Learning Change

Learning Change Project: +6750 Posts in 8 Blogs

Our Panarchic Future

Holling and his colleagues call their ideas “panarchy theory“- after Pan, the ancient Greek god of nature. Together with anthropologist and historian Joseph Tainter’s ideas on complexity and social collapse, this theory helps us see our world’s tectonic stresses as part of a long-term global process of change and adaptation. It also illustrates the way catastrophe caused by such stresses could produce a surge of creativity leading to the renewal of our global civilization. Panarchy theory had its origins in Holling’s meticulous observation of the ecology of forests. He noticed that healthy forests all have an adaptive cycle of growth, collapse, regeneration, and again growth. During the early part of the cycle’s growth phase, the number of species and of individual plants and animals quickly increases, as organisms arrive to exploit all available ecological niches. The total biomass of these plants and animals grows, as does their accumulated residue of decay – for instance, the forest’s trees get bigger, and as these trees and other plants and animals die, they rot to form an ever-thickening layer of humus in the soil.  Also, the flows of energy, materials, and genetic information between the forest’s organisms become steadily more numerous and complex. If we think of the ecosystem as a network, both the number of nodes in the network and the density of links between the nodes rise.

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Read also: The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization

Written by learningchange

October 24, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Panarchy: Discontinuities Reveal Similarities in the Dynamic System Structure of Ecological and Social Systems

In this paper, we review the empirical evidence of discontinuous distributions in complex systems within the context of panarchy theory and discuss the significance of discontinuities for understanding emergent properties such as resilience. Over specific spatial-temporal scale ranges, complex systems can configure in a variety of regimes, each defined by a characteristic set of self-organized structures and processes. A system may remain within a regime or dramatically shift to another regime. Understanding the drivers of regime shifts has provided critical insight into system structure and resilience. Although analyses of regime shifts have tended to focus on the system level, new evidence suggests that the same system behaviors operate within scales. In essence, complex systems exhibit multiple dynamic regimes nested within the larger system, each of which operates at a particular scale. Discrete size classes observed in variables in complex systems are evidence of these multiple regimes within complex systems, and the discontinuities between size classes indicate changes in scale.

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Written by learningchange

October 24, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Poor Transitions – Social Exclusion and Young Adults

This study set out to explore what had become of young people living in the poorest neighbourhoods of the poorest town in Britain, several years after we first contacted them. As they moved into young adulthood, had their longer-term experiences of disadvantage changed or stayed the same? While individuals reported feeling considerable subjective change in their lives, because of key turning points and critical moments (especially in respect of family and housing, and among offenders and dependent drug users), their objective circumstances had remained constant and their experiences of poverty persisted. Despite continued commitment to finding and getting better work, most were still experiencing poor, low-waged, intermittent work at the bottom of the labour market. After obtaining poor school qualifications, further poor quality training and education had not improved their employment prospects. This lack of progression had ramifications in other aspects of their lives, resulting in social exclusion. Few had established ties into networks beyond their close personal associations. Their social networks had become smaller in scope, more focused on immediate family and friends and even more embedded in their immediate neighbourhoods. This further restricted wider support and longer-term education, training and employment opportunities.

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Written by learningchange

October 24, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Climate Protection as a World Citizen Movement

Protection of Earth system services is essential for sustainable development. This is why a paradigm shift is needed in society and the economy. It is thus up to all actors – from individuals to businesses to nation states – to assume  responsibility. The WBGU uses both local and global examples to portray the range of instruments and initiatives, social movements, clubs and alliances with which attempts at climate protection are already being made. This is where the horizontal dimension of a responsibility architecture is forming, in which global civil society is taking on responsibility itself and supplementing the vertical delegation of responsibility to climate diplomacy. In this context, different initiatives can mutually reinforce each other and extend their impact to different actor levels. This world citizen movement increases the legitimation pressure on state actors in the international negotiation system and extends societies’ horizon of values and standards. This strengthens the democratically legitimized mandate of states for tasks that only they can take on: (1) promoting pioneers of climate protection, (2) translating self-commitments based on the Paris Protocol into concrete decarbonization roadmaps and monitoring their implementation, (3) honouring funding pledges and supporting global technology development. This ensures that arrangements agreed at the global level are implemented at the national and local levels. Climate protection is a task for the whole of humankind and must be perceived and tackled as such. International climate policy and civil-society initiatives are not opposed to each other; rather, they can powerfully complement each other. A world citizen movement can show that climate protection in and with society can work and even generate economic benefits. This is the form of interaction in which global climate protection can and must succeed.

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World in Transition – A Social Contract for Sustainability

Adding together all of the challenges involved in the transformation for sustainability to come, it becomes clear that the upcoming changes go far beyond technological and technocratic reforms: the business of society must be founded on a new ‘business basis’. This is, in fact, all about a new global social contract for a low-carbon and sustainable global economic system. It is based on the central concept that individuals and civil societies, states and the global community of states, as well as the economy and science, carry the joint responsibility for the avoidance of dangerous climate change, and the aversion of other threats to humankind as part of the Earth system. The social contract consolidates a culture of attentiveness (born of a sense of ecological responsibility), a culture of participation (as a democratic responsibility), and a culture of obligation towards future generations (future responsibility). One key element of such a social contract is the ‘proactive state’, a state that actively sets priorities for the transformation, at the same time increasing the number of ways in which its citizens can participate, and offering the economy choices when it comes to acting with sustainability in mind. The social contract also encompasses new forms of global political will formation and cooperation.

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Written by learningchange

October 24, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems

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Creating institutions to meet the challenge of sustainability is arguably the most important task confronting society; it is also dauntingly complex. Ecological, economic, and social elements all play a role, but despite ongoing efforts, researchers have yet to succeed in integrating the various disciplines in a way that gives adequate representation to the insights of each. Panarchy, a term devised to describe evolving hierarchical systems with multiple interrelated elements, offers an important new framework for understanding and resolving this dilemma. Panarchy is the structure in which systems, including those of nature and of humans, as well as combined human-natural systems, are interlinked in continual adaptive cycles of growth, accumulation, restructuring, and renewal. These transformational cycles take place at scales ranging from a drop of water to the biosphere, over periods from days to geologic epochs. By understanding these cycles and their scales, researchers can identify the points at which a system is capable of accepting positive change, and can use those leverage points to foster resilience and sustainability within the system. This volume brings together leading thinkers on the subject to develop and examine the concept of panarchy and to consider how it can be applied to human, natural, and human-natural systems. Throughout, contributors seek to identify adaptive approaches to management that recognize uncertainty and encourage innovation while fostering resilience. It will be an invaluable source of ideas and understanding for students, researchers, and professionals involved with ecology, conservation biology, ecological economics, environmental policy, or related fields.

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Written by learningchange

October 24, 2014 at 11:30 am

Global Environmental Governance, Technology and Politics: The Anthropocene Gap

We live on an increasingly human-dominated planet. Our impact on the Earth has become so huge that researchers now suggest that it merits its own geological epoch – the ‘Anthropocene‘ – the age of humans. Combining theory development and case studies of  Anthropocene‘, emerging infectious diseases, financial markets and geoengineering, this groundbreaking book explores the ‘Anthropocene Gap‘ otherwise known as society’s current failure to address the most profound environmental challenges of our times. What are the political and institutional implications of this new epoch? And what are some novel ways to analyse the complicated interplay between institutions, Earth system complexity and technology? This book offers one of the first explorations of political and institutional dimensions of the Anthropocene concept by providing a novel combination of institutional analysis along with insights from Earth system sciences. It provides an exploration of the role of technology for global environmental governance and defines a new agenda for political science analysis in the Anthropocene. Offering the first summary of the planetary boundaries debate, this cutting edge book will be of great interest to researchers concerned in the interplay between politics, technology, and global environmental change, and those interested in the debate surrounding the Anthropocene and “planetary boundaries“.

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Written by learningchange

October 23, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Human Progress within Planetary Boundaries

The year 2015 has special importance for the transformation towards sustainable development. New Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are then supposed to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The aim is to offer a new orientation for political action in the coming decades. The WBGU recommends orienting the new catalogue of goals towards the key message of the 1992 Earth Summit: that development and environmental protection must be considered together and do not contradict each other. The SDGs should not be reduced to poverty eradication, but must address all dimensions of sustainable development. In particular, global environmental change must be incorporated, otherwise even poverty eradication will become impossible. Up to now, too little attention has been paid to this link in the ongoing discourse on SDGs. Although many reports mention the concept of planetary guard rails or planetary boundaries, they do not back this up with specific targets. The WBGU presents recommendations on how planetary boundaries for global environmental problems should be incorporated in the SDG catalogue and operationalized by means of corresponding targets.

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