All posts by Buzz Holling

SFU Convocation Address – Global Resilience Requires Novelty

[On Oct 7th, 2011 Buzz Holling was awarded a Honorary Doctorate of Science at Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, Canada. Below is his convocation address – editor]

Sixty years ago I was where you graduates are now, but graduating from the University of Toronto. By the time I got my PhD a few years later, I was well launched on a goal to understand population processes. It was the unknown that beckoned me and simple curiosity that motivated me.

The goal was to develop suites of models and experiments that could yield explanations and understanding that were simultaneously precise, realistic, holistic and general. For that time, just before computers became available, that was viewed as being unnecessarily complex. After all, one distinguished ecologist asked me, if you are interested in the time a ball takes rolling downhill, why worry about anything more than the height of the hill and its slope? General laws of physics will provide the answer.

But I was stubbornly curious about the path down the hill, the bumps and valleys that the ball might encounter and the momentary pauses as the ball encountered, or even, over several runs, created a shallow valley. That led to really delightful experimental studies of predators and prey leading to generalized models and sudden discoveries from them. The beasts used in the experiments depended on the question of the moment – Preying Mantis, deer mice, shrews, then birds, fish and stalking lions. The early computers and languages like Fortran suddenly provided the language that could use the experimental and field results. Models plus reality combined to yield broadened, generalized understanding of a small number of classes of predation.

That is when I discovered multi-stable states – population systems were not driven only by attraction to a single equilibrium state but, instead, there were several equilibrium states that determined their existence. And the goal for understanding and managing living resources and their physical world, was not sustainability but simple persistence. I learned, for example, that we could have detected and averted a collapse of cod populations off Newfoundland, avoiding the social and economic upheaval that in fact occurred. Or, we could have anticipated and avoided a western sub-continental outbreak of bark beetles that are now destroying stands of lodge pole pine throughout British Columbia and Alberta. Both of these examples were dominantly caused by the slow consequence of earlier development and exploitation, by the ingenious, but myopic foraging of fishers and harvesters, and by decades long fire protection policies.

Those slowly and invisibly led to reduced resilience, poising the systems on the edge of an instability state which began to unravel in a stutter of local spatial collapses and outbreaks, each stutter hidden by fast and innovative fishers and tree harvesters, until the whole system followed the stutters and collapsed at all scales.

That has forced a new paradigm that led to theories of resilience, to adaptive complex systems, to integration across scales from fast and small to very slow and big– from the needles of trees over months, to the boreal forest over millennia, That new resilience paradigm led to management of resources that was adaptive, where the unknown was large, alternatives could be proposed and monitoring was essential.

That is all part of complex adaptive system theory. It reflects humanity’s partial knowledge, fast inventions for dealing with surprises, and persistent learning.

It applies to the present turbulence in the world now. Slow economic processes have led us to the big surprises now appearing on a global scale. Financial collapse, debts threatening nations, European deep instability, and climate change.

Since the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union collapsed, corporations began to focus on fast economic variables and on globalization. That led to an emphasis on expanding efficiency but also to the emergence of slowly increasing debt, and hidden forces caused by diversified, subdivided and fragmented investments. No one knew where they were, or what they cost. That eventually triggered a collapse that exposed the reality that slow, invisible changes had decreased the resilience of the world economy. Globalization spread the collapse. What was presumed to be efficient began to be realized as being myopic.

At this turbulent time of crises, you and I have a real purpose. We need to help minimize and slow the spread of the collapses in the face of resistance from lobbies and from accumulated wealth. Banks and investment firms need regulation and a richer paradigm, but that need is opposed by the entrenched powers of corporations and banks that are caught in a rigidity trap. Nations of the European Union, and the Euro, need an integrated, multi-scalar inter-relationship, but one that now encounters the loss of resilience that comes in part from the inability to devalue a single nation’s currency and little control on debt inflamed growth. Carbon dioxide emissions need to be inhibited, but that encounters the opposition from the fossil fuel corporations- particularly oil.

Our aboriginal cultures and small communities here on the west coast are discovering and protecting treasured histories and traditions of local cultures. They now need to also add and create novel new ways to see and act beyond their traditional scales at the mouths of rivers and to connect to others across scales. Does fear stop them? Could their traditional theory (and myths) combine with adaptive resilience theory (and myths) as an emerging synthesis?

The answer is to keep trying, keep talking, keep communicating, but recognize it is a frustratingly slow process. Understand the traps- poverty traps like Haiti, rigidity traps like Fascism, lock-in traps of mega agriculture, and gilded traps from external subsidies.

And here is a program specifically for you. Encourage and support experiments, a multiplicity of experiments that search for and deepen new paradigms. Be entrepreneurs, alone and cooperatively together. And make the experiments global and cross scale. The internet and its novel ways of helping people to interact lets us reach or create groups of participants independent of where they live, ones from multiple patches and multiple time senses.

Many experiments will fail, but make them safe in their failure. Look for rare synergisms between a few successes. When enough people and experiences have accumulated, then protest publicly, non-violently and simultaneously against the defenders of the old paradigm that created the crash, the flip.

Make it our Big Arab Spring.

Resilience and Life in the Arctic

On Thursday, March 10, 2011, the Resilience Alliance Board voted to accept Eddy Carmack as the new Program Research Director. Eddy is a climate oceanographer studying water and people from oceans to estuaries as scientific lead for the Canada’s Three Oceans monitoring program in the Arctic and Subarctic; he is retiring in 2011.  He invented something extraordinary – a Philosopher’s Cruise on the Canadian icebreaker Louis St. Laurent as it journeyed through the North West Passage while monitoring data were collected. It was like the meetings on islands that the Resilience Alliance delights in.  It brought scientists form different disciplines, from the polar climate change community, philosophers, senior leaders in the Canadian government, Dene from the Canadian Senate, aboriginal and other young people, policy advisors to governments, business people from communications and people from the Resilience Alliance.  We lectured and talked, and discovered new steps. I describe my discoveries and one new step here. – CSH

Is the Arctic about to flip into a new state as a consequence of climate change?   It is certainly the first region of the world where climate change has so clearly demonstrated its early impacts. But it is also the place where political transformations have opened the opportunity for leaders and citizens to address economic, social and ecological changes. Such flips are an inevitable potential in any living system. They are rare but dramatic, and potentially transforming.  One of the steps that can now be made is to join the international science monitoring effort with a community based one.

How We Grow, How We Die, How We Transform

The Arctic is no different from any system of life. Every living system, at some stage, grows: a baby, a neighborhood, a company, a town, a forest, a grassland, a nation, a global set of biophysical and human processes, During the early phase, growth is dominated by entrepreneurial processes.  Early growth in a temperate forest, for example, sees saplings beginning to grow on a landscape during a period when entrepreneurial, pioneer species and physical forces dominate.  The system then continues to develop during an intermediate period with more diverse interacting species, leading to a period where a mature forest of a few species emerges that captures and stores the capital that has been accumulated.

But also, nearing the culmination of this first phase of growth and accumulation, resilience gradually decreases, new invaders are progressively resisted, and the system becomes locally stable but rigid, less resilient, with little latitude for innovation or for adapting to surprise. For example, the 800 year old trees of the Cathedral Grove in the Vancouver Island temperate rain forest stun the mind and entrance the spirit.  But its delights as a mature, temperate rain forest, immense and still, but singing with its small bits, also poise it on a sensitive edge of collapse. Remember the great windstorm of January 1997 that felled a number of giants? As a mature forest, it had become, and the survivors continue to be, an accident waiting to happen.  In other forests, the accident might be a fire, a windstorm or an insect or disease outbreak.

When collapse is triggered, then reorganization and renewal follows.  That is when power lays in the hands of the individual- plant, animal, person or small group. They can launch experiments, some of which can survive to determine the future. This is when resilience expands and where surprise and novelty can suddenly appear. The collapse is a kind of Schumpeterian creative destruction: certainly destructive, but much more interesting, also creative because it releases new opportunity that earlier was smothered. That might lead to the return of the original cycle from the memory of the old established by their seeds and saplings. Or more intriguingly, novelty might emerge as invasive species establish unexpected synergies with native species that fruitfully nucleate a new system, a new cycle.

That full cycle is what we call the Adaptive Cycle, one where there is a “front-loop” of growth, followed by a “back loop” of collapse and reorganization (see: Holling, C.S. and Lance H. Gunderson. 2002).

In terrestrial ecological systems, change during the front loop is incremental and learning is gradual and applied. It is essentially predictable.  In contrast, during the back loop, disorganization reigns, constraints are removed and probabilistic events can begin to emerge and synergize to nucleate the beginning of a new pathway. That back loop is faster in natural ecological systems than the front loop. It is the time when the individual – species or person- has the greatest potential influence. Learning can be dramatic, but it is chaotic and there are extensive unknowns.  The back loop is inherently unpredictable.

The front loop is a period of increasing efficiency, the back loop a period of reemerging resilience.


At times, the memory of the old system can be subverted by larger changes that, at a larger scale of cycles, have set new conditions that can flip biospheres into new states at smaller scales.  Going up and down such scales is what Panarchy adds to the Adaptive Cycle (see: Holling, C.S., Gunderson, L. H. and G.D. Peterson, 2002)

Global climate change did that 11,000 years ago, and established the conditions for new biospheres.  For example, much of Florida, and I would guess, Cedar Key, where we used to live, earlier was dry oak and grass savannas since so much of the water of the world was still trapped in ice sheets.  Shorelines were many kilometers from their present location, and the present Everglades were semi-arid lands.

Similarly, the southern edge of the present Boreal Forest was a mixed oak and beech savanna, waiting for the ice sheets to retreat and for the appearance of new species from the south that gradually, in a sequence of adaptive cycles, established the present interacting mix of spruce and fir, jack-pine, alders and birch.

When our view of the scale of a system in space and in time is expanded in this manner, new ranges of scale are perceived where ecosystems become seen as transient assemblages, that for a time- long for people, short for evolving systems- maintain persistent associations of species and local climate, to be ultimately replaced by new conditions that have emerged at a larger scale. Regional or global changes in climate intrude, and ultimately the earlier association breaks down to evolve to another.

Inside vs. Outside the System

Time and space scales in the boreal forest (from Peterson et al 1998. Ecosystems)

I have written this to this point inferring an Olympian view from inside the system, where we perceive with equal precision small and big elements, fast and slow ones and all in between. The fast cycling of leaves are perceived as precisely, with as much detail as the very slow millennial scale cycling of bioregions. The first occurs in days and months, and the other in centuries and hundreds of kilometers.  But standing outside the full system, in real life, we humans see partial chunks of that full spectrum. We perceive and live in a reduced scale range.  Some elements have a speed that are seen and reacted to immediately, some are slower and are seen roughly and periodically.  For long periods, as the slow elements on the inside change, that change is invisible to us on the outside.

Hence, within our constrained, but swinging rhythm, for long periods we see and act on principally the fast variables.  Changes in them dominate our actions, management and policies.  Think of the recent financial crisis that precipitated a global surge of surprise and the unknown in 2008/2009. That emerged because our society had slowly evolved a global economy based on a front loop concentration on fast investments through reduced financial regulation and monitoring and on extending globally.  Removing controls on an imaginary market was seen as allowing the market to solve any unexpected deviations without explicit attention.  Big instabilities could be forgotten. That is as much of a joke of limited economic theory as it is of myopic vision.

This focus on fast economic variables led to an emphasis on efficiency but also to the emergence of slowly increasing, hidden forces caused by diversified, subdivided and fragmented investments.  No one knew where they were, or what they cost. That eventually triggered a collapse that exposed the reality that slow, invisible changes had decreased the resilience of the world economy.  Globalization spread the collapse.  What was presumed to be efficient began to be realized as being myopic.

The Planet First, The People Next

Now that process is happening to biophysical elements, not just economic ones.  Humans have become a global force by also slowly increasing green house gas emissions, modifying the landscape and transforming the hydrosphere. We are, perhaps, at the beginning of the impact of those slow changes as climate warms because of human influences. Humans have become a global force. We are at the time of a large scale back loop when the individual – species or person- has the greatest potential influence. It is the global time when small is beautiful and local experiment most useful. Learning is chaotic and there are extensive unknowns.  The back loop, recall, is inherently unpredictable.

That is particularly evident in the Arctic now as we see the floating ice sheets dramatically contract and glaciers melt. Over the past decade, radar satellite imagery shows that the ice sheets on the Arctic Ocean have shrunk to 2/3 of their original extent and thickness. It is simply astonishing that the thickness can be measured within a few centimeters from space!

The image of change described earlier shows adaptive cycles arranged in structures across scales. This equally applies to a different set of ecological and physical processes at the top of the world, in the Arctic region.

In one orientation of a map of the top of the world, sitting on the pole, scanning the world above the Arctic Circle, we see Alaska at the top left, Canada on the left side, Greenland and Iceland on left bottom, Norway, Sweden, and Finland on the right bottom and Russia sprawling throughout the right side to the top.  Those nations represent the Arctic Council of eight nations. This is indeed a view from the top of the world.

The Arctic Ocean dominates the center of the map, while Northern Alaska, the Canadian Arctic archipelago and Greenland fringe the left side.  This is the region where the North West Passage was imagined in its alternate routes. This is a region, at smaller scales, of ocean passages, changing ocean currents, productive biotic hotspots, and Inuit communities with polar bears, beluga whales, seals and Arctic fox both at the top of the world and the top of the food network or chain. Even the subsurface topography is only crudely known as are the biotic interactions and the water chemistry.  The Beaufort Sea is now freshening as melt water creates the largest collection of fresh water in the world. The area is the focus of the International Polar Year (IPY) and, more specifically of Canada’s contribution: The Canada’s Three Oceans (C3O) project, led by Eddy Carmac (Carmac and Mclaughlin. 2011).

That project is dedicated to monitoring the Arctic from the northern Pacific through the Arctic into the northern Atlantic. Physical, chemical and biological attributes are sampled along a trajectory that can ultimately reveal, when repeated, the changes that occur as regional temperature increases.  Melting of floating ice sheets, increases in water acidity, and hints of impacts on some species in the trophic network are already evident.  The most obvious hints come from speculation concerning polar bears as they hunt for food on diminishing ice sheets.  But there are also hints from suspicions about planktonic species. Fish resources are likely to respond, and the knowledge needed to mange them is weak.

These observations reinforce the steps now underway to collect the kind of data, test speculations and develop models that are essential as change progresses on the top of the world.  The possibility of flips of ecological systems is very real, with surprises emerging that will have positive and negative consequences from a human perspective.  There are existing examples on land as permafrost melts; more will appear in the oceans.

The economic consequences for access to new fossil fuel sources and for ship movement through the Arctic are increasingly raising social, ecological and political issues that challenge and invite a cooperative regime of governance among the nations of the north. Perhaps Norway’s experience as one of the eight Arctic nations can help.  They have dealt with their own oil development in a way that recognizes present and future social needs. Perhaps those lessons are transferable to other Arctic nations.  At the moment, however, individual nations tend to launch competitive national initiatives to establish sovereignty, in preparation for international negotiations.

Next the People

These clear changes in the impacts of climate change suggest a need to expand national efforts to moderate climate change from present  international steps limiting greenhouse gas emissions, to new regional steps to adapt to existing and expected effects of changes in climate (for example, see Visbeck, 2008). Active Adaptive Management then becomes a priority, and the north the place to initiate and test the steps. Scientists, stakeholders and citizens are an integral part of the approach that has evolved. In the Arctic new scientific, social and political forces can combine for mutual benefit as an initiative leading to international action.

The polar program is therefore more than natural science. It is politics, history and social science as well.  Preeminently, the Inuit will be profoundly affected.

Historically, it is hard to imagine a more adaptive culture than that of the Inuit who lived on ice and land in the Arctic, prior to the appearance of Europeans. The Inuit and others hunted and lived over 4 000 years in ecological edges and hotspots, shifting away when climate became colder, back again when it got warmer.  Throughout, they adapted inventively for blunt survival.

The appearance of Europeans launched one transformation of these societies. Conversation now with those who live in and know the north feature telling stories of the isolating, shattering Residential Schools, of forced movement of Inuit groups torn from northern Quebec forests to Arctic deserts. The Churches, RCMP, and the government were blind, locked in their own paradigm of conquest and dominance. These are examples from our past that now are seen as representing beautifully intentioned narrowness and overwhelming ignorance (McGrath 2008).

Since then, the Inuit have experienced both crises and opportunities whose effects are barely grasped as settlements increasingly detach people and parts of their culture from the land and seascape.

The Arctic is now on the edge of a new sudden flip into a new regime caused by climatic, global economic and social causes. The Inuit’s adaptive capacity is one element that could help invent elements for the transition. Recent changes in political structures in northern Canada, Alaska and in Greenland open the opportunities. In addition, the best of integrative science at the scales now examined in Polar Studies is the other.  Extending the work of the International Polar Year and of the Three Canadian Oceans’ Project is therefore a prime opportunity.

A fundamental step for that extension is to join a new social initiative with existing scientific ones.  That could be done in a program that developed a consortium of local communities to monitor the physical, biological and social changes on land and at sea, using small vessels or snow machines owned by each community.

An early example of such a program is provided by Carmack and Macdonald (2008) who describe examples of indigenous knowledge and western science combining to give deeper insight than either alone. That local monitoring can combine to provide data and understanding at a next larger scale. And that in turn would combine with the IPY and 3CO programs for a full Arctic and costal assessment.

The Panarchy would be bridged and its different speeds perceived.  People would combine their talents, different experiences and histories as a stage for policy responses globally and regionally and for living locally.

That sounds nice, but how will we get people from eight different nations to cooperate, and have their governments act accordingly and not with selfish greed for resources?

Such an initiative would have its own local economic benefit as residents used their community vessel for other activities as well.  It would, for example, connect to the existing Canadian Rangers program, an existing network of local peoples with extraordinary skills in living on the land. There is deep knowledge of ecosystems and environment in every community of the Arctic and of the Pacific coast, knowledge drawn from the history and present experiences of the Inuit and First Nations. This new project would open a new direction to build on the deep identities indigenous peoples have slowly evolved in their earlier worlds. It could begin small and expand as naturally appropriate.

Imagine the potential for the Inuit kid or the young Haida native to develop the knowledge that can link his elders knowledge, with modern science, and economically viable harvesting, across scales.  A member of a true regional and global citizenship, who could recapture a disappearing identity.


Carmack, Eddy and Fiona McLaughlin. 2011. Towards recognition of physical and geochemical change in Subarctic and Arctic Seas. Progress in Oceanography. in press. (doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2011.02.007)

Carmack, Eddy and Robie Macdonald. 2008.  Water and ice-related phenomena in the Costal Region of the Beaufort Sea: Some parallels between native experience and western science. Arctic 61(3): 1-16.

Gunderson, L.H and Holling, C.S (eds) Panarchy: Understanding transformations in Human and Natural Systems . Island Press, Washington and London.

Holling, C. S., L.H. Gunderson and G.D. Peterson. 2002. Sustainability and Panarchies. In. Gunderson, L.H and Holling, C.S (eds) Panarchy: Understanding transformations in Human and Natural Systems . Island Press, Washington and London, Chapter 3, 63-102.

McGrath, M. 2006. The Long Exile. Alfred A. Knopf, Nerw York, 268 pp.

Visbeck, M. 2008. From climate assessment to climate services. Nature Geosciences, 1, 2-3. doi:10.1038/ngeo.2007.55

Transforming Universities

All my career my work was launched from a disciplinary base, but grew from developing an interdisciplinary character. And now some of the best of natural and social sciences is just that – complexity theory, for example is a lovely mix of just about any discipline imaginable, infused with the idea of complex adaptive system theory. And the practice of living in our world now is infused with the same spirit and the recognition of the power of the uncertain and unknown. That simply is delightful.

I was always in a situation where I could be interdisciplinary , but I carefully nurtured the needs to maintain disciplinary roots. And my courses drew upon grad students from just about any discipline imaginable – to their benefit, and my own.

I once asked the President of the University of Florida in a public meeting, what his image of a future university was. His answer, basically, was “just the same as it has always been”. I had been hoping for an answer closer to what this Nature editorial – The university of the future – presents. This editorial speaks very much to the future I see , one very much being attempted at ASU. Our Resilience Alliance has one of those interdisciplinary teams as a member and that enriches us all.

The American research university is a remarkable institution, long a source of admiration and wonder. …

Seen from the inside, however, everything is not quite so rosy. … the structure of these institutions is straightforward and consistent. The bedrock of each university is a system of discipline-specific departments. The strength of these departments determines the success and prestige of the institution as a whole.

This structure raises a few obvious questions. One is the relevance of the department-based structure to the way scientific research is done. Many argue that in a host of areas — ranging from computational biology and materials science to pharmacology and climate science — much of the most important research is now interdisciplinary in nature. And there is a sense that, notwithstanding years of efforts to adapt to this change by encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration, the department-based structure of the university is essentially at odds with such collaboration.

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Where to go Now? : Reflections Pt 13

I was surprised and delighted to learn during this year, 2006, that several organizations have recently been established with resilience as one of their primary themes. The most recent is a new Center on Resilience and Sustainability for Social/Ecological Systems in Sweden. It has just been formed by Stockholm University, the Beijer Institute and the Stockholm Environment Institute. It joins three other centers that have been recently established with resilience as their focus– for Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity in Australia, for Climate Change at the Tyndall Centre, UK and, more loosely, for Parks, Ecosystems and People in South Africa.

All have indicated programs for collaboration among the groups, and other members of the Resilience Alliance itself. That is all a very new acceleration of work on both the theories and practices of resilience. They are extraordinarily appropriate places for launching novel experiments, novel knowledge and novel actions at this time of international turmoil. They provide places that beautifully stimulate novelty and excellence across disciplines in a flexible atmosphere where discussion and debate periodically pace deep deliberative enquiry. The Internet can play a big role that creates an international place for such enquiries and debates. They are outstanding examples of the creation of integrative support for fundamental interdisciplinary study.

I started this paper with a good news report and a bad news one about events I now see locally, nationally and internationally.

Essentially I have learned that at such times I certainly do not try to solve the problems of the rigid or the collapsing system. Instead, I initiate a variety of experiments, mobilize my understanding, develop experiments, models and tests, and wait for an opportunity to emerge that might use the results. In our variety of regional studies that always happened. At that time a menu of possibilities then exist for renewing the system. And we hope that happens globally as well.

No one at this time of deep change should define the profile for the research that will grab the emerging systems in the world. Instead, it is precisely the time to ask what interests you? It is the time where individuals can have the greatest effect.

So, in closing, here is what interests me, one individual, now.

Social Traps: I’d sure like to learn more about different societal traps and why some are irreversible. We guessed at two in the Panarchy book’s third chapter. One was a “poverty trap” where a society flips out of an adaptive cycle at a large political scale in a way that progressively triggers similar collapses at ever-smaller scales. Structure (organizations and institutions) is destroyed in the process, leaving the society finally as independent families separately struggling for survival, having lost their portion of the society’s capital. Learning and self-help is minimal. We also posited a “rigidity trap”, where wealth was great, resilience high and internal connectedness strong. That is the kind of hierarchist trap that freezes the adaptive cycle by ejecting dissidents and minimizing learning. I think of the fundamentalist religions as examples- dangerous examples. I know the healthy state for a society is one where there is a nested set of adaptive cycles; continually testing changed circumstances and adapting to them. But they can slip out of that sustaining state, into traps. Some of those traps are essentially irreversible. We need to learn more about them. We need more examples that demonstrate them. And we need to learn ways that can lead to ways out of them.

Social Adaptive Cycles: I’d also like to discover where and why some social systems- public organizations, private firms, regions, nations, international consortia- are much slower than ecosystems to break creatively and seem so much slower to transform into new structures with new opportunities. That often seemed to be the case for our case studies of regional public and political organizations, at least, where a market does not force change. And for national and international assemblages, think of the anthropological and modern examples- anarchy and the first World War, the Marshall Plan and its incredible success in facilitating recovery in Europe, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, which had mixed results we are still living with. Panarchy, resilience and the connections of memory and revolt between scales provide a new focus for this old question.

Living on the Edge:
I am very interested to see tests that show whether cities, organizations and economies on the edge of social/economic/ecological lumps, have the same features of living on the edge of crisis and opportunity as do animals living on the edge of their body mass lumps. That is where the dynamic nature of panarchies starts to provide insights into constraints and opportunities for changes and transformations that can ride the natural forces.

A Panarchy Game: I would love to see collaboration between those who have developed panarchy thinking and those who are developing certain kinds of games. Will Wright, the creator of SimCity and the Sims, was an early one, and now has efforts that capture abilities to zoom in to the small and out to the large or into the fast and out to the slow [Spore]. These are the games of the “Long Zoom and the Long Now” that are emerging independent of the kind or research that led to Panarchy. But it is driven by the same goals, the same fun, and the same intensity. The two need to be joined for a bump in innovation.

Globalizing Experiments: I’d also like to see more experiments on the Web and the internet, some in conjunction with occasional face to face meetings, some designing new ways to present educational programs, some using novel ways to display complex data or policies simply, some providing new ways to present and explore information, like Goggle Earth, some developing interactive games for regional and global social and ecosystemic designs, some presenting more Blogs, debates and discussions, some that use movies that express dynamic changes in an intelligible manner. We have done some of that- most notably by Garry Peterson for his Young Scholars Dialogues in Ecology and Society and this blog – Resilience Science. We need more.

Self-organization Combining with Evolution: I’d like to support studies that explore how the link between self-organization of entities at different scales in the Panarchy link with natural selection to affect the speed and scale of evolutionary change. I believe that self-organization and natural selection jointly flourish and interact as a new way to view evolution, opening up another fruitful landscape for enquiry and theoretical development. In the sciences of biological evolution, that combination can often be viewed as either an obscure or an excessive representation! But it is suggestive and provocative, and that has particular value at times of deep change. It again opens a new landscape of thought for investigation and action from local, to regional to global scales. That is a big journey from its start, over 40 years ago, when I was immersed in lovely experiments of deep enquiry about praying mantids!

To conclude, I argue that we preeminently need novel integrative work. Specifically, novel work that integrates the economic and social with ecosystemically driven understanding. Multi-scale, searching for the relatively simple features of complex systems. Fundamentally non-linear. A testing of a range of methods and a disbelief in any of them. A wedding of theory, empirical examples and application. An emphasis on a search for generality, which needs cooperative works with others expert in other fields, but ones who share the curiosity and fun of mutual discovery. That is much more valuable, now, in this time of political turbulence and transformation in the world, than new policies and new planning exercises. They are too early, and too dangerous in their reliance on successes that worked for past problems. We now live in too new a world.

Where Ideas Originate; What Makes Some Useful? : Reflections Pt 12

I have been asked why I have so many novel, yet useful ideas, ones that eventually move to some kind of fruition, testing and, usually, after a very long time, acceptance.  I do not really know, so what I write here is a guess.

I am prodigiously curious about nature, and that triggers initial ideas.   I am also terribly persistent and stubborn about developing and testing an idea that grabs me; at those times I am totally and narrowly focused, driven by the potential. That is what eventually makes an idea useful.  So I conclude that nature creates the idea; stubbornness makes it useful!  But I have had to learn how to see nature.  It is curiosity, anecdote, funny correlations, jokes and metaphors that have done that.

I enjoy communicating the excitement and the evolving stages of these ideas to others.  And I like to discuss all this in classes with students, involving them directly in whatever research is most topical.   That leads me to careful mentoring of some younger colleagues whose talents stand out.  Earlier I mentioned a number of them.

I am delighted if others become interested and propose extensions or alternative explanations.  I get profoundly upset if, at such times, someone says these suites of nascent ideas, or any one idea is wrong and that projects based on them should stop. I have got into big arguments with distinguished scholars over that one!  In contrast, I see them as rich ways to explore the unknown; I see them as rich ways to develop friendships that endure.

Frances Westley once pointed out to me the three principal types of scientist she sees.  Those are consolidators, technical talents, and artists. Consolidators accumulate and solidify advances and are deeply skeptical of ill formed and initial, hesitant steps. That can have great value at stages in a scientific cycle when rigorous efforts to establish the strength and value of an idea is central.

In contrast, I love those initial hesitant steps and like to see clusters of them. That is the kind of thing needed at the beginning of a cycle of scientific enquiry or even just before that. Such nascent, partially stumbling ideas, are the largely hidden source for the engine that eventually generates change in science. So I am not a particularly good consolidator.

I also am not a preeminently good technical person, though I do have sufficient technical experience to have developed considerable, well-grounded skepticism of the biases existing in traditional methods.   I know some statistics, something about modeling, something about mathematics and a lot about biology. I enjoy integrating across all those talents.

But I love the nascent ideas, the sudden explosion of a new idea, the connections of the new idea with others.  And I love the development and testing of the idea till it gets to the point it is convincing. That needs persistence to the level of stubbornness and I happily invest in that persistence.   I guess I fit somewhat into the artist type, less the technical type and still less into an efficient consolidator.

As part of that kind of scientist, I have tried to develop senses that help me listen to intriguing voices that are hidden amongst the noise.  Owlish ways to hear the rustle of the mouse. The simplest example of what I mean is in sculpting, another pleasure I have.  I start with a number of hazy ideas, and then I discover the image caught and hidden in the swirls of the wood’s grain.  I listen to the voice of the wood.

My research has always been like that.  In the early days of investigating predator/prey functional responses, the device that helped retain generalization was components analysis.  It was a way to engage levels of complexity and maintain generality.  It required a beast-for-the-moment design- the beast most appropriate for the step in hand.  The result was many voices, each playing facets of one song.  Praying mantis, insect parasitoids, deer mice and shrews, barracuda and iao, salmon, the suite of insectivorous birds in the boreal forest.  Lions and gazelles.  It was a way to listen to the hidden voice of nature.  Those voices led to the discovery of resilience.  Not a song but a symphony!

More recently, at last I heard the “world is lumpy” music that emerges from patterns in ecosystems at scales from centimeters to hundreds of kilometers, from days to millennia.  And the approach used to examine the subtleties is a bit of strong inference, but more of adaptive inference and multiple lines of evidence- from every major biome in the world, from endangered and invasive species, from nomadic and sedentary organisms (Holling and Allen 2002).  And beyond that, similar rhythms, once heard, seem to be in economic systems, social and behavioral.

Adaptive ecosystem management has been the same process.  The workshops evolved to let human voices speak- scientist, scholar, and practitioner.  I learned who they were, in heart and spirit, and each had a different contribution.  The Peerless Leader learned the guiding melody.  The Blunt Scot was on percussion.  The Snively Whiplash provided the creative dissonance.  The Utopian dreamed the impossible dreams. And the Compleat Amanuensis recorded it all.  The Benevolent Despot hummed a lot.  All these folks and the revealing workshop process and models are described in Holling and Chambers (1973).

At this point, I am delighted with the results of some of my more recent inventions, which have been made with great help from colleagues of the international Resilience Alliance and the Internet journal Ecology and Society. I really do not know what the Alliance and its journal will become as they evolve.  But basically right now they provide a foundation to develop devices to listen to the quiet voices of people- scientists and scholars of many stripes, practitioners, and for them to listen to each other.  In universities, government, the public and the private sector.  I wish in business as well.  For the moment, it is people in the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, in Spain and Malaysia, South America and Madagascar, Canada and Australia.  In Africa.  And not just in the US.  We identify voices that have been masked by the noise, ones where novelty and experience combine.  We are finding ways to have deliberative conversations among listeners.

Holling, C.S. and A.D. Chambers.  1973.  Resource science:  the nurture of an infant.  Bioscience 23(1): 13-20.

Holling , C.S. and Craig Allen. 2002. Adaptive inference for distinguishing credible from incredible patterns in nature.  Ecosystems 5: 319-328.

What is this Panarchy Thing? : Reflections Pt 11

panarchy“Panarchy” is an odd name, but one that is meant to capture the way living systems both persist and yet innovate. It shows how fast and slow, small and big events and processes can transform ecosystems and organisms through evolution, or can transform humans and their societies through learning, or the chance for learning. The central question is what allows rare transformation, not simply change.

I have discovered people have two distinct ways of perceiving change. Some see the world evolving in a regular, continuous way. Others, like me, see the world evolving in a spasmodic way- sudden change and slow, sometimes erratic responses after such changes. Both viewpoints are, in some sense true. They each give a different perception of changes and its causes. But their differences generate arguments. The same arguments are seen in other issues. For example, some argue that biological evolutionary change is not gradual but is “punctuated”. There is lots of evidence supporting that view, but because the fossil record is incomplete, the evidence is incomplete. As a consequence, one’s philosophy dictates belief, so there is not a lot of consensus. There is a similar argument about the evolution of scientific knowledge between the gradualists like Popper, and the revolutionists like Thomas Kuhn. We saw the same difference in view among our good archaeologist friends.

Terrific to have these different views appearing in a way that permits some considered conversation. Now is the time!!!

The aspect of Panarchy that is most novel and significant concerns the phase when resisting institutions start to break down or transform, releasing the chance for a renewed system to emerge. At that moment, novelty that had been simmering in the background can emerge and be debated. And new associations begin to develop among previously separate innovations. The big influence comes from discoveries that, at that time, emerge from people’s local experiments at small scales, discoveries that can emerge at times of big change, to trigger bigger changes at large scales. That process highlights the keys for the future.

One key is maybe best captured by the word “hope”. I see hope might be emerging in the US from the results of the recent mid-term election in 2006. Certainly the results of that election have triggered a sudden storm of new and intelligent, but confused discussion. That is just what Panarchy predicts, and it certainly makes me suddenly a little more hopeful about our mid-term future.

The second key has to recognize that the small, that is the individual human, can at times transform the big, that is the politics and institutions of governance. But there are traps, and their potential needs some discussion.

The multi-authored book describing the integrative nature of Panarchy (Gunderson and Holling 2002) is partly a culmination of 50 years of my own research work, together with that of a fine group of friends and colleagues in the Resilience Project. During that project, my ideas expanded and grew as they interacted with the ideas of others- other ecologists, economists, social scientists and mathematicians – all co-authors of Panarchy. Some of those were senior and well established colleagues. Others were younger colleagues who became both the nurturers and nurtured in the work. It was a process of mutual, creative discovery that then turned personal for each of us.

For me, over those 50 years the old notion of stable ecological systems embedded in the equilibrium images of Lotka-Volterra equations, moved to that of resilience and multi-stable states (Holling 1973, Carpenter 2000), then to cycles of adaptive change where persistence and novelty entwined (Holling 1986), then to nested sets of such cycles in hierarchies of diversity covering centimeters to hundreds of kilometers, days to millennia (Holling 1992) and then to the transformations that can cascade up the scales with small fast events affecting big slow ones (Holling et al 2002) as acts of “revolution”.

Jargon, yeah. So, Lance Gunderson, Garry Peterson and I said, why not go “whole hog” and invent the term “Panarchy” for the ideas, by drawing on the mischievous Greek God Pan, the paradoxical Spirit of Nature. Join Pan, then, to the dynamic reality of hierarchies across scales, where nature self-organizes lumps of living stuff on a more continuous physical template described by power laws. Physics defines the attributes of the power law. Biology self-organizes concentrations of opportunity and of species along the power law relation. Social dynamics do the same for social structures and organizations.

Part of that organization is maintained by diversity within a scale and across scales (Peterson et al 1998 and Walker et al 1999), a uniquely panarchical representation of the role of diversity in maintaining a sustainable system. For ecosystems and landscapes, all this is arranged over an interactive scale from centimeters and days to hundreds of kilometers and millennia. Nothing static- all components flipping from quiet to noise, from collapse to renewal. Transformation is not easy and gradual. It is tough and abrupt.

It seemed to become clear why and how persistence and extinction, growth and constancy, evolution and collapse entwined to form a panarchy of adaptive cycles across scales. Hierarchy and adaptive cycles can combine to make healthy systems over scales from the individual to the planet. Over days to centuries. The panarchy shows that we benefit from local inventions that create larger opportunity while being kept safe from those that destabilize because of their nature or excessive exuberance. When innovation occurs we can sense its fate. When collapse looms we can judge its likelihood. And the timing and kind of responses to this swinging, turbulent process can be designed as an act of strategic decision. Sustainability both conserves and creates. So does biological evolution.

But it can also build dependencies, some of which become pathological blocks to constructive change. They create traps, and those require the most searching investigation now.


  • Gunderson, L.H and C.S. Holling (eds) 2002 Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press, Washington and London.
  • Holling, C.S. 1992. Cross-scale morphology, geometry and dynamics of ecosystems. Ecological Monographs. 62(4):447-502.
  • Holling, C. S., Lance G. Gunderson and Garry D. Peterson. 2002. Sustainability and Panarchies. In. Gunderson, L.H and Holling, C.S (eds) Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press, Washington and London, Chapter 3,, 63-102.
  • Holling, C.S. 1973. Resilience and stability of ecological systems. Ann. Rev. of Ecol. and Syst. 4: 1-23.
  • Peterson, G., C. R. Allen, C. S. Holling.  1998. Ecosystem Resilience, Biodiversity, and Scale. Ecosystems 1: 6-18.
  • Walker, B.H., Kinzig, A., and Langridge, J. 1999. Plant attribute diversity, resilience, and ecosystem function: The nature and significance of dominant and minor species. Ecosystems. 2: 1-20.

What I Learned of Organizations : Reflections Pt 10

I have been lucky enough, or inspired enough, or periodically unsettled enough to have worked in five organizations during their times of innovative inspiration, and two organizations as they wound down or consolidated. As much as any research, those experiences shaped my thoughts and sometimes actions about the inevitability of growth, collapse, novelty and renewal.

I learned an important organizational need during this time. Specifically, the more integrative demand required by studies of ecosystems, economies and societies needs integrative support that sees fundamentals in both theory and application. Early on that came from grants and enthusiasm provided by Evan Armstrong, an insightful leader in Canada’s Dept of the Environment- a guy who was not a scientist at all, but was a manager and was, of all things, Assistant Deputy Minister of Finance.

Integrative organizations then became the supporters of such work, as they began to emerge as a consequence of integrative methods begun during WW II. For me, the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis provided an astonishing place, in its early years around 1972, to work with some of the best in different fields- George Dantzig in optimization, Howard Raiffa in decision theory, Tjalling Koopmans in economics, Mike Fiering in water/stochastic modeling, and Alex Basykin in mathematics. We all learned from each other as we tested the usefulness of novel methods for novel systems. Bill Clark and Dixon Jones were my partners in this and each has made huge contributions to related fields.

That experience became the opportunity for us to identify and then test the value of methods developed in other fields- particularly economics, operation research and decision theory. Our conclusions were presented in Clark et al. (1979). It was a huge step in understanding the strengths and limitations of familiar methods and of new methods from other fields. That effort and the experience at IIASA shaped our research and education activities for the next decade at least.

Later, the Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics became the center of integrative work that much influenced me. Carl Folke and Karl-Goran Maler were the brilliant minds and designers of this remarkable institute. It became a truly integrative center for studies of excellence. And the Santa Fe Institute has had the same innovative, integrative role in the development of Complexity Theory.

That leads me to jump a bit to the future. The large influences of wonderful, integrative organizations like IIASA, Beijer and SFI, can come and go. They often become burdened by their success and rarely are able to maintain the same liveliness and novelty needed over time. Instead, the novelty develops in one place and then typically shifts elsewhere, expanding, extending, testing and deepening the work as it moves. The intellectual area or topic becomes the evolving entity, but often not the founding organization itself.

Still, IIASA, Beijer and SFI live on, and with the natural process of acquiring new leadership, they each can move to new phases of innovation. That is more likely if the design of the organization has a modest capital of structures bound up in it. If that is true, then the Beijer Institute, the least encumbered of these centers, promises a new phase of novel work. All the more so since I have just learned that the new Director chosen by a committee of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is Carl Folke, a singular and wise man of great accomplishments!

For the same reason, the Internet perhaps also provides an alternative means to develop integrative and adaptive organizations at low cost. They could, perhaps, offer a more sustainable organizational partner to encourage novel, integrative research among groups. That is what led us to form the Resilience Alliance and the Internet journal Ecology and Society.

The Resilience Alliance is formed by about 15 groups from around the world, people who all share the same enthusiasms and flexible desires for novel and relevant work. They each provide a modest annual membership fee to publish the journal and maintain the organization. Committed people, and grants do the rest. Integrative workshops interspersed with integrative research, integrative educational material and programs and novel modes of communication provide a foundation for both fundamental integrative science and policy research.

The Resilience Alliance has a very simple structure. It is our entry to the set of experiments needed to sustain innovation and excellence in a troubled world. There has been one very successful change in leadership when Brian Walker of Australia took over from me. He designed an essential and very significant phase of grounded testing of theory, and added new organizations and people. In the next couple of years he hopes for another shift in leadership and direction. Will the very busy folks involved find one person, or two, who can commit to that? We will see; I sure hope so.

Clark, William C., Dixon D. Jones and C.S. Holling 1979. Lessons for ecological policy design: A case study of ecosystems management. Ecological Modelling 7: 1 – 53.

Diversity and Resilience : Reflections Pt 9

The three synthesis papers I’ve discussed all converged on some observations and conclusions concerning how resilience, really robust resilience, arises from diversity. I had long shared most biologists’ faith that the two were linked. But then, in contrast, I had also become convinced that the structure of ecosystems emerges from the effect of a handful of key processes and their few associated species. They create a self-organized entity. Were these few species not the central species whose function had to be preserved? Were not the rest simply those that existed in response to the basic structure provided by the key processes and species? Was the faith in the value of many species exclusively an, essential, but still purely aesthetic value? Another nice puzzle!

But the two values- one of aesthetics and one of structure and function- came together for me from discoveries presented in three additional papers. One was Holling, 1988. That work examined the impacts of the 35 species of insectivorous birds that set the essential 40-50 year boom and bust cycle of the spruce budworm and forest in New Brunswick. I used our budworm/forest simulation model to explore the significance over the full range of potential predation from nothing to maximal. Three distinct cycles appear – one around 15 years in length, one around 50 and one around 100 plus years. The first is set by foliage dynamics, the second by avian predation and the third by tree generation time. But I was surprised to discover that the 40-50 year cycle was maintained over a very large range of predator densities. The 35 species add robustness to that effect, operating consistently until the densities are lowered by more than 70%. Then the system flips into one or other of the other cycles. That is a demonstration of response diversity, something that Brian Walker also showed for plant functional types (Walker et al 1999). In both cases there is a lumpy structure – of mass for the birds and of biophysical measures of function for the plants. That is, plants and animals echo the same structure.

Time and space scales of the boreal forest

That is all brought together in a synthesis by Peterson et al. (1998) of alternative models for diversity and ecosystem behavior. That paper exposed, for the first time, the existence of two scales for diversity processes: diversity that affects resilience within a scale and diversity that affects resilience across scales. It is based on the recognition of lumpy attributes of ecosystem properties. In that paper, we show the mechanism by which astonishing robustness occurs across scales because multiple species in a functional group (e.g. avian predators of spruce budworm) can substitute for one another in different climatic conditions and can spread their influence across scales in space because their differences in size are associated with different scales of movement. Hence there are two aspects of response diversity responses- within a scale and between scales.

Holling, C.S. 1988. Temperate Forest Insect Outbreaks, Tropical Deforestation and Migratory Birds. Mem. Ent. Soc. Can. 146: 21-32.

Peterson, G., C. R. Allen, C. S. Holling. (1998). Ecosystem Resilience, Biodiversity, and Scale. Ecosystems 1: 6-18.

Walker, B.H., Kinzig, A., and Langridge, J. 1999. Plant attribute diversity, resilience, and ecosystem function: The nature and significance of dominant and minor species. Ecosystems. 2: 1-20.

Testing Panarchy : Reflections Pt 8

The third paper of my papers that the students asked me about was:

Holling, C.S. 1992. Cross-scale morphology, geometry and dynamics of ecosystems. Ecological Monographs. 62(4):447-502.

That paper was inspired by my 1986 chapter The resilience of terrestrial ecosystems; local surprise and global change, which I reviewed earlier. I designed the paper to be a test of the basic structure proposed in the 1986 chapter. That is, that there are fast/slow dynamics and cross scale interactions occurring in a dynamic hierarchy. If so, then all ecosystems should be dominated by variables that cluster or lump around a small number of scales and frequencies. The original argument was that measurements of sets of any kind of data from an ecosystem would cluster into a small number of “lumps”. The lumps would be shaped by breaks in the speeds and spatial scales of organizing variables across the Panarchy, and by the discontinuities inherent in the non-linear adaptive cycle.

Birds in boreal landscapes

The paper examines the most easily collected data I could think of – that is of the body mass weights of mammals and birds in different boreal latitude biomes- forest, prairie and marine. The test exceeded the capacity of any traditional statistical technique but the data did show clear indications of lumpiness. Moreover the lumpiness, at some scales, was unique to the ecosystem being sampled. Although the initial hypothesis was essentially that a landscape structure created the lumps, other hypotheses (e.g. founder effect, phylogeny, trophic size concentration) were proposed and tested. Only the landscape argument, or more accurately, the hierarchical/panarchical hypothesis, held up. The rest failed.

Fascinating relationships occurred when mammal body mass lumps were compared to those of birds, suggesting very different numbers of dimensions to their search- mammals as one dimensional searchers (they search a path!), birds as three (they search a volume!). A lot more testing is needed but the speculation is fascinating and fun. The causes of size dependent home range data of herbivores and carnivores suddenly became clear and coherent. The lump categories or lump patterns emerged as a signature of the structure of each ecosystem. I tend to see these as an analogue to spectral images characterizing chemical systems.

Later work by colleagues studying other ecosystems confirmed and extended the basic idea.  Craig R. Allen has a big set of data from ecosystems around the world, all of which show the lumpy structure (Allen and Holling 2002). And his demonstration of body mass lumps in mammals, birds and reptiles of the Everglades also shows that the structure is very robust. That is, extinct species of one size are replaced by new species of similar sizes. Complex systems (as in the tropics) result in complex lump patterns (Carla Restrepo et al, 1997), lumps suddenly add a cross scale dimension to the role of biodiversity (Peterson et al. 1998), the extinction of large mammals 11,000 years ago in the new world, was actually an extinction of lumps associated with transformation of coarse scale landscape (Lambert and Holling 1998). Havlicek and Carpenter (2001) examined their marvelous data from years of data collection in their experimental lakes areas in Wisconsin, and see the same lumpy structure and demonstrate that the structure is strongly conserved. Raffaelli (Raffaelli et al. 2000) shows littoral organisms are organized in body mass lumps in an experimental set up whose manipulations show strong persistence of the lump structure.

Continue reading

Panarchy: Reflections Pt 7

panarchyThe essence of our conclusions to the Panarchy book occurred to me on a plane as I flew to a meeting with officers of a foundation that was new to me. I had to summarize, succinctly, the whole resilience project for them, and this became the way to do exactly that. There were, initially 12 conclusions- my 12 Commandments from the Resilience Mountain! But I do like those conclusions. They appear in Discoveries for Sustainable Futures Chapter 15 of the Panarchy book.

A broad, flexible and openly managed MacArthur Foundation grant made integrative work possible for that project. A marvelous group of people became the heart of the panarchy component – Buz Brock, Steve Carpenter, Carl Folke, Lance Gunderson, Don Ludwig, Lin Ostrom, Garry Peterson, Martin Scheffer, Brian Walker and Frances Westley. This is a mix that is strongly ecosystemic but also has powerful economic, social and mathematical science expertise.

One workshop was held in Zimbabwe at a moment in the nation’s history where experiments were being tried and successfully implemented that shifted from disastrous drought-sensitive cattle ranching to larger spatial scale cooperative wildlife management and tourism. Ranchers learned to remove the barriers in their minds and the fences on their land. They learned to abandon the ideas of the past because there was literally no alternative- loans and insurance were impossible to get and savings had disappeared.

During that period, the government watched and security agents stalked. Ultimately the larger scale of federal government action destroyed the imaginative regional experiments on recovery. And now the country erodes and slowly collapses. It is truly destruction, without much sign, yet, of recovering creative destruction.

In that workshop, the economists proposed a specific route to theory expansion that seemed to me to be too limiting, too much a useful stretch for economics, but insufficient for our larger theme. So I encouraged two projects to emerge: One, (the economists’) was called the theory project. It faced the difficulties presented by non-linearities in their models- an important step in itself. The second (the ecosystem/social) was therefore named the ante-theory project (or to some, caught by the humor of the situation, the “anti”- theory project).

We could have attempted a synthesis at that time. But spawning two separate activities seemed to have a greater potential for discovery. That happened, but it was with something of a sacrifice in quickly joining ecology and economics. That still requires interesting further steps in order to achieve a deep and useful synthesis that might join ecosystem science, non-linear economics and social science.

That is all part of the penalty and opportunity in cross-disciplinary investigation among brilliant, accommodating but stubborn participants. In such cases, the best for the moment often is not to solve the problem, but just separate, encourage two streams, and continue to see what develops. I think we are still in that slow, but healthy process.

I got involved on the Science Boards of the Beijer Institute and Santa Fe Institute and a bit in Beijer’s biodiversity project run by the economist Charles Perrings. Later I launched my own “Resilience Project”, with Karl-Goran Maler and Carl Folke at Beijer that led in five years to well over 100 papers written by a wide disciplinary range of participants, that were published in specialist and interdisciplinary journals. We guessed that over 300 scholars became part of the sequence of workshops

In addition, a core part of the project was the design and preparation of four books. One was the integrative Panarchy book (Gunderson and Holling, 2002) that was meant to show what we developed to test and integrate the separate theories and knowledge in ecosystem science, economics and aspects of the social sciences. The other books were designed to address separately the ecosystemic, social and economic dimensions of resilience. The ecosystem book focused on multi-stable states in large scale ecosystems – Resilience and the Behavior of Large-Scale Systems (Gunderson and Pritchard, 2002). The social one was a lovely book on governance of and institutions for social-ecological systems – Navigating Social-Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change (Berkes, Colding and Folke, 2003). The economic one concerned non-linear economics focused on renewable resource ecosystems – The Economics of Non-Convex Ecosystems (Dasgupta, P. and K.-G. Maler 2003).

Younger colleagues are now becoming the “engines” and spirit that are now taking over and driving the intellectual advances. I think in particular of Marty Anderies, Graeme Cumming, Line Gordon, Marco Janssen, Ann Kinzig, Jon Norberg, Per Olsson, and Garry Peterson. I have learned from each of them directly, and perhaps helped them, as well as from a bunch of others who are working closely with other folks who helped lead the Panarchy project.

Resilience and multi-stable states now seem to be pervading notable parts of ecosystem science and related social sciences, and even emerging in policy. Both features are affecting international policy of some nations. And I note in a bibliographic survey by Marco Janssen, that the original 1973 resilience paper has been a central reference that links vulnerability and resilience research. That is indeed pleasing since it took such a long time to happen. And it was delightful to have a major review paper on resilience – Regime shifts, resilience, and biodiversity in ecosystem management – appear in the same Annual Review series that my original paper did 31 years earlier (Folke et al 2004). Carl Folke made that happen!

Finally, among the emerging influential pieces, Martin Scheffer has a major book on the same subject in press with Princeton University. It was inspired by his own remarkable experimental demonstrations of ecosystem flips in shallow lake systems in Europe- the first experimental demonstrations of the reality of multi-stable states in ecosystems.

And Thomas Homer-Dixon’s 2006 book on political change in a turbulent world, culminates with the significance of resilience and panarchy. He names it The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization. Now that is Panarchy! It is where crisis and opportunity merge in the affairs of man. It is a book that expands the theoretical and applied relevance to the profoundly important issues underlying international, religious and economic extremism of our times.

And recently I read the new book by Frances Westley and colleagues (2006), Getting to Maybe! The title is a take-off on the well known book on negotiation techniques, “Getting To Yes”. But the work avoids the certainty of “Yes”, replacing it with the realistic, evolving reality of useful “Maybe’s”. She describes the paths achieved by ordinary people designing mutual relationships and creating imaginative organizations at local, and regional scales. She describes the way to move to engage real politics. It is a deeply revealing book based in large measure on the complexity theories of Panarchy, and the practical experience of Frances, a very wise person!

Berkes, Fikret, Johan Colding and Carl Folke , 2003. Navigating Social-Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change. Cambridge University Press.

Dasgupta, P. K.-G. Maler (editors). 2003. The Economics of Non-Convex Ecosystems. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Gunderson, Lance H. and Lowell Pritchard Jr. ( eds.) 2002.. Resilience and the Behavior of Large-Scale Systems. Scope 60, Island Press, Washington.

Holling, C. S., S.R. Carpenter, W.A. Brock, and L.H. Gunderson. 2002. Discoveries for a sustainable future. In. Gunderson, L.H and Holling, C.S (eds) (2002) Panarchy: Understanding transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press, Washington and London, Chapter 15, 395-417.

Homer-Dixon, Thomas, 2006. The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization., Knopf Canada.

Westley, Frances, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quin Patton. 2006. Getting to Maybe. Random House Canada.