Relations matter for transformative change! A leverage points perspective on social networks of sustainability initiatives from Southern Transylvania


Local actors with their sustainability initiatives can contribute to fundamental changes in unsustainable human-environment systems and thereby foster societal change. Through amplification processes, however, initiatives can purposely increase their transformative impact. In the context of their study area in Southern Transylvania (Romania), Lam et al. (2020) adopted a leverage points perspective to explore where in the system non-governmental organizations (NGOs) intervene jointly with their collaborators. To this end, they conducted a social network analysis. In a second step, the authors highlighted patterns of the NGOs’ positions in the social networks and the amplification processes they applied.

The study by Lam et al. (2020) is based on the leverage points framework formulated by Meadows (1999) and refined by Abson et al. (2017). The study focuses on how relations between NGOs can intervene in the four system characteristics: parameters, feedbacks, design, and intent of a system. The first two system characteristics…

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Multifunctional Landscapes: Woody Plant Species Diversity as a Predictor of Ecosystem Services


Biodiversity is key to human survival and the provision of ecosystem services benefits human well-being around the world: millions of people directly rely on ecosystem services generated by a biodiverse, multifunctional environment for their livelihoods. Especially smallholder farmers often manage their land to generate a diverse portfolio of services. However, a global trend towards intensification and simplification of landscapes threatens ecosystem integrity and functioning. In order to understand how woody plant species diversity is related to the diversity of ecosystem services, Shumi et al. (2020) assess several land-use types within a small-holder-dominated farming landscape in Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia and elsewhere, woody plants are of particular importance for multifunctional landscapes as they provide many central ecosystem services. In the study area in the southwest of the country, locals depend on multiple ecosystem services provided by different woody plant species for their day-to-day livelihoods. Recent political incentives, however, foster agricultural intensification. This…

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Indigenous and Local Knowledge in Environmental Management for Human-Nature Connectedness: A Leverage Points Perspective


Indigenous peoples represent 5% of the world population. Although they play a key role in environmental management as they influence more than one quarter of the earth’s surface and hold unique indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) valuable for sustainable stewardship of nature, the consideration of ILK in environmental management is still limited. In their recent study, Burgos-Ayala et al. (2020) explore how environmental government institutions in Colombia have involved indigenous communities and their ILK in environmental management projects between 2004 and 2015. In order to identify where and how these projects fostered transformative change within indigenous territories, the authors applied a leverage points (LP) perspective.

Indigenous peoples represent only a small portion of the world population but manage and influence at least 28% of the earth’s surface, including 20% of the global-protected areas.

Indigenous and local knowledge is situated knowledge about the relationship of all living beings with one another…

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A Chance for Change? Trends and Implications of Recent Social Value Shifts


Human activities shape our world. Resource use, consumption, habitat conversion, and a myriad of other processes which have grown throughout the Anthropocene have serious, detrimental impacts on the earth system. A growing number of scientists argues that this global crisis requires comprehensive changes in values. In their recent paper, Manfredo et al. (2020) explore shifts in societal values towards wildlife in the western USA. In his commentary on that paper, Fischer (2020) points out how the changes in societal values reported by Manfredo et al. (2020) could be indicative of broader changes influencing sustainability.

In their study, Manfredo et al. (2020) adopt a systems approach towards values. They understand values to be ideals and principles that guide human behaviour on the individual as well as the societal level. Notably, the adoption of new values by society is not considered a conscious choice and is expected to lag behind changes in…

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Declining Habitats, Declining Forests: Modelling the Impact of Climate Change on Tanzanian Forests 


Climate change is affecting the whole globe. Yet, some parts of the world are especially vulnerable to its effects, including Sub-Saharan Africa and its forests. At the same time, African tropical forests are often considered critical components of strategies for climate change mitigation. Here, establishing a baseline in terms of forest habitat extent and resilience to climate change pressures is central for facilitating successful mitigation and conservation. In a recent study, John et al. (2020) modelled the impact of climate change on Tanzanian forests to determine vital climatic factors that affect the distribution of forest types, the impacts of climate change on the distribution of tree species habitats, and implications for their conservation.

The six natural forest types in Tanzania: (a) montane forest, (b) lowland forest (c) mangrove forest, (d) closed woodland, (e) open woodland, and (f) thicket. Forests in Tanzania are placed among the 36 global biodiversity hotspots. (Image…

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A Landscape of Statistical Analyses



Some time ago I applied for a job on quantitative methods and statistics, which at the time was something that I quite enjoyed and also thought I was good at. Well, I didn’t get the job, but I still have a picture that I drew for the interview. I only recently came across it again and since I think it’s quite nice, I’d now like to share it with a wider audience.

A landscape of statistical analyses, which, in a different life, I would have used as a visual guide for running statistics lectures.

The idea is that I imagined data analysis to be a landscape/seascape, which one can wander and explore. The ultimate aim would be, of course, to reach Mount Truth, which unfortunately is always in clouds and very difficult to climb. On the way to it many dangers are lurking: one can get stuck…

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Going Against the Grain: Climate Change in South Africa’s Western Cape and Farmers’ Perceptions and Adaptation Strategies


The Western Cape province of South Africa is well known for its grain and wine production. However, the agricultural sector in the semi-arid, water-stressed country is highly climate sensitive. The severity of future impacts of climate change on farming outputs is largely determined by farmers’ present ability and action to adapt. Here, understanding the motivating factors leading to adaptive behaviour among farmers is key to promoting climate change adaptation to secure food production and livelihoods. Against this backdrop, Talanow et al. (2020) examine farmers’ perception of climate change, the appraisal of associated risks, and perceived adaptation capacity.

Talanow et al. (2020) argue that farmers’ behaviour is influenced by both internal factors including complex cognitive processes and external influences such as access to resources. In addition, adaptation behaviour can be divided into coping, which consists of immediate or short-term responses to impacts and hazards, and adaptation itself, seen as transformative medium…

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People On the Move: Migration as An Adaptation to Climate Change 


Worldwide, people leave their homes, hoping to improve their living conditions by moving to mostly urban areas. While economic opportunities play a central role in migration flows, push factors such as climate change are projected to intensify current migration trends. In a recently published commentary, Adger et al. (2020) examine migration as a potentially effective adaptation to a changing climate. They call for the development of institutions and policies within and across countries to effectively address the challenges and costs of climate-related migration and facilitate better adaptation to climate change

The majority of migration flows involve people moving within their own countries, most often from non-urban to urban areas. While many people migrate by choice, some groups are forced to change locations to ensure their survival. Such involuntary migration is oftentimes a result of conflict or acute environmental catastrophes and has been steadily increasing: globally, almost 24 million people have…

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From Niche to Mainstream: Three Dilemmas of Scaling Up Sustainable Alternatives


A more sustainable future requires fundamental societal changes. Real-world laboratories and transition experiments test sustainable alternatives in a protected niche. In order to introduce these alternatives into wider society and make them go mainstream, they need to be scaled up. The term upscaling is used here to indicate a qualitative shift towards a structural transformation of a societal system: new ways of doing, thinking, and organizing emerge in a given system as the new normal – the whole institutional structure changes. However, societal change is based on co-evolutionary processes which makes upscaling highly challenging. Augenstein et al. (2020) present three dilemmas of upscaling that are connected to core aspects of transdisciplinary research on sustainability transitions.

Urban sustainability initiatives, such as Utopiastadt in Wuppertal, Germany, address the dilemmas of upscaling in their efforts to develop sustainable alternatives locally, get involved in transdisciplinary processes and help create spaces for experimentation and reflexive…

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Why not to publish in “Sustainability” (and you’re welcome to share this post)

By Joern Fischer

If you are a publishing academic in sustainability science, chances are high that you have been approached by the journal “Sustainability” to lead a special issue. With this blog post, I would like to share my personal opinion why not to work with this journal, not as an author, and not as an editor.

Sustainability is a journal that specialises in publishing special issues. To set up those special issues, it approaches authors of other recent papers, asking them if they might like to consider a special issue on a particular topic. For example, over the years, I have received invitations (among others) to contribute work for special issues on “Sustainability and Institutional Change”, “Landscape and Sustainability”, “Ecosystem Function and Land Use Change”, “Sustainable Landscape Management”, “Sustainable Futures”, “Integrated Landscape Governance for Food Security”, “Sustainable Multifunctional Landscapes” or “What is Sustainability? Examining Faux Sustainability”.

If you do accept to guest edit a special issue, you become one of now more than 1800 editorial board members (!). (I won’t link this to the journal’s website, but you can find that information easily on the journal website.) Hardly much of an achievement or distinction, given the predatory process with which the journal recruits people who are willing to run special issues.

That’s all not very uplifting, and many of us have known of this shady process for some time. But the situation appears to be getting worse, bordering on entirely non-sensical invitation emails.

One colleague of mine received the following statement:

We recently invited you to serve as Guest Editor in Sustainability for the Special Issue “Sustainability Journal”. Please let us know whether or not you are interested, and if you have any further questions.

Another person received this:

“Sustainability has launched a new position—Topic Editor.

Given your impressive expertise, we would like to invite you … The main responsibilities of Topic Editors are as follows:

  • Promoting the journal during conferences (adding 1–2 slides into your presentation, distributing flyers, recommending the journal to your colleagues, etc.);
  • Providing support for the Special Issues on topics related to your expertise or when the Guest Editor(s) is not available, including SI promotion via social media, pre-checking new submissions, making decisions, and giving advice on some scientific cases.


  1. We are glad to publish a paper of the Topic Editors with a special discount …

Please take these excerpts as examples of the kinds of emails that come from this journal. YES, it’s easy to get stuff published there (I don’t know of anything ever having got rejected, in fact). YES, it has an impact factor. And YES, I’ve even co-authored one paper in this journal myself. But seriously, if we want to advance credible science on sustainability, then clearly not like this.

In case anyone from the Web of Science happens to be reading this blog: please review whether this journal and other similar ones really deserve an impact factor.

It is not my intention to say that all else is working well in the publishing business. I simply chose to share some basic facts and excerpts from recent emails by the journal, which for most of us, will make it self-evident that this is not a journal that ought to be supported in any way that might boost its credibility.