issues Series. London: Zed Books.

Robinson, J. (2002). Global and world cities: a view from off the map. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 26, 531–554. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.00397

Robinson, J. (2011). Cities in a World of Cities: The Comparative Gesture. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35, 1–23. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2010.00982.x

Roy, A. (2009). The 21st-Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory. Regional Studies, 43(6), 819–830. doi:10.1080/00343400701809665

Roy, A., & Ong, A. (2011). Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global, 41.

Simone, A. (2011). City Life from Jakarta to Dakar: Movements at the Crossroads. London: Routledge.

 

Is 3D printing the “next big thing” for ecology?

If you are interested in emerging technologies with disruptive potential, it is hard to avoid the growing hype around 3D-printing: printers able to reproduce a digital model by adding materials in layers, until the final product is achieved. If you think this sounds like weird science fiction, you probably haven’t heard about 3D printed bikes, jawbones, guitars and …. meat. And yes, there is a “Pirate Bay” for 3D printing called “physibles” which would allow you to download the code needed to print 3D objects.

3D-printed bike, image from policymic

Interestingly enough, a paper by William Sutherland and colleagues was recently published in TREE [PDF] where they explore emerging technologies which may have big implications for conservation and biological diversity. Among the list of issues you find rapid growth of concentrated solar power, wide spread development of thorium-fuelled nuclear power, ecological monitoring drones, vegetarian aquaculture feed and of course, 3D-printing. They write:

The environmental effects of a society that only prints what is needed could include waste reduction and decreased emissions from transporting manufactured goods. Additionally, spare parts could be printed in remote regions. However, printing on a whim could lead to an increase in resource consumption, higher energy demand due to transportation of raw materials, and pollution, if storage or disposal of chemicals used in household-level printing are haphazard.

Interesting first take on the issue, but seems like there is lots more to think about than simply the consumption of raw materials and energy.

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.

A Planet without Humans? Two Short Reflections on “Does the terrestrial biosphere have planetary tipping points?”

Are “planetary tipping points” likely? Trends in Ecology and Evolution recently published a very thought provoking article by Brooks et al. that challenges the notion of abrupt global threshold change. In the authors’ own words, we are likely to experience “[…] relatively ‘smooth changes at the global scale, without an expectation of marked tipping patterns.”

“Planetary tipping points” is not only a very important issue, with clear links to discussions about “planetary boundaries” and a “state shifts in the Earth’s biosphere”. It is also a very multifaceted inquiry that entails an electric combination between Earth system science, complex systems thinking, and science communication.

The paper opens up a whole set of important issues, but allow me to just briefly elaborate points that I find critical and interesting to explore and debate further.

1. Connectivity

Connectivity is a key factor in the assessment of the paper. As the authors note “If drivers or responses are spatially heterogeneous and inter-regional or intercontinental connectivity (through biotic or abiotic factors) is weak, the global aggregate pattern and rate of ecological change are likely to be relatively constant, without any identifiable tipping point. Conversely, if drivers and responses are spatially homogeneous or inter-regional or intercontinental connectivity is strong, ecological change might display a tipping-point pattern at a global scale.” (pp.2)

So, how strong is “intercontinental connectivity” between ecosystems? It depends on how you define “connectivity” of course. On the same page, the authors list a whole set of “biotic” and “abiotic factors” which underpin connectivity: species movement, ocean transport of heat, changes in CO2 levels, and others. Based on a brief analysis of these “connectors” for terrestrial ecosystems, the authors conclude that the “lack of strong continental interconnectivity, probably induce relatively smooth changes at the global scale, without an expectation of marked tipping patterns”.

Am I the only one getting the feeling that something is missing here? What I find intriguing in the analysis, is the absence of a discussion of “social connectors” which are likely to connect ecosystems across the world. The interconnected degradation of marine systems through global markets and new technologies denoted “roving bandits” are well known, and I see no reason why scholars should ignore similar phenomena for terrestrial ecosystems.

GWSP Digital Water Atlas (2008). Map 34: Virtual Water 2 (V1.0). Available online at http://atlas.gwsp.org

For example, while forest ecosystems in different continents might have few biotic and abiotic intercontinental connections, it is known that successful conservation policies in one region or a country, tends to shift environmental externalities to other areas through global markets (a “displacement effect” elaborated Lambin and Meyfroidt 2011). The flows of “virtual water”, and the observation that decreasing fish stocks force people to extract more resources from wildlife and tropical forests in West Africa (Brashares et al. 2004) are two additional examples of how social connectivity is tightly related to interconnected environmental change (some of which is likely to be non-linear). Global change scientists are just starting to get to grips with these complex human-environmental connectors (Adger et al. 2006, Young et al. 2006), but surely these would have an impact on how we analytically assess the sort of intercontinental connectivity Brook and colleagues are trying to get at? Bluntly put: if we indeed have entered the Anthropocene, why is social connectivity through institutions, technology and globalized trade, not part of the analysis?

2. Global tipping points and fatalism

The article ends with an interesting statement: “Second, framing global change in the dichotomous terms implied by the notion of a global tipping point could lead to complacency on the ‘safe’ side of the point and fatalism about catastrophic or irrevocable effects on the other.”

Brook also argues (in an associated blogpost) that “Why does this matter? Well, one concern we have is that an undue focus on planetary tipping points may distract from the vast ecological transformations that have already occurred.”

I find both these claims surprising. Surely a discussion about “thresholds” of this sort lead to more multifaceted social perceptions and responses than simple dichotomies of doom-and-gloom, or distraction? Nuttal and Hulme (which are quoted to support the first quote on framings) are just two articles in a much richer and multidisciplinary body of literature (raging from formal theory, to social-psychological experiments and case based approaches) that elaborates social perceptions, framings and responses to threshold phenomena. A somewhat more nuanced and empirically based discussion on this last issue of social perceptions and responses, could have contributed in significant ways to a much-needed discussion.

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