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.
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.
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.
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“.
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.