Tag Archives: Brian Walker

Resilience 2011 slides and videos

Slides and videos for keynote and invited speaker presentations at Resilience 2011 are now available online.

Video:

Slides:

I didn’t see all of these talks, but those that I did see were good. I particularly recommend Bill Clark, Elinor Ostrom, Carlo Jaegar, and Marten Scheffer’s talks.

Resilience Thinking in Practice

On the final afternoon of the Resilience 2011 conference last month in Tempe, Arizona, a panel session on resilience assessment packed out the room.This wasn’t surprising given that a recurring theme throughout the conference and in my own discussions with other attendees revolved around the practical applications of resilience thinking.

How do we take the growing number of insights from resilience research such as a better understanding of threshold indicators and dynamics, the roles of leaders and entrepreneurs in shaping transformation processes, and how social networks influence natural resource governance, and apply them to cases in a systematic way so that lessons learned can be more easily shared among researchers and practitioners?

One way is to use a common framework or approach to assessing resilience in a variety of systems over time. The revised “Resilience Assessment: Workbook for Practitioners” takes us one step closer by providing a framework and laying out the key concepts, questions, and activities involved in conducting an assessment. It is not the only approach, and there are numerous potential variations, particularly ones tailored for specific types of systems (e.g., coral reefs, dryland systems, and in a development context, to name a few), but it can facilitate the knowledge sharing that is necessary to test and apply resilience thinking in practice. And importantly, add to broader understanding around how, when and whether or not to intervene in the management of social-ecological systems to make them more resilient.

During the panel session Paul Ryan, from Interface NRM, drew from the dozens of resilience assessment projects he has been involved with in South-eastern Australia and described how he and Brian Walker, from CSIRO, have applied resilience concepts in planning processes with Catchment Management Authorities. Some of the challenges he identified reinforce the role of resilience assessment as part of a long-term process of guiding change that requires a level of commitment and on-going engagement from those involved.

Lisen Schultz, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, and Ryan Plummer, from Brock University in Canada, presented an approach for identifying and engaging key actors using social-ecological inventories based on their work in Biosphere Reserves in Sweden and Canada. They are currently developing an SES inventory module for the resilience assessment workbook that will add to a growing set of tools and resources on the RA website.

Megan Meacham, a graduate of the Ecosystems, Resilience, and Governance Masters program at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, presented the resilience assessment resources she helped to develop on the RA website including an annotated bibliography, examples of key concepts, and a project database.

Finally, Xavier Basurto from Duke University shared a fascinating case study of the Seri pen shell fishery in Mexico through the lens of what he referred to as a ‘retro-fit approach to resilience assessment’. The fully integrated social and ecological characteristics of the system are key to understanding how this fishery has avoided over-exploitation while others nearby have not.

Australian Radio on Resilience

Australia’s ABC Radio show Future Tense recently had a show on Resilience Science that interviewed our colleagues Brian Walker, Guy Barnett, and Paul Ryan.

The show can be downloaded (download audio) or its transcript read online.  From the transcript:

Antony Funnell: But in a very practical sense, how does it make the situation better for the catchment authorities? Why is it preferable that they use resilience theory in their thinking, than the sort of traditional approaches that they’ve taken to solving these sorts of problems?

Paul Ryan: That’s a good question. Why should we try to bring in a new concept? Well in the past, we’ve used different approaches like sustainability as our sort of broad approach. Now sustainability as a concept is as a useful sort of catch-all, but when you really get down to it, what is sustainability? We’re not really sure what will be sustainable in the long-term. So trying to set a course or a pathway towards some sustainable point in the future, is a real challenge. What resilience thinking does is, it just brings a different perspective that says, What are the limits, for a start? Let’s understand the limits to this system so we know that all systems of people and nature that are interacting, people and their environment that are interacting. It has limits, and resilience thinking helps to identify those limits, and it says, ‘When you reach those limits, if you go beyond that, if you go over some tipping point, a threshold, if you go past that point, things will change, and they could change quite rapidly and quite unexpectedly, in ways that we don’t predict.

So resilience thinking for a start says ‘Let’s identify those limits to the system and how it operates’, and it helps us to think about how do we stay and manage within those limits? And so it’s sort of for a start, it sets the boundaries for a safe operating place, if you like.

The next question we ask is, Well what do we want to be resilient to? What are the possible things that could come along and impact on the system? And some of them are things we know a lot about – drought, bushfires, those types of things. But there’s a lot of challenges that we don’t know about, or there’s combinations of challenges. So if you think about the sorts of things that have happened in the last few years, just in Victoria alone, where I’m from. We’ve had the devastating bushfires, the drought, the global financial crisis which obviously affected the whole of Australia, we’ve had the threat of swine flu, we’ve had this combination of things that came along all at once, and we’re just not, traditionally we’re not prepared for those types of combinations of things. Resilience thinking helps us to think about those things in a structured way.

So the Catchment authorities have been dealing with lots of complexity, in all of these different issues, and our traditional approaches have been fairly one-dimensional. They assume that things will change in a fairly predictable way. Resilience thinking says things aren’t predictable, and we need to just accept that change is a really dominant part of our world, and so how do we work with that change and stay within some safe operating limits?

via Victor Galaz

Resilience Theory in Colombia

http://twitter.com/vgalaz

Does resilience thinking have any impact at all on the ground? These two very interesting examples came in via Lorena Franco Vidal at the NGO Fundación Humedales de Colombia. In January of this year, the mentioned NGO decided to initiate a climate vulnerability and resilience assessment of the Fúquene wetland complex in the east of the Colombian Andes (2,600 meters over the sea level).

According to Lorena, this work has been very much inspired by a range of publications on “the problem of fit” – that is when the dynamics of complex social-ecological systems isn’t matched by institutions and governance [e.g. Cummings et al 2006, Galaz et al 2008], as well as the Resilience Alliance workbook for scientists. In addition, the evaluation of biochemichal variables (in bottom and water sediments of the lake) are – inspired by Elinor Ostrom’s work – done by the fishermen community of the wetland. According to Lorena, this group of local stakeholders have been training monitoring for 2 years to be able to follow environmental change in the lake system.

But there is more. During 2008 and 2009, papers on “the problem of fit” as well as David Salt’s and Brian Walker’s book “Resilience Thinking”, inspired a suggested reframing of Colombian biodiversity policy towards an increased emphasis on social-ecological systems, and the need to address multilevel interactions in governance. Results of the suggested modification include, amongst other things: i) a new conceptual framework for biodiversity management, based upon the resilience thinking paradigm applied to socio-ecological systems; ii) a model that accounts for the various stability domains in which natural and social systems appear in the territory; and iii) a revision of the state – pressure – response model, in order to include new drivers of change affecting biodiversity.

The outcomes of this latter “update”, are now being used for systematic country-side consultations, and we look forward to hear more from both these initiatives!

Seed Magazine on Urban Resilience

Maywa Montenegro interviews our colleagues Thomas Elmqvist, Brian Walker and Guy Barnett for a long article in Seed Magazine on Urban Resilience.

The article covers many projects including the ongoing Urban Atlas Project, which aims to develop new tools for understanding the social-ecological capacity to provide ecosystem services.

The article writes Urban Resilience:

Urban centers have always been hubs of innovation, creativity, and wealth, but they are also hubs of crime, disease, and environmental pollution. Cities can be models of resource efficiency—the average Manhattanite uses only 29 percent of the energy an average American uses in a year—but they also concentrate the need for huge amounts of power, water, food, and other resources. In the developing world, cities are changing faster than scientists can understand the diverse factors driving those changes, and to complicate matters further, many of those forces operate in contradictory directions and at differing scales.

In short, cities are the quintessential complex adaptive system. Which makes them, in many ways, the perfect place to explore resilience.

Brian Walker is former program director and chair of the Resilience Alliance, a loose international coalition of natural and social scientists who, in their own words, “collaborate to explore the dynamics of social-ecological systems.” In 2005, recognizing the growing impact of urbanization, the Alliance held a series of brainstorming sessions, laying the groundwork for the “Urban Network,” based out of the Stockholm Resilience Center, an interdisciplinary research group that formed at Stockholm University in 2008.

The Urban Network has research sites in 12 cities: Bangalore, New Dehli, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Chicago, New York City, Phoenix, Canberra, Helsinki, Istanbul, and Stockholm. These cities span the globe and differ vastly in terms of culture, history, and economic development. The ultimate goal, according to Thomas Elmqvist, lead researcher of the Network, is to do a comparative analysis of these cities. How are they similar or different with respect to handling development? How do they compare it comes to withstanding shocks and surprises?

“As humans, we should try to understand how to manage systems in order to avoid passing thresholds,” says Elmqvist. But this is especially difficult in urban contexts, which have already been so transformed by humans that they’ve breached most of the thresholds ecologists are familiar with. When great expanses of concrete and steel now exist where trees and streams once did, new tipping points must be defined for places that are, as Elmqvist puts it, “already tipped.”

Case studies are now underway in each of the Network’s 12 participating cities. But in deciding what kind of data to gather, researchers have had to ask themselves: What would a city look like through the lens of resilience?

Metabolism

A city’s lifeblood is a continuous flow of stuff—fuel, consumer products, people, and services that enter it either actively, through human effort, or passively through natural processes like solar radiation, atmospheric currents, and precipitation. Ecologists often talk about these resource flows in terms of inputs and outputs. They’ve developed several budgetary models of accounting for them, including the well-known “ecological footprint.”

The resilience approach, according to ecologist Guy Barnett of the Urban Network’s Canberra research team, focuses less on the resources that cities consume and more on the interdependencies along the chain of supply and demand. Dependence on a single type of fuel as an energy source, for instance, creates a highly vulnerable system—especially if fuel prices are volatile or if the supply is prone to disruption.

Shaping Australia’s Resilience

Australia 21 organized conference Shaping Australia’s Resilience: Policy development for uncertain futures (18-19 February 2010) at Australian National University in Canberra.  They quote my colleagues Steve Cork, who recently editted a book for Australia 21 – Brighter prospects: Enhancing the resilience of Australia).  Australia’s ABC news covered the start of the conference in Experts call for ‘resilience thinking’:

[Steve Cork says] the typical society relies on centralised networks that are vulnerable to threats.

“It’s all dependent on one or a few people or agencies. If they collapse then the whole system collapses,” says Cork.

Resilient cities

Professor Peter Newman of the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute in Fremantle says most cities are not built for resilience.

“At the moment our resource consumption is all based on infrastructure that is highly centralised,” says Newman, who will address the Canberra conference.

“You have big power plants that pump electricity across hundreds of kilometres, and you have big water supply schemes and big pipes in and big pipes out.”

Newman says recent events showed how vulnerable this made the Western Australian capital of Perth, which suffered an economic blow after the natural gas pipeline that supplies it was cut by an explosion.

“The city had no gas virtually for six months,” says Newman, who has recently co-authored a book detailing seven principles of sustainable cities.

“Industry basically had to close down for that period.”

Newman says a more resilient city would consist of smaller interconnected components, which were largely self-sufficient, collecting renewable energy and re-using it locally.

“If you cut the gas supply to the city, as occurred in Perth, the city can go on because it has all these other components.”

Newman says “distributed” energy and better public transport would help decrease dependence on fossil fuels, reduce energy waste, and improve the liveability of cities.

Natural resource management

Cork points to how resilience thinking is being applied to natural resource management.

He says the Federal Government is now providing most of the funding for conservation and better land management.

“So whether the Federal Government gets its policy right or wrong will determine the whole outcome. That’s not a resilient situation,” says Cork.

He says people at the local level need to be given more authority to detect change and make decisions, because they have a better idea of what is going on in the field.

“You don’t send an army into the field and wait for generals to make all the decisions. You give people in the field the authority to make decisions,” says Cork.

Cork says studies of personal resilience show the ability to recover from a serious illness, for example, is linked to a sense of personal control.

“And yet our health system is all about taking that control away from you.”

The Crises of Nature, The Nature of Crises

Maybe it’s just part of my personal PCSD (Post Copenhagen Stress Disorder), but it seems like one of the most interesting topics emerging in frontiers of the earth system governance agenda, is that of building global institutions able to deal with not only incremental environmental change (e.g. biodiversity loss, land use change, climate change), but also crises.

Crises events (i.e. unexpected, high uncertainty, cascading dynamics, limited time to act) pose from an institutional point of view, quite different challenges than those normally addressed by the global environmental governance research community. These are related to the need for early warnings, multilevel networked responses, and improvisation. In addition, crises forces us to reconsider the way we look at communication technologies in global environmental governance [e.g. "Pandemic 2.0" in Environment here].

Oran Young’s brief talk from 2008 on adaptiveness and environmental crises, is not about environmental regimes in the conventional sense, but rather about the importance of role plays, simulations, and deliberations around unlikely, but high impact, scenarios:

The Center on International Cooperation (New York University) in addition, just recently launched a report entitled “Confronting the Long-term Crisis – Risk, Resilience and International Order”, that pretty much reiterates the point that debates around global governance are moving towards an agenda that focus not only single global environmental stresses, but also on multiple, interacting social-ecological ones.

This issue was also raised by Brian Walker and colleagues in a policy forum in Science last year.   You can watch an interview with him here.

*  I owe the catchy title to my colleague Fredrik Moberg at Albaeco.

Resilience as an operating system for sustainability in the anthropocene

Chris Turner, author of Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need, writing in the Walrus about the Anthropocene and the coral reef crisis in his long article Age of Breathing Underwater:

I first heard tell of “resilience” — not as a simple descriptive term but as the cornerstone of an entire ecological philosophy — just a couple of days before I met Charlie Veron on the pages of Melbourne’s most respected newspaper. I was onstage for the opening session of the Alfred Deakin Innovation Lectures in an auditorium at the University of Ballarat at the time. The evening had begun with a literal lament — a grieving folk song performed by an aboriginal musician. I’d then presented a slide show of what I considered to be the rough contours of an Anthropocene map of hope, after which a gentleman I’d just met, a research fellow at Australia’s prestigious Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation named Brian Walker, placed my work in the broader context of resilience theory.

I had to follow Veron all the way to the edge of the abyss his research had uncovered before I could come back around to resilience. The concept, it turns out, emerged from the research of a Canadian-born academic named Buzz Holling at the University of Florida, and has since been expanded by a global research network called the Resilience Alliance. “Ecosystem resilience” — this in the Resilience Alliance website’s definition — “is the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary.” It’s a concept I encountered repeatedly in my conversations with reef researchers.

…This points to the broader implications of the resilience concept — the stuff Brian Walker likes to talk about. He and his colleagues in the Resilience Alliance often refer to their field of study as “social-ecological resilience,” suggesting that people are as essential to the process as reefs or any other ecosystem, and that real resilience is created in the complex, unpredictable interplay between systems. “With resilience,” Walker told me, “not only do we acknowledge uncertainty, but we kind of embrace uncertainty. And we try to say that the minute you get too certain, as if you know what the answer is, you’re likely to come unstuck. You need slack in the system. You need to have the messiness that enables self-organization in the system in ways that are not predictable. The best goal is to try to build a general resilience. Things like having strong connectivity, but also some modularity in the system so it’s not all highly connected everywhere. And lots of diversity.”

Resilience, then, embraces change as the natural state of being on earth. It values adaptation over stasis, diffuse systems over centralized ones, loosely interconnected webs over strict hierarchies. If the Anthropocene is the ecological base condition of twenty-first-century life and sustainability is the goal, or bottom line, of a human society within that chaotic ecology, then resilience might be best understood as the operating system Paul Hawken was on about — one with an architecture that encourages sustainability in this rapidly changing epoch.

This new operating system will, by necessity, be comfortable with loss. There is, after all, much to be gained from epochal, transformative change. In the midst of chaos and devastation on the scale of a world war, for example, we might discover how to breathe underwater.

Global change and missing institutions

In  Science Policy Forum, Brian Walker and others have a policy forum in Looming Global-Scale Failures and Missing Institutions, in which they argue that the the global order of nation-state’s has improved the well-being of many people at the cost of global resilience, and that building global resilience requires more interaction among existing global institutions, as well as new institutions, to help construct and maintain a global-scale social contract.  They write:

Energy, food, and water crises; climate disruption; declining fisheries; increasing ocean acidification; emerging diseases; and increasing antibiotic resistance are examples of serious, intertwined global-scale challenges spawned by the accelerating scale of human activity. They are outpacing the development of institutions to deal with them and their many interactive effects. The core of the problem is inducing cooperation in situations where individuals and nations will collectively gain if all cooperate, but each faces the temptation to take a free ride on the cooperation of others. The nation-state achieves cooperation by the exercise of sovereign power within its boundaries. The difficulty to date is that transnational institutions provide, at best, only partial solutions, and implementation of even these solutions can be undermined by international competition and recalcitrance.

…Of special importance are rules that apply universally, such as the peremptory, or jus cogens, norms proscribing activities like genocide or torture. Failure to stop genocide in Rwanda spurred efforts to establish a new “responsibility to protect” humanitarian norm (12). As threats to sustainability increase, norms for behavior toward the global environment are also likely to become part of the jus cogens set.

The responsibility to protect rests in the first instance with the state having sovereignty over its population. Only in the event that the state is unable or unwilling to protect its people are other states obligated to intervene. The challenge is not just to declare the principle but to ensure its acceptance and enforcement. Acceptance is needed for legitimacy, and enforcement will depend on whether states are willing to make the necessary sacrifices. If the responsibility to protect is to apply to the environment as well, these same challenges will need to be overcome. We use three examples to illustrate how institutional development might proceed.

Climate change. International climate agreements must be designed to align national and global interests and curb free-riding. Borrowing from the WTO architecture, the linkage between trade and the environment could be incorporated within a new climate treaty to enforce emission limits for trade-sensitive sectors. New global standards could establish a climate-friendly framework with supporting payments, e.g., for technology transfer, to encourage developing country participation. In this context, trade restrictions applied to non-participants would be legitimate and credible, because participating parties would not want nonparties to have trade advantages.

Coevolution of institutions offers a pathway to further progress. Recently, the Montreal Protocol strengthened its controls on hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), manufacture of which produces hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as a by-product. HFCs do not affect ozone and are not controlled under the Montreal Protocol. However, they are greenhouse gases (GHGs), controlled under the Kyoto Protocol. The Montreal Protocol should now either be amended to control HFCs directly or else a new agreement, styled after the Montreal Protocol, should be developed under the Framework Convention to control HFCs.

High-seas fisheries. The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, which was adopted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in 1995 was a positive step, but because adherence is voluntary, it has had little effect. Another approach would be to develop a norm, akin to the responsibility to protect (12), requiring all states responsible for managing a fishery to intercede when a state fails to fulfill its obligations. Credible enforcement is a challenge, but efforts by major powers to enforce a U.N. General Assembly ban on large-scale drift-net fishing offers hope that an emerging norm can be enforced (13).

Drug resistance. Addressing drug resistance demands global standards. The International Health Regulations (IHRs) are an international legal instrument that is binding on 194 countries, including all the member states of the World Health Organization. It currently establishes minimum standards for infectious disease surveillance, but could be amended to promote standards for drug use. For example, monotherapy treatments for malaria are cheaper but more prone to encourage resistance in mosquitoes than combination therapy drugs. Their use should be limited in favor of the more expensive combination therapy drugs. One approach to global action would be an amendment to the IHRs that obligated all member countries to collective action to promote combination therapies, supported by global subsidies, and to discourage, or even prohibit, monotherapies (14).

Responses to Early Warning Signals for Critical Transitions paper

The recent paper by Marten Scheffer and other resilience researchers paper Early Warning Signals for Critical Transitions (doi:10.1038/nature08227) has been reported in a number of places including Time, USA Today, and Wired.  While many newspapers just reprint the press release, several articles add something.

A USA Today article Predicting tipping points before they occur quotes Brian Walker:

“This is a very important paper,” says Brian Walker, a fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Center at the University of Stockholm in Sweden.

“The big question they’re trying to answer is, how the hell do you know when it’s coming? Is there any way you can get an inkling of a looming threshold, something that might be a warning signal that you’re getting to one of the crucial transition points?”

Wired magazine article Scientists Seek Warning Signs for Catastrophic Tipping Points quotes several sceptical scientists:

“It’d be very nice if it were true that there were precursors for tipping points in all these diverse systems. It’d be even nicer if we could find these precursors. I want to believe it, but I’m not sure I do,” said Steven Strogatz, a Cornell University biomathematician who was not involved in the paper.

The difficulty of early detection is especially pronounced with markets. Computer models can replicate their bubble-and-crash behavior, but real markets — buffeted by political and social trends, and inevitably responding to the very act of prediction — are much cloudier.

“It is hard to find clear evidence of bifurcations and transitions, let alone find an early warning system to detect an upcoming crash,” said Cars Homme, an economic theorist at the University of Amsterdam.

The most promising evidence of useful early warning signs comes from grasslands, coral reefs and lakes. Vegetation-pattern-based early warning signs have been documented in several regions, and transition theory is already being used to guide land use in parts of Australia.

The U.S. Geological Survey is currently hunting through satellite imagery for signals of impending desertification at two sites in the Southwest. They’ve studied desertification there by painstakingly measuring local conditions and experimentally setting fires, removing grasses and controlling the fall of water. But so far, the vegetation patterns that indicated tipping points in the Kalahari haven’t shown up here, though this may be due to poor image quality rather than bad theory. The researchers are now looking for signals in on-the-ground measurements of vegetation changes.

“These things aren’t going to be foolproof. There will be false positives and false negatives, and people need to be aware of that,” said Carpenter. “There’s still a great deal of basic research going on to understand the indicators better. We’re still in the early days. But why not try? The alternative is to get repeatedly blindsided. The alternative is not appealing.”

Time magazine in Is There a Climate-Change Tipping Point? quotes co-author Steve Carpenter:

So, how do we know that change is at hand? The Nature researchers noticed one potential signal: the sudden variance between two distinct states within one system, known by the less technical term squealing. In an ecological system like a forest, for example, squealing might look like an alternation between two stable states — barren versus fertile — before a drought takes its final toll on the woodland and transforms it into a desert, at which point even monsoons won’t bring the field back to life. Fish populations seem to collapse suddenly as well — overfishing causes fluctuations in fish stocks until it passes a threshold, at which point there are simply too few fish left to bring back the population, even if fishing completely ceases. And even in financial markets, sudden collapses tend to be preceded by heightened trading volatility — a good sign to pull your money out of the market. “Heart attacks, algae blooms in lakes, epileptic attacks — every one shows this type of change,” says Carpenter. “It’s remarkable.” 

In climate terms, squealing may involve increased variability of the weather — sudden shifts from hot temperatures to colder ones and back again. General instability ensues and, at some point, the center ceases to hold. “Before we reached a climate tipping point we’d expect to see lots of record heat and record cold,” says Carpenter. “Every example of sudden climate change we’ve seen in the historical record was preceded by this sort of squealing.”

The hard part will be putting this new knowledge into action. It’s true that we have a sense of where some of the tipping points for climate change might lie — the loss of Arctic sea ice, or the release of methane from the melting permafrost of Siberia. But that knowledge is still incomplete, even as the world comes together to try, finally, to address the threat collectively. “Managing the environment is like driving a foggy road at night by a cliff,” says Carpenter. “You know it’s there, but you don’t know where exactly.” The warning signs give us an idea of where that cliff might be — but we’ll need to pay attention.