Tag Archives: Carl Folke

Carl Folke On Resilience

In Seed Magazine my colleague Carl Folke writes On Resilience:

In the 1930s the American art collector Albert Barnes commissioned Henri Matisse to produce a major painting for his private gallery in Merion, outside Philadelphia. Matisse was ecstatic: He rented an old cinema in Nice, where he lived at that time, and spent the entire next year completing the work, a dance triptych. He was pleased with the result. But when the piece arrived in Merion, Barnes wrote to Matisse explaining an unfortunate oversight: His collaborators had taken the wrong measurements, so the painting did not fit on the gallery wall. The difference in size was marginal, and Matisse could easily have tweaked the triptych to fit the wall, a technical fix. But instead he rented the cinema for another 12 months to complete a new painting with the right dimensions. Moreover, since he felt that mindless duplication was not real art, Matisse considerably changed the concept, effectively creating a whole new design. And in this process of reworking the piece, as he experimented with forms that would capture the dancers’ rhythmic motion, he invented the famous “cut outs” technique (gouaches découpés), what he later labeled “painting with scissors.” Whether consciously or unconsciously, Matisse turned a mistake into an opportunity for innovation. The new triptych not only pleased Barnes, but also served as the stylistic starting point for what would later become Matisse’s most admired works.

The French master’s ad hoc ingenuity captures the essence of an emerging concept known as resilience. Loosely defined, resilience is the capacity of a system—be it an individual, a forest, a city, or an economy—to deal with change and continue to develop. It is both about withstanding shocks and disturbances (like climate change or financial crisis) and using such events to catalyze renewal, novelty, and innovation. In human systems, resilience thinking emphasizes learning and social diversity. And at the level of the biosphere, it focuses on the interdependence of people and nature, the dynamic interplay of slow and gradual change. Resilience, above all, is about turning crisis into opportunity.

Resilience theory, first introduced by Canadian ecologist C.S. “Buzz” Holling in 1973, begins with two radical premises. The first is that humans and nature are strongly coupled and coevolving, and should therefore be conceived of as one “social-ecological” system. The second is that the long-held, implicit assumption that systems respond to change in a linear—and therefore predictable—fashion is altogether wrong. In resilience thinking, systems are understood to be in constant flux, highly unpredictable, and self-organizing with feedbacks across multiple scales in time and space. In the jargon of theorists, they are complex adaptive systems, exhibiting the hallmark features of complexity.

Expansion of social-ecological systems science

The concept of social-ecological systems has been gaining increased interested in science. Below is a graph showing papers whose topic includes social-ecological systems. During the 1990s there were a few publications and then a rapid rise during the 2000s.  Two influential books articulated social-ecological ideas:

Papers from ISI - social-ecological or social ecological and Systems

The top five journals are dominated by Ecology and Society:

  1. Ecology and Society (78)
  2. Global Environmental Change (13)
  3. Ecosystems (13)
  4. Proc. of National Academy of Science (USA) (10)
  5. Ecological Economics (8)

The most prolific authors are a group of people who are working to bridge the social and natural (with number of papers in brackets).  The top two authors, Carl and Fikret, were editors of the Linking and Navigating books.

  1. Carl Folke (26)
  2. Fikret Berkes (14)
  3. Steve Carpenter (14)
  4. Per Olsson (13)
  5. J. Marty Anderies (11)

The universities with the most publications are:

  1. Stockholm University (41) (where Carl Folke is located)
  2. Arizona State University (27) (where Marty Anderies and a number of SES researchers are)
  3. University of Wisconsin (19) (Steve Carpenter)
  4. University of Manitoba (18) (Fikret Berkes)
  5. Indiana University (14) (Elinor Ostrom and formerly Marco Janssen, both of whom have frequently published on social-ecological systems)

Growth of ecosystem services concept

Research addressing ecosystem services is rapidly increasing.

Growth in number of papers on ecosystem services since 1990

Growth in number of papers on ecosystem services since 1990

The graph shows increases in the number of papers following publications of Daily’s Nature’s services in 1997 and the MA in 2005.

Note: the graph is based on searching ISI web of science using the terms ecological or ecosystem service(s). It includes many papers that mention ecosystem services, but don’t substantially address them.

The top five journals in which these papers are published (and the number of papers) are:


With more than 1 500 citations, the most cited paper on ecosystem services is the controversial 1997 Nature paper by Bob Costanza et al The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital.

The most cited paper published between 2000-2004, with over 400 citations, was David Tilman et al’s 2001 Science paper Forecasting agriculturally driven global environmental change.

While the most cited paper published between 2005-2009, with more than 300 citations, was the controversial paper (but not for its ecosystem service part) was the Boris Worm et al Science paper Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services.

Overall the people who have published the most papers related to ecosystem services are:

  1. Robert Costanza (30)
  2. Carl Folke (30)
  3. Claire Kremen (22)
  4. Gretchen Daily (20)
  5. Teja Tscharntke (20)

Novelty Needed for Sustainable Development – Resilience 2008

conclusions panel resilience 2008

The Stockholm Resilience Centre has released two press releases on the conclusion of Resilience 2008.

The first Novelty thinking key to sustainable development reports on the concluding panel of the conference in which Elinor Ostrom, Sverker Sörlin, Carole Crumley, Line Gordon and Buzz Holling reflected on the conference, lessons from the past and the answers for the future.

Buzz Holling, considered the father of resilience thinking, called for freedom and flexibility in order to generate multilevel change and novelty thinking. This is needed in a time when several crises are emerging, he said.

- This year a cluster of predicted crises have become aware to the public, such as the rise of food prices due to energy market changes and the collapse of the financial market. We see that small instabilities and risks spread to practically all developed countries in the world. However, globalisation also adds a great positive value because the individual or small groups can have an increasingly global effect, Holling said.

Resilience as an continuance of sustainability thinking
Sverker Sörlin and Carole Crumley both argued that we have moved beyond traditional discussions around sustainability and that resilience thinking is increasingly being embraced as an integrated part of sustainable development thinking.

- Resilience thinking will not replace the sustainability discourse, but we can use resilience to develop sustainability further, Sörlin said. He was followed up by Line Gordon who noted that the key approach with resilience thinking is that although we might have solutions for sustainable development, we will face challenges and we must be prepared for surprises.

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