All posts by Allyson Quinlan

The how and why of linking future scenarios across scales

A group of young scholars from a variety of disciplines, many of whom have been involved in important scenario development exercises including those of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), published a paper last week based on an online dialogue they had about linking scenarios across scales. During their month-long online discussion, the authors reviewed a variety of scenario studies at various scales to explore how scenarios can be linked across scales and importantly, what is to be gained (or lost) in both the process and outcome by connecting scenarios at multiple scales.

Scenarios are essentially stories about the future that draw on information about the past and present, often involving qualitative and/or quantitative models, in order to explore future outcomes under a variety of different criteria (e.g. policies, practices, or social values).

Scenarios, according to the authors, “allow us to envision alternative future development pathways by taking a systems perspective and accounting for critical uncertainties such as far-reaching technological changes or changes in social values. By envisioning alternative futures, scenarios can help decision makers identify ecosystem management policies and actions that will be robust across a range of potential future outcomes, or that promote desired outcomes or characteristics, such as ecosystem resilience (Shearer 2005, Carpenter and Folke 2006).”

Multi-scale scenarios involve storylines that are developed and connected at more than one scale (e.g., local, regional, national, and global). The authors suggest such multi-scale scenarios “make it easier to examine the impacts of mismatches between the scale at which ecological processes occur and the scale at which management occurs (Folke et al. 1998, Brown 2003).” In the paper they characterize scenarios in three categories: single-scale scenarios, loosely-linked multiscale scenarios, and tightly-coupled (cross-scale) scenarios and summarize the costs and benefits of each type in the excerpt below.

“The advantage of multiscale scenarios are that they can, at least to some extent, take account of cross-scale feedbacks and differences in drivers and stakeholder perspectives at different scales. Based on our assessment of multiscale scenarios, we suggest that, if the aim is to engage stakeholders, loosely linked scenarios are generally more appropriate. Loosely linked multiscale scenarios tend to allow more freedom to explore the issues of concern to the stakeholders at each scale. In this case, any of the linking options identified above may serve as a bridging mechanism between stakeholders at different scales to understand the impact of decisions made at one scale on other scales. A major disadvantage of loosely linked scenarios is that the storylines are often inconsistent across scales and cross-scale interactions are not well accounted for. Tightly coupled cross-scale scenario exercises are more appropriate when the aim is to evaluate cross-scale processes and potential responses. We therefore suggest that tightly coupled cross-scale scenarios are most appropriate if the main objective is to further scientific understanding or to inform policy making with respect to an issue that has differential effects at different scales or has strong cross-scale interactions or feedbacks. Such fully coupled scenarios can include processes and perspectives necessary to allow an in-depth cross-scale analysis and the development of cross-scale institutional links. However, developing tightly coupled cross-scale scenarios requires a very large input of time, technical expertise, and financial resources, which should not be underestimated.”

Why publish in high-priced, for-profit journals?

An article titled The Economics of Ecology Journals by Bergstrom & Bergstrom (Front Ecol Environ 2006; 4(9):488-495) was recently brought to my attention. The authors analyzed price data and citations from 92 regularly published primary research ecology journals and, in a nutshell, determined that for-profit journals are approximately five times as expensive as their non-profit counterparts. Even when page charges, common with both non-profit and jointly published journals, are factored in, total revenue is approximately three times higher for the for-profit journals. This price difference exists despite the fact that the higher-priced journals do not have corresponding higher quality, as measured by citation rates.

Bergstrom & Bergstrom go on to note the trends of increasing library expenditures on serials (doubling since 1986) as well as the increased proportion of expensive for-profit publications. This trend is especially puzzling given the relatively recent transition to online access, which has come at a generally low cost to publishers. The authors next ask why these price differences persist and then present their answer in game theory terms. Basically, scientists will publish where other top-scientists publish and a shift to lower-cost, non-profit journals (with greater distribution and higher citation rates!) will require a coordinated shift within the scholarly community. They conclude:

Finally, from the broader community perspective, the scientific community as a whole would benefit if over-priced journals were displaced by journals priced at or near average cost. The fraction of library budgets that is currently going to the shareholders of large commercial publishers could instead by used to provide services of genuine value to the academic community. Professional societies and university presses could help by expanding their existing journals or starting new ones. Individual scholars could advance this process in many ways: by contributing their time and efforts to the expansion of these non-profit journals, by refusing to do unpaid referee work for overpriced commercial publications, by self-archiving their papers in preprint archives or institutional repositories, and by favoring reasonably priced journals with their submissions.

As a side, it is interesting to note that only three of the 107 ecology journals listed in the 2005 Journal Citation Reports were open-access journals, with all of their content freely available on the web. This category of course, includes Ecology & Society (www.ecologyandsociety) which was highlighted in another article recently by Kueffer et al. (Towards a Publication Culture in Transdisciplinary Research, GAIA 16/1 (2007):22-26) for its contribution to transdisciplinary research publishing.

What are Resilience Alliance members and partners reading?

Recently Resilience Alliance (RA) members and partners were asked “what are the best books that you have read in the past year”?

Their book suggestions have been compiled into a four-page annotated booklist. The list of both fiction and non-fiction books includes many familiar titles as well as less-familiar but very intriguing books that have no doubt resulted in multiple book purchases on everyone’s part. Book themes range widely across: climate change, conservation, human behaviour, history of past civilizations, global change and cultural clashes, to name a few. The list is below the break.

RA Partners & Members Booklist – October 2006


Against Extinction by Bill Adams. Earthscan, 2004
It is a rather UK-centric overview of the past 100 years of conservation but is well written and contains a strong message.

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague In History by John Barry (2004).
Many resilience ideas throughout, although not stated as such. Great story on the role of science in real world management issues. He also wrote Rising Tide, about the 1927 flood and how it changed the south (especially New Orleans), 80 years before hurricane Katrina.

Sacred Ecology by Fikret Berkes

Thin Ice by Mark Bowen
This book details how a different strategy for doing ice core samples struggled with the conservatism of big science, but revealed significant anomalies on global change theory and the likelihood of simple switches for autocatalytic processes. As it happens, those ice cores — taken over 25 years at above 20,000 feet in the tropics — are the only samples likely to be available in our epoch, due to subsequent melting and contamination. Very good reading.

Our Inner Ape by Frans de Waal.
The biological roots of conflict resolution, aggression and morality.

Primates and Philosophers by Frans de Waal (Princeton University Press).
Both fun reading and important for those of us struggling to develop a better theory of human behavior to imbed in our studies of complex, social-ecological systems.

The Beginner’s guide to winning the Nobel prize: a life in science by Peter Doherty.
Easy reading, emphasizing the love, passion and driving elements that can make a life in science so rewarding. Unfortunately, he has drawn a line between science and research, where research is what social scientists do, whilst real scientists do ‘reductionist’ type

The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery.

The Upside of Down: Catatastrophe, Creativity and Renewal of Civilization by Thomas Homer-Dixon (Island Press 2006).

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta.
In the next fifty years the world’s population is expected to increase by roughly 50%. Almost of this population growth is expected to be in cities in the developing world. Suketu Mehta presents Bombay as a representative of this new type of developing country megalopolis. His beautifully written book tells the stories of gangsters, policemen, politicians, dancers, Bollywood stars, the middle class, and slum dwellers. He tells of the failure of state justice, police assassinations, and the intertwined lives of gangsters and movie stars – as well as Bombay’s connection with Dubai, India and the West. (see also article on Resilience Science weblog:

Where there’s a will by John Mortimer.
An English lawyer turned author (Rumpole of the Bailey series). This is his advice to his family, a sort of rider to his will, on how to lead and not lead one’s life in 31 short pieces. Number 29 is titled “Avoiding Utopia”.

We are everywhere. The irresistible rise of global anticapitalism. VERSO, London, New York. Notes from Nowhere (Eds). 2003.
Authored by an assortment of people from the global anticapitalism movement. Inside descriptions of the functioning of distributed networks and a revolution that might be.

Success through Failure : The Paradox of Design by Henry Petroski.
Historical cases from civil engineering where trial and error led to more successful designs.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
The dilemma of meeting our calorie requirements by a description of four types of meals.

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen.
A good expose of science vs. religion in an era of conservative backlash in Europe, and the efforts of scientists to rise above the socio-political climate in making new and controversial findings.

The Art of the Long View by Peter Schwartz.
Provides a different approach to scenario building. We’re doing some futures work at WCS, and this book was a helpful guide to setting up our own way of “thinking about what we’re not thinking about, instead of just thinking about what we’re thinking about.” If you get what I mean.

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed by John Vaillant.
A complex story of people and Nature in British Columbia. The Golden Spruce was a unique tree on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) that was cut down in a misguided environmentalist protest by a bitter ex-logger, who had been driven mad by the contradiction between his love of being in the wild woods and his life spent being a logger, in what he loved, destroying it. The book is a rich story of the economic, cultural, and geographic relationship between people and nature in the coastal rainforest of BC.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford.
The anthropologist Jack Weatherford tells the incredible life story of Genghis Khan, who went from being a poor nomad called Temüjin, to founder of the world’s largest empire. An empire that played a key role in stimulating technological and cultural cross-fertilization. The book is well written and an presents an unfamiliar version of world history.

Getting to Maybe by Frances Westley, Michael Patton, and Brenda Zimmerman. (Random House 2006)

A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright.
It’s an amazingly succinct and fascinating, easy-to-read account of the development of the world, from the advent of Homo sapiens to where we are today. The significance of resilience in the journey(s) is inescapable.


Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
Oryx and Crake captures a future social world that has collapsed, and includes issues around cloning, climate change, equity, etc. A good read.

Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard.
A novel set in19th century England. About Timothy Cratchit (Tiny Tim) grown up and
trying to escape his suffocating virtue.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (1989 Ballantine Books).
A little old but truly an outstanding story of the human spirit in South Africa just before apartheid collapsed.

We Killed Mangy Dog (& other Mozambique stories) by L. B. Honwana.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
An outstanding book on cultural clashes.

Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson.
A novel set in Antarctica in the near future, ~ 2050. Climate warming is melting the ice cap to the point where methane is becoming commercially exploitable and soon other minerals will be extractable. The Antarctic Treaty is in danger of collapse because transnational corporations are preventing ratification by the US. The continent is sparsely populated by scientists, eco-tourists, employees of extractive industries, and true Antarcticans — “ferals” who live there permanently in a novel culture that blends modernity with skills from the Inuit and Saami. Then there is an eco-terrorism incident which ends up getting resolved by an odd coalition of ferals, scientists, a couple of renegade oil employees and a beautiful female mountaineer.

Aside from being an entertaining story for a long plane flight, the novel blends elements of adaptation and green technology innovation to explore fundamental ideas about transformation of society in a changing world. The author evokes the feeling that the people in the story are truly the primitives of an emerging civilization, something completely new and reconfigured for a previously-uninhabitable continent in a rapidly changing world. It is full of little resilience lessons, a novel by someone who understands transformation and plays with the idea through his fiction.

Forty Signs of Rain (2004) & Fifty Degrees Below (2005) by Kim Stanley Robinson.
These are the first 2 books in what is to be the “Science in the Capital” trilogy. (The third book, Sixty Days and Counting, is due in February 2007.) Both of the books are set in DC in the near future and revolve around the same cast of characters, including a bureaucrat at NSF; her husband, an environmental advisor to a senator; and their family; an academic scientist on leave at NSF; and some scientists at a biotech company). Both deal with climate change and potential impacts on DC itself. There is actual science in them (both information and process) and both offer some glimpses into how science works and doesn’t work (in scenes at NSF and at a biotech company), and how science can, and can’t, influence policy (through scenes with the senator and his science advisor). Robinson also likes to play with ideas about resilience — in this case, the resilience of individuals as they respond to changes in their environment brought on by climate change and resilience of the city of DC to catastrophic events related to climate change.

Other recommended reading:

Two non-books, but very interesting reading, are about how societies can game future(s) by pooling predictions — this is how the life insurance industry began. Neat stuff can be found at: and, which is the home of the Long Now Foundation, parent of the Long Bets site. The idea is to engage short cycle thinking about the long term, and to build long-term social responsibility through learning. Some very clever thinking.

Johan Colding, Jakob Lundberg and Carl Folke. 2006. Incorporating Green-area User Groups in Urban Ecosystem Management. Ambio Vol 35 (August, 2006): 237-244. They show that the spatial extent of locally managed green areas is high in the City of Stockholm and how these privately managed areas may function as important buffer areas around lands that are formally set aside for nature conservation.

The Koran

Strengthening the resilience of marine ecosystems

coral reefEarlier today the creation of the world’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) was announced. The newly protected Northwest Hawaiian Islands and surrounding waters and reefs is slightly larger than the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia (139,793 and 128,960 square miles respectively). Today’s announcement, combined with the recent listing of two coral species (Elkhorn and Staghorn) on the U.S. Endangered Species Act, suggests momentum towards strengthening the resilience of marine ecosystems.

With many marine protected areas being both small and isolated, a move toward creating very large MPA’s is a more effective strategy. Larger areas allow for more widespread dispersal of species, including coral offspring, which provides greater insurance against changing conditions. Even better would be the linking together of MPA’s in a global network. Authors of a paper published this past March in Nature (“Coral reef diversity refutes the neutral theory of biodiversity”), have called for the worldwide networking of tropical marine parks and protected areas to reduce risks of extinction under climate change.

One of the paper’s authors, Prof. Terry Hughes, is Centre Director of the new ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, based in Townsville, Australia, as well as the project leader for the Resilience Alliance’s Marine Resilience Program. Later this summer, Prof. Hughes, along with other researchers will gather in Maine for a meeting with the theme “Social-ecological traps and transformations in marine fisheries”. More information at: