Category Archives: Reorganization

Re-Orient: world economic production over five centuries

Regional share of world economy over last five centuries

Regional Share of World Economy

Share of the total world economy represented by different regions. W Eur, NA, AusNZ= Western Europe, North Americam, Australia and New Zeland. E Eur + FSU = Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union. Data from Angus Maddison 2005 Measuring and Interpreting World Economic Performance 1500-2001. Review of Income and Wealth, 51:1-35.

Graph shows how the recent centrality of Western Europe and North America to the world economy appears to represent a temporary break in Asian centrality in the world economy. The centrality’s of the West in the world economy began in about 1850 and appears likely to end soon.

Andre Gunder Frank, who died in early 2005, discussed this idea in his 1998 book Re:Orient: Global Economy in the Asian Age.

Asia’s coastal restoration has on article –The right way to rebuild Asia’s coastal barrier – on plans by tsunami impacted countries to restore coastal ecosystems. It discusses how plans need to consider the economic values of the ecosystem services produced by mangroves as well as the need to design ecologically appropriate mangrove governance strategies.

Now, governments in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand all want to restore what nature once provided for free: they plan to spend millions of dollars replanting thousands of hectares of mangrove forest.

Scientists applaud the ‘greening’ agenda but warn that to succeed, replanting strategies must include workforce training and supervision, maintenance of seedlings, and increased public awareness about coastal land use. Some economists add that we need a better understanding of the relationship between these endangered ecosystems and the communities that rely on them.

“Reforestation is unlikely to succeed in the long term because the underlying policies haven’t changed,” says Edward Barbier, an environmental economist at the University of Wyoming, United States, who has done extensive research on Thailand’s mangroves. Barbier is not surprised that Thailand suffered such extreme damage; since 1961, more than half its mangroves have been removed.

Replanting is critical to restoring ecosystems, he says, but trees alone cannot create the long-term stability needed for sustainable economic growth.

Mangroves tend to be undervalued in economic calculations, which only include the benefits of developing them (such as woodchips or farmed shrimp). This makes it easy for governments to gamble on ‘developing’ the forests. The tsunami clearly raised the stakes — and strengthened the case for protection that ecologists and economists have been making for years.

Previous posts on the tsunami and coastal resilience are: Coral Reefs & Tsunami, Building resilience to deal with disasters, and After the Tsunami.

Stewart Brand on How Cities Learn

On WorldChanging Chris Coldeway discusses a recent talk by Stewart Brand on how cities learn. In 1994, he wrote the excellent book How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built:

The redoubtable Stewart Brand gave a talk at GBN last night on global urbanization, expanding the “City Planet” material he first outlined at a Long Now talk and [WorldChanging] covered in detail. As we stand in 2006 at a point where the world’s population tips from mostly rural to mostly urban, Stewart considers this a good time to ruminate on the nature of cities and the causes and implications of a rapidly urbanizing world.

In typical Brand form, the talk swept from the beginnings of civilization — with a view of one of the oldest continuously occupied areas and discussion of how Jerusalem has been sacked or taken over 36 times — to the future of the world, with a look at the largest megacities of 2015. While the largest cities one hundred years ago were primarily in the US and Europe, these 21st century megacities are profoundly global. With cities such as Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and Karachi dominating the list, Stewart noted the similarity to another era of international cities — 1000 AD.

In asking himself how cities “learn” over time in the way that buildings do, Stewart found that while cities do learn, they also teach: they teach civilization how to be civilized. He discussed Levittown as a counterintuitive example, with its lenient do-it-yourself home customization policies actually facilitating the development of community. Squatter cities in the developing world were another example, with the view that squatter cities are what a population getting out of poverty ASAP looks like: self-constructed, and self-organizing, and vibrant.

Stewart sees cities playing out the same patterns of “pace layering” that he sees in civilization overall. Nature changes the slowest, with culture, governance, infrastructure, commerce, and fashion as progressively faster changing “layers.” Cities specialize in acceleration, in the faster cycles of commerce and fashion, but must balance those with the slower layers at the risk of collapse.

I previously mentioned Stewart Brand on cities in Feb and Sept 2005.

The Greening of Sahel: Passive recovery or active adaptation?

The drought years in the Sahel in the early 1970’s that resulted in a large-scale famine gave rise to scientific and policy discussions about land degradation and desertification. A popular belief was that the limited resource base in the Sahel, with vulnerable soils and highly variable and scarce rainfall could not sustain the growing population. The droughts was seen as a stress to a system which was already struggling with a rapidly decreasing resource base (e.g. deforestation of woodlands for agricultural expansion, shortening of fallow times, and soil nutrient depletion) and bad land management practices leading to increased poverty and out-migration.

Sahel Greening.  Overall trends in vegetation greenness throughout the period 1982–2003 based on monthly AVHRR NDVI time series. Percentages express changes in average NDVI between 1982 and 2003. From Hermann et al 2005

New analysis of satellite data, by among others Olsson et al., illustrating a greening trend in the Sahel since 1983 thus comes as a surprise for many people. It has also triggered a scientific discussion of whether this greening is merely a recovery of vegetation due to increasing rainfall, or if this trend at least partially can be explained by widespread changes in land management by farmers in the region. Hutchins et al., in the introduction to a recent special issue of Journal of Arid Environments, suggests that there is increasing evidence that farmers have adapted to the changes during the droughts and made a transition from degrading land use trajectories to more sustainable and productive production systems, suggesting that the recovery in many places actually is an active adaptation by the farmers in the region.

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New Orleans & Disaster Sociology

new orleans residents on roof waving at helicopter

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article by David Glennn on Sociology and Hurricane Katrina Disaster Sociologists Study What Went Wrong in the Response to the Hurricanes, but Will Policy Makers Listen?

The article discusses what disaster sociology has to say about the disaster in New Orleans. The article makes a number of good points about panic, command and control, and managing uncertainty.

The article starts up with a discussion of the panic myth:

One of the central tenets of disaster sociology is that most communities can, to a large degree, spontaneously heal themselves. People affected by disaster obviously often need resources from the outside world — food, water, shelter. But that does not mean that disaster victims also need outside direction and coordination, most scholars in the field say.

A prime example of spontaneous cooperation was the extraordinarily successful evacuation of Lower Manhattan during the September 11 attacks. James M. Kendra, an assistant professor of emergency administration and planning at the University of North Texas, estimates that nearly half a million people fled Manhattan on boats — and he emphasizes that the waterborne evacuation was a self-organized volunteer process that could probably never have been planned on a government official’s clipboard.

“Various kinds of private companies, dinner-cruise boats, people with their own personal watercraft, the Coast Guard, the harbor pilots — in very short order, they managed to organize this evacuation,” Mr. Kendra said.

The evacuation in New Orleans, of course, was not so smooth. Disaster sociologists say that they are eager to determine how much chaos and looting actually occurred there, and how much was conjured through rumor and news-media exaggeration.

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New New Orleans Pt 2 – Issues, Leverage Points, Scenarios


On Sept 2 I posted about an article Dreaming a New New Orleans.

In another post on WorldChanging Alan AtKisson follows up in A New New Orleans – Issues, Leverage Points, Scenarios

From A New New Orleans – Issues, Leverage Points, Scenarios:

Another tool for producing best-possible outcomes is scenario planning: imagining several likely future-history pathways, starting from present conditions. In a short brainstorming session, at an international conference on regional sustainability held in central Hungary, an informal workshop group produced several possible scenarios for what New Orleans could become. Three of these scenarios are named after the Dutch cities they most resemble — appropriate, given the city’s position at the end of a major river, under sea level — and they roughly correspond with some scenarios floated by other US commentators (which I had heard about largely through conversation with a BusinessWeek editor reporting on the story).

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Dreaming a New New Orleans


On the Sustainability weblog WorldChanging, Alan AtKisson writes about rebuilding New Orleans –Dreaming A New New Orleans, Version 1.

He sees the possibility of a future New Orleans that combines elements of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Scenarios TechnoGarden and Global Orchestration, by using technological innovation to ‘green’ the city, ecological engineering to produce a safe livable city , and poverty alleviation to produce a fair and open city. He envisons how these things can combine to noursh a vibrant distinctive creative city.

AtKisson writes based upon his experience with a regional vitalization process in New Orleans:

What follows are very preliminary thoughts on principles for eventually creating a “New New Orleans,” one that is more environmentally secure, more economically successful, and more socially healthy and equitable, while retaining the culture that made it world famous. As the news reports continue to create a picture of the city’s horrible descent into hell, such an exercise feels a bit foolhardy; but there is so much dreaming to be done, to restore this great and wondrous city, that the dreaming must begin now.

Beginning in 2001, my firm was engaged by a consortium of regional leaders in New Orleans to help them design and launch an ambitious regional initiative, called Top 10 by 2010. … this extraordinary group worked together for a year and a half to craft a new foundation for regional progress. It was just in the process of re-forming and assessing progress so far when Katrina struck.

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Response Diversity: Concept is being used

The 2003 paper Response diversity, ecosystem change, and resilience in Frontiers in Ecology by Thomas Elmqvist, Carl Folke, Magnus Nyström, Garry Peterson, Jan Bengtsson, Brian Walker and Jon Norberg has been identified by ISI as a Fast breaking paper for August 2005.

The paper introduces the concept of response diversity – the diversity of responses to environmental change among species contributing to the same ecosystem function. Response diversity is particularly important for ecosystem renewal and reorganization following change.

Thomas Elmqvist answers some questions from ISI about the paper on ISI’s site.

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