The Politics of Cascading Ecological Crises

Twitter | @vgalaz  

How do we make sense of ecological crises that cascade across spatial scales and that propagate from ecological to social and economical systems? Considering a number of recent crises events with clear ecological dimensions – ranging from the 2008 food crisis (video below) to the spread of plant disease Ug99 in East Africa and parts of the Middle East – there is actually quite little research on the sociopolitical dimensions of ecological crises events.

During 2008-2009, we organized several small workshops with political science and media scholars from the Swedish National Center for Crisis Management Research and Training (CRISMART). Our ambition was to bring together insights from the crisis management research community, and insights from resilience theory, especially the notion of “tipping points” and ecological surprise.

The results of our work have just been published in the journal Public Administration in an article entitled “Institutional and Political Leadership Dimensions of Cascading Ecological Crises”. Here we elaborate a range of difficult political challenges that emerge though different phases of a complex crisis: early warning, sense making, response and post-crisis learning. As we elaborate, even though there are several examples of successful governance of ecological stresses and crises, cascading ecological crises are:

• notoriously hard to detect in advance due to their underlying complexities,
and poor monitoring systems.
• challenge the decision-making and coordinating capacities of actors at multiple
levels of societal organization due to their cascading and recombining capacities.
• are prone to blame games, which hinder post-crisis learning and reform.

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