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.
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.
The Earth System Governance Project will convene a special panel on Adaptiveness in Earth System Governance at the Resilience Conference 2011. Adaptiveness is one of the five analytical themes of the IHDP Earth System Governance Project. The project understands it as an umbrella term for a set of strongly related concepts—vulnerability, resilience, adaptation, robustness, adaptive capacity, social learning and so on. Each of them alone is too limited to describe changes made by social groups in response to, or in anticipation of, challenges created through environmental change. Within the framework of earth system governance, the term adaptiveness includes the governance of adaptation to social-ecological change as well as the processes of change and adaptation within governance systems. Adaptation can create winners and losers, by, for instance, shifting the distribution of benefits, of involuntary risks, or of power.
The international conference “Law for Social-Ecological Resilience” is just about to start in Stockholm. For those unable to attend, all plenary sessions will be live streamed here. The plenaries include the following list of great speakers:
Carl Folke, Stockholm University: “What on Earth is Resilience?”
Jonas Ebbesson, Stockholm University: “What in Law is Resilience?”
Frank Biermann, VU University, Amsterdam: “Agency and Accountability in Earth System Governance: Legal implications”
Ellen Hey, Erasmus University, Rotterdam: “Social-Ecological Resilience and International Law: Whose Resilience?”
Barbara Cosens, University of Idaho: “Resilience and Administrative Law in Transboundary River Governance”
Jutta Brunnee, University of Toronto: “International Law and Socio-Ecological Resilience: An Interactional Perspective.”
Gerd Winter, University of Bremen: “Cap and Trade” and Other Means of Ensuring Societal Resilience in Times of Resource Scarcity
Bonnie McCay, Rutgers University, New Jersey:”The Littoral and the Liminal: Challenges to the Use of Property Rights Approaches to Resilience of Coastal and Marine Systems”
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:
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.
Invitation: Law for Social-Ecological Resilience, 17-19 November 2010
You are invited to the Law for Social-Ecological Resilience Conference: an international and transdisciplinary event at Stockholm University, 17-19 November 2010.
Law for Social-Ecological Resilience will highlight the impact of law on environmental governance, ecosystem management and sustainability policies – ranging from local to global contexts. Legal structures, principles and processes, as well as core concepts of the rule of law, impinge on the capacity of societies to manage ecosystems, withstand environmental degradation as well as economic shocks, and rebuild and renew itself afterwards.
Law for Social-Ecological Resilience will assess, analyse and debate the impact of law in these respects – and thus further the understanding of the role of law and improve the prospects for environmental governance and sustainable development.
Law for Social-Ecological Resilience is co-arranged by the Stockholm Environmental Law and Policy Centre, at the Faculty of Law, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, both at Stockholm University.
Does “resilience thinking” offer novel insights for social scientists such as political scientists, international relation scholars, lawyers and policy analysis experts? Or is it just a another ecological concept with little or no relevance for the social sciences? The topic is one of the most contested ones, as indicated by the popularity of a previous review of Hornborg’s critique of resilience theory posted a while ago. Here is another take on the issue.
In February 2009, we gathered a prominent group of social scientists in Stockholm, for a workshop to elaborate the implications of resilience theory for political science, law, and international relations. We also wanted to discuss its possible implications for critical global challenges such as environmental migration. Where lies the concepts strengths and weaknesses? Is it at all fruitful to talk about “social resilience”? And how do we get a better grip of the politics of learning, flexibility and multilevel governance in complex systems?
The result of these discussions are now available online in the special issue “Governance, Complexity and Resilience” for the journal Global Environmental Change. While the volume as a whole is still in production, a few of the articles are available online already. Just to give you a preview of its contents:
Dr. Koko Warner from the Institute for Environment and Human Security, examines the range of multiscale drivers that trigger environmentally induced migration, and elaborates a range of political and institutional implications. In her contribution, resilience thinking contributes to a wider understanding of the multilevel governance challenges facing policy-makers and a suite of organizations, in trying to deal with underlying social-ecological dynamics. The article is available here.
Prof. Jonas Ebbesson, law scholar from Stockholm University associated to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, elaborates the role of law in steering social-ecological systems. One interesting argument in the paper, is that while law often is viewed as static, and too rigid to rapidly changing circumstances, some aspects of legal thinking and the implementation of law also support aspects of resilience, such as openness and broad participation to cope with complexities and common risk. The article is available here.
Prof. Melissa Leach and colleagues from the STEPS Centre (UK), make a very timely contribution by looking closer at the politics of global epidemic preparedness and response. In their article, Leach and colleagues argue that resilience is inherently a matter of social framing by actors, especially when problems (such as emerging infectious disease) are driven by complex underlying social-ecological factors in contested social settings. The article is available here.
You can also find contributions from Prof. Susan Owens on the politics of learning [here], as well as from Prof. Oran Young on the dynamics and resilience of international regimes [here].
In all, we hope that this volume is able to push the boundaries of resilience theory and thinking into new empirical and theoretical terrain. We look forward to hear what you think.