Category Archives: Uncategorized

Visualizing Planetary Boundaries

Seems like Christmas comes early this year! just announced the results  of the Visualizing Marathon 2010. One of the challenges was to visualize planetary boundaries, i.e. the concept of multiple and non-linear earth system processes presented by Johan Rockström and colleagues last year.

The winner: MICA Team #3 and the project One Day Cause + Effect: A look at energy emissions and water usage over the course of one day (by Christina Beard, Christopher Clark, Chris McCampbell, Supisa Wattanasansanee). Congratulations! The other visualizations are also well worth a look – and a few clicks as many of them are interactive.

2010 Honorable Mention: SVA Team #1: Pushing the Boundaries: A Visualization of Our Footprint on Earth. Submitted by: Clint Beharry, David Bellona, Colleen Miller, Erin Moore, Tina Ye

2010 Honorable Mention: MICA Team #1: What Kind of World Do You Want?: A visualization of planetary boundaries. Submitted by: Melissa Barat, Bryan Connor, Ann Liu, Isabel Uria

What Kind of World Do You Want?

Institutional Dynamics and Emergent Patterns in Global Governance

Can regimes really be viewed as complex dynamic systems? Oran Young makes a nice effort in his latest book “Institutional Dynamics – Emergent Patterns in International Environmental Governance” (MIT Press, 2010). While the study of environmental and resource regimes certainly has a strong track record in political science and international relations, Young makes a novel and detailed analysis of what he calls “emergent patterns” – patterns of institutional change that arise over time from the dynamics of complex systems (pp. 8). Young observes, and unpacks five patterns:

Progressive development: this patterns starts with a framework convention followed shortly by one or more substantive protocols that are amended and extended to accommodate new information. Example: stratospheric ozone, and the Montreal Protocol.

Punctuated equilibrium: this pattern occur in cases where regimes encounter periodic stresses which trigger episodes of regime building and change. Example: The Antarctic Treaty System.

Arrested development: here, regimes get off to a promising start but then run into barriers or obstacles that block further development. Example: climate change and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Diversion: this pattern includes regimes that are created for one purpose, but later are redirected in a manner that runs counter to the original purpose. Example: International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Collapse: this pattern includes cases where regimes have been in operation for some time, but then encounters external or internal stresses and transforms into a “dead letter”. Example: North Pacific Sealing Convention.

Young recently published an article [PDF] for Global Environmental Change on this topic. You can also listen to an interview with him here:

Interview with Oran Young [11.40]

Homer-Dixon on Risk, Uncertainty and Crises

Think Globally Radio recently posted a number of great interviews. Here is one interesting one with political scientist, and renown author Thomas Homer-Dixon from University of Waterloo (Canada) – one of the world’s leading scholars on the intersection of environment, security and crisis.

Direct link to the interview can be found here.

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.