Category Archives: Uncategorized

Should Political Science Be Relevant?

This article might be of interest for all political scientists doing sustainability research. After decades of being dominated by quantitative models and theory-driven research, a panel of prominent scholars at the American Political Science Association (APSA) annual meeting, discussed whether  political science at all, was relevant for policy-makers trying to solve real-world problems. The Inside Higher Ed reports:

Gerry Stoker shared “a wicked thought” […]. What if he called as many senior figures in political science as he could reach and asked them “if they had ever said anything relevant in their entire careers”?


[…] Stoker also said that the discipline doesn’t reward relevance. A young scholar is more likely to be promoted for “the novelty of methodological contribution” than for “research that actually has an impact.”

The panel included very interesting interventions from prominent political scientists Sven Steinmo (University of Colorado at Boulder), Bo Rothstein (Göteborg Universty, Sweden) and Elinor Ostrom (Indiana University/Arizona State University). Prof. Bo Rothstein provided an interesting  observation:

Rothstein, […], said that maybe the problem to discuss isn’t whether political science is relevant, but whether American political science is relevant.

“If you want to be relevant as a discipline,” he said, “you have to recruit people who want to be relevant.” And in this respect, he said, American political science departments are not doing well.

Read the full article here.

Conference on Environmental Governance and Democracy “Strengthening Institutions to Address Climate Change and Advance a Green Economy”

17-09-2010 - 19-09-2010 New Haven, United States of America

The 2nd UNITAR-Yale Conference on Environmental Governance and Democracy: Strengthening Institutions to Address Climate Change and Advance a Green Economy, 17-19 September 2010, Yale University is the second event in a Conference series on the interface of democracy and environment organized by UNITAR and Yale University. About 150 scholars and policy-makers from countries and organizations around the world will take stock of, and examine the role of institutional structures and decision-making procedures in fostering (or impeding) low carbon and climate resilient development and advancing a green economy. For more information, see here.

The “Ctrl+Alt+Del” of Global Change Sciences

This is one of those important things that seldom make the headlines. While climate change science has received considerable public attention, especially since the controversies around the IPCC scientific assessments, another fact is seldom, if ever, acknowledged – that  a number of international global change programmes are reorganizing to better match the increasing need for policy-relevant, integrated sustainability science.

The Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) as an example, has been reorganizing its work the last years, to better integrate the natural and social sciences and acknowledge the non-linear features of global change. This integration is to be developed by a range of ESSP associated research programmes and projects, including (prepare for an alphabet soup….) DIVERSITAS, IGBP, IHDP, WCRP,GCP, GECAFS, GWSP , GECHH, START and MAIRS. This paper lays out the thinking behind the ongoing reorganization.

One important change under the ESSP, and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, is the reorganization of the previous programme Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (IDGEC, lead by the international institutions legend Oran Young), into a new initiative: the Earth System Governance Project (ESG). The ESG, lead by Frank Biermann in Amsterdam, aims to study the role of multilevel governance, institutions and actor-networks in dealing with global environmental change, and includes several international research centres.

In addition, the International Council for Science (ICSU), in partnership with UNESCO and the United Nations University, is launching a new international initiative based on the insights and framework provided by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS). PECS ambition is to address the following question: ‘how do policies and practices affect resilience of the portfolio of ecosystem services that support human well-being and allow for adaptation to a changing environment?’. PECS will provide scientific knowledge to the newly launched “IPCC-like” Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). An article published in PNAS in 2009, lays out the thinking behind the PECS programme.

So, if you ever get the question “where are the scientists that will help save the world”, the answer is easy: it’s ESSP, PECS, DIVERSITAS, ICSU, IPBES, ESG, IHDP, IGBP, WCRP,GCP, GECAFS, ….

Transparency in Global Environmental Governance

Those interested in issues related to transparency and accountability in global environmental governance, should have a look at the latest special issue of Global Environmental Politics. Contributors include Aarti Gupta, Michael Mason, Klaus Dingwerth, Margot Eichinger and others. For a full list of contents, see here.

7 Amazing Visualizations We Would Like to See for Sustainability Science

So, what are we supposed to do with all these loads of information and data available nowadays? As The Economist reported a couple of months ago, the world is practically drowning in data from sensors, computers, research labs, cameras, phones etc. One way to approach this issue,  is the development of web-crawling computers able to plough through massive amounts of scientific data and search for logical relations, as recently reported in Science.

Another, and maybe more realistic use, is visualization. As has shown over the years, visualizations are fantastic for not only science communication, but also as a way to enhance our understanding of complex systems and their dynamics.

Here is a compilation of stunning visualizations we would like to see for sustainability science. Some of them are simple, others are quite sophisticated. Be inspired, and feel free to add your own suggestions to the list in the comments field!

#1. The known universe

#2. Sync/Lost

A multi-user installation for immersion in the history of electronic music. From a complex timeline, rhythms and sub-rhythms merge to create new sounds. Link with video here.

#3. State of the Internet 2009

#4. The Afghan Conflict

#5. The Luxury of Protest

Continue reading

New Initiative – ASU Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems

by Michael Schoon, Arizona State University
On April 21st, Arizona State University officially launched a new initiative – the Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems.  The consortium attempts to advance a new area of science by approaching research and education through a complex systems perspective.  The primary work of the Consortium emerges from three member centers:  the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, and the Mathematical, Computational, and Modeling Sciences Center.
The Consortium and ASU’s Center for Global Health are the first tangible outputs of ASU’s Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative.  The Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative (CASI) is a collaborative effort to leverage trans-disciplinary relationships to address complex global challenges in health, sustainability, security and education by creation of entirely new technologies and novel solutions. This requires integration of diverse research disciplines across the University and building an extended network of global collaborations.
Over the coming months, CASI will help form additional trans-disciplinary research groups to better bridge across disciplinary barriers within ASU.  Beyond campus, the Initiative is creating linkages between institutional research partners around the globe, including CSIRO for Sustainable Ecosystems, Indiana University’s Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and the University of Barcelona Adaptive Behavior and Interaction Group, among others.  For a full listing of partner organizations, click here.

Volcano and other global environmental change surprises

Volcano eruption is certainly one, but which are other possible global surprises? In 1994, the Aspen Global Change Institute organized a two week workshop on global environmental surprise. The results form this workshop can be found in Stephen H. Schneider and colleagues 1998 article “Imaginable surprise in global change science” (Journal of Risk Research, 1(2)). By “imaginable surprise”, they mean

The event, process, or outcome departs from the expectations of the observing community or those affected by the event or process. Seen from this point of view, surprise abou t one or another aspect of climate change is an after-the-fact reaction to an observation or new scientiŽfic fiŽnding that, in some sense, lies outside our range of expectations.

In the list of 40+ types of surprises, you find not only volcano eruption, but also, just to mention a few:

  • A reduction in ‘conveyor belt’ oceanic overturning leading to cooling at high latitudes occurs, despite general (but slower) global warming.
  • Heat stored in the ocean at intermediate depths is released to the atmosphere, leading to rapid warming.
  • Dimethyl sulŽfide emissions decline with reduced sea ice, causing cloud brightness to decrease and warming to accelerate.
  • Dimethyl sulŽfide emissions change with sea-surface temperature change.
  • Synergism of habitat fragmentation, artiŽficial chemicals, introduction of exotic species and anthropogenic climate change affect ecosystems in unforeseen ways that reduce biodiversity.
  • Geo-engineering is practised intermittently by only a few nations causing international political conflicts and greater environmental instability.

Don’t say you weren’t warned….

Global Governance and Planetary Boundaries

by Victor Galaz (

The Stockholm Resilience Centre hosted a small scientific meeting in mid-March entitled “Planetary Boundaries, Multiple Global Crises, and Global Governance”. This meeting was the first governance follow up of two recent publications dealing with the possibilities of global scale, rapid and interacting global environmental crises previously featured in this blog [here and here].

A number of internationally renowned scholars contributed to this meeting, and you can meet many of them in these short videos produced by the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Meet Frank Biermann (IVM, Netherlands) as he explores the challenges posed to global environmental governance; Derk Loorbach (DRIFT, Erasmus University, Netherlands) as he elaborates on the role of transition management for understanding resilience; Karin Bäckstrand (Lund University, Sweden) as she discusses the link between democracy and global environmental governance; and Jeremy Allouche (IDS, UK) as he explores the link between environmental scarcity and conflict.

Derk Loorbach

Jeremy Allouche

Karin Bäckstrand

Frank Biermann (external link)

Stuart Kauffman on Innovation in Complex Systems

Another great lecture online from our friends at the Waterloo Institute for Innovation and Complexity – University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada). In this talk, Stuart Kauffman, one of the founders of the field of complex systems, explains the principles which he proposes underlie innovation and economic growth. He illustrates these principles with real world examples from his experience in industry and the academe. Yuu can also find an interview with S. Kauffman on the same topic, in the Scientific American here.

Speaker Profile

Stuart A. Kauffman is a professor at the University of Calgary with a shared appointment between biological sciences, physics, and astronomy. He is also the leader of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics (IBI) which conducts leading-edge interdisciplinary research in systems biology. Thirty-five years ago, he developed the Kauffman models, which are random networks exhibiting a kind of self-organization that he terms “order for free.” He is the author of The Origins of Order, At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization, Investigations and Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion.

Conference “Tentative Governance in Emerging Science and Technology”

via Emily Boyd
International Conference “Tentative Governance in Emerging Science and Technology – Actor Constellations, Institutional Arrangements & Strategies”
Call for abstracts: The deadline for abstract submissions has been extended to March 24, 2010.
October 28-29, 2010, University of Twente, The Netherlands.
The conference is organized by the Institute of Innovation and Governance Studies (IGS) of the University of Twente. Internationally, the conference will be run as a key event of the European Forum for ‘Studies into Policies for Research and Innovation’ (Eu-SPRI Forum; succeeding the PRIME Network of Excellence).

For emerging science and technology (EST) governance becomes tentative when it is designed as a dynamic process to manage interdependencies and contingencies. Tentative governance aims at creating spaces of openness, probing and learning instead of trying to limit options for actors, institutions and processes. It answers political and organizational complexities with explorative strategies, instead of relying only on orthodox or preservative means. Tentative governance is a particularly pertinent issue for EST such as nanotechnology, life sciences, genomics and other emerging fields of innovations with the potential to radically transform domains and sectors,. These fields are subject to a broad array of inherent uncertainties related to technological shape, configurations and applications and the resulting societal benefits and risks. At the same time, actor constellations and practices related to knowledge production, innovation and societal appropriation are in the process of emerging and largely differ from established technologies. This poses specific challenges to the governance of these fields, which has to address ill-defined and sometimes ‘moving targets’. Simultaneously, promises and expectations abound. Many actors from government, academia, industry, and civil society expect that EST will constitute “key technologies of the future” and that some may even lead to a “next industrial revolution”. Thus, developing appropriate governance modes seems all the more important. However, modes of governance are usually attuned to established technologies. Innovative modes of governance under headings such as ‘reflexive governance’, ‘transition management’, ‘Constructive Technology Assessment’, ‘Ethical, Legal and Societal Issues (ELSI) Studies’, or ‘Real-Time Technology Assessment’ are only now emerging. What we are seeing, in other words, is a co-evolutionary growth of innovative modes of governance and constellations, practices and technologies in EST. Hence, it can be argued that governance modes, be they regulatory approaches, institutional arrangements or modes of coordination among various actor constellations turn out – and probably even need – to be tentative in order to respond to the uncertainties and to be prepared for further dynamics. We assume that tentative governance is neither a particularly desirable or worrisome approach, but rather an empirical phenomenon. The aim of the conference is to identify and elaborate the specific governance challenges of EST and to discuss ways of responding to them. Papers may address these issues conceptually or empirically for EST in general or for a specific innovation. We invite interdisciplinary contributions from policy and regulatory governance studies, legal studies, higher education studies, science and technology studies, technology assessment and innovation studies.
More info about paper submission, sessions etc, here.