Tag Archives: geography

Resilience Alliance & the Integration of Social and Natural Science in Global Change Research

In a new paper Evolution of natural and social science interactions in global change research programs in PNAS (doi:10.1073/pnas.1107484110), Harold A. Mooney, Anantha Duraiappah, & Anne Larigauderie look back on the history of the integration of Social and Natural Science in global change research and relate this history, the barriers overcome, and the lessons learned to the development of the new global research programme on sustainability science – Future Earth.

The paper places the Beijer Intitute of Ecological Economics efforts build communication between ecologists and economists as very import.  They write:

Much of the mistrust between the ecologists and economists was minimized, because cooperation between these groups was increased through a series of workshops organized by the Beijer Institute of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences under the leadership of Karl-Göran Mäler in 1993 on the Swedish island of Askö. Many seminal papers on the interface between the environment and economics were crafted at these meetings.

The also value the role of the Resilience Alliance, which was also highly connected to the Beijer Institute:

A somewhat parallel approach to sustainability science to integrating social and natural sciences is embodied in the Resilience Alliance that was established in 1999 (http://www.resalliance. org/). This alliance is a network of scientists and institutions that uses a conceptual framework that was first articulated by C. S. Holling in 1986 (42) and updated in 2001 (43). This frame- work is built on the nature of hierarchies and cyclic properties of both ecosystems and social–ecological systems and their adaptive nature. Concrete examples of resilience approaches for sustaining ecosystems and societies in the face of change were clearly articulated in a book published in 2006 by Walker and Salt (44), and the basic principles were described in a textbook by Chapin et al. (45) in 2009. An important component of this framework is developing resilience in systems to avoid crossing over irreversible thresholds (regime shifts) that move systems into a less favorable state for society. Thus, the resilience approach is an important approach to sustainability and has the same goal as sustainability science, but it is built on an overarching theory that sustainability science per se lacks.

The also place a high importance of the contribution of Elinor Ostrom whom, they write:

What About Progress at the International Science Program Level Within Social Sciences?
One of the important contributions from the IHDP community over the past 10 y has been on environmental governance. The first thrust began with the work by Elinor Ostrom and col- leagues under the LUCC. The governance of the commons and the role of local communities in overseeing the use of local resources in contrast to government regulations and private market instruments were a central contribution by the IHDP community over these years. Following the governance of land resources, Oran Young and others began a 10-y study on global governance, bridging the local to global spectrum.

The paper also discusses the key role of geographers and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in the integration of social and natural sciences, and assesses the post-normal, transdisciplinary research terrain that Future Earth must navigate.

Now the sustainability science community needs build on this success, but also better connect with communities of engineers, architects, planners, and designers so we can all figure out how to actually build a “Good” Anthropocene – or a future that is a good place for us all to live.

Global history: Ian Morris and the Great Divergence

Two of the big questions of global history are why did the industrial revolution happen, and why did it happen in NW Europe?

I’ve been partial to the explanation offered by historian Kenneth Pomeranz in his 2000 book The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (here’s Cosma Shalizi’s review) that China and Europe were quite similar and industrial revolution in Europe is largely explained by the accidental discovery and then imperial conquest of new world by Europeans.

Stanford archaeologist and historian Ian Morris has a new popular world history book, Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future, that similarly proposes that geography has been the main factor shaping history. He takes a longer view and argues that the aspects of geography matter depend on social development.

In the videos below he outlines the thesis of his book in a short publicity interview from Stanford and a longer lecture at the RSA . (Here’s a review from the Economist).


In response to comments.  Morris is concerned about fossil fuels and environmental degradation. Here is a quote from a review of his book by Orville Schell in New York Times:

Finally, Morris surprises us. … what really concerns him, it turns out, is not whether the West may be bested by the East, but whether mankind’s Promethean collective developmental abilities may not end up being our common undoing.

The competition that East and West have been pursuing for so long, Morris warns, is about to be disrupted by some powerful forces. Nuclear proliferation, population growth, global epidemics and climate change are in the process of radically altering old historical patterns. “We are approaching the greatest discontinuity in history,” he says.

… Morris counsels that we now need to concentrate not on the old competition between East and West, but on a choice. We must decide between what Morris, borrowing from the writer Ray Kurzweil, terms “the Singularity,” salvation through the expansion of our collective technological abilities, and “Nightfall,” an apocalypse from the old Five Horsemen aided by their new accomplices. He warns that this choice offers “no silver medal.” One alternative “will win and one will lose.” We are, he insists, “approaching a new hard ceiling” and are facing a completely new kind of collective historical turning point.

For the Singularity to win out, “everything has to go right,” Morris says. “For Nightfall to win only one thing needs to go wrong. The odds look bad.”

Because distinctions of geography are becoming increasingly irrelevant, Morris views the old saw that “East is East and West is West” as a catastrophic way of looking at our present situation. Like it or not, East and West are now in a common mess, and “the next 40 years will be the most important in history.”

An international workshop on Social-Ecological Resilience of Cultural Landscapes

A workshop on resilience and cultural landscapes is going to be held in Berlin, Germany from 15 to 16 June 2010.  It is currently calling for papers (see below).  The workshop is described in a downloadable pdf.

It states:

The workshop aims to provide an interdisciplinary forum for about 20 PhD students, post-docs, and senior researchers from all fields of landscape research, including geography, landscape ecology, institutional economics, rural sociology, agricultural and forest sciences, and land change science.

Drawing on case studies provided by participants, the workshop aims at creating, respectively enhancing, theoretical insights into the social-ecological resilience of cultural landscapes through coming to terms with – and challenging – existing concepts of “driving forces”, “thresholds”, “adaptive cycles” and “adaptive management”. We expect that an improved understanding of these issues will facilitate the fostering and advancement of future research on the resilience and sustainable management of cultural landscapes.

The basis of the workshop, and starting point for extensive discussion sessions, will be empirical studies focusing on cultural landscapes as social-ecological systems. We are especially looking forward to contributions linking ecological analysis with insights into the social processes tied to changing cultural landscapes.

Specifically, we call for papers that:

  • analyze drivers at different temporal and spatial scales for determining the state of cultural landscapes;
  • identify thresholds and regime shifts that result from crossing these thresholds;
  • examine ways to enhance the resilience of cultural landscapes so as to avoid shifts towards undesired structural or functional states;
  • discuss the contributions that the adaptive cycle provides for the understanding of cultural landscape dynamics;
  • specify adaptive management strategies for the restoration of natural and social capital in traditional or “novel“ cultural landscapes;
  • contrast the “social-ecological systems” perspective with the “cultural landscape” concept.

The outcome of the workshop is to be published either in an edited book or in a special issue of a relevant journal. The geographic focus of the workshop will be on Europe, but reference to other cultural landscapes of the world is also welcome

Please send an abstract (ca. 300 words) to Claudia Bieling or Tobias Plieninger by 28 February 2010. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by 14 March 2010. Final papers are due by 30 May 2010.

Costs of participation in the seminar will be covered. Participants are expected to bear expenses for transportation and accommodation themselves. To a limited extent, we can additionally provide travel support to people who would be unable to attend the workshop otherwise. If applicable, send your request for financial assistance together with your abstract.

The workshop will include keynote presentations by:

  • Mauro Agnoletti, University of Florence (Italy)
  • Carole Crumley, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA) / Stockholm Resilience
  • Centre (Sweden)
  • Lesley Head, University of Wollongong (Australia)
  • Ann Kinzig, Arizona State University (USA)
  • Mats Widgren, Stockholm University (Sweden)