Caught in the adaptive cycle – reflecting about Europe

By Tibor Hartel

The population of Europe doubled in the past two centuries and the human impact on the landscapes – in order to extract food, timber and other resources to sustain the growing urban populations massively increased. The ‘developed’ Western European countries are typical examples for this development. The socio-political and economical instabilities from Eastern Europe were major barriers for socio-economic development: this is why Eastern Europe is still so rich in natural and cultural values. In the past decades, however, there is an increasing pressure on the landscapes from Eastern Europe from the developed, western societies. This is because Eastern Europe still have a wealth of resources which were eroded in the Western part of the continent – by people. Europe`s population and technological trajectory and their relations with the resource crises and societal vulnerabilities can be fit within the adaptive cycle framework of the resilience theory. I thought to develop a blog entry with this topic, and below is my short trial. The adaptive cycle framework is important to better contextualize the current state and future vulnerabilities of the cultural landscapes of high natural value from Eastern Europe.

Below is my trial.

After filling almost all available space with people and filling all ‘economic niches’ which maximized wealth, the socio-economic systems of Western Europe entered into a relatively stationary phase. This is the state when the social, financial and technological capitals are maximized and connectivity is high. The yield gaps are closed at this state, and every drop of resilience of the agricultural lands is absorbed (and sacrificed) for production. Monocultures are wide on the expense of adaptability of the landscapes. People are busy with work, everything is well planned and they have very little possibility to reflect about what they do and for what purpose. But even if they stop and reflect about it for a while, they quickly realize that there is little to do in practice with that reflection as the system is trapped within its own development path and demography. Financial dependency is high while the ‘non-monetary’ types of values completely eroded; this introduces a high degree of stress in the system. The rich are stressed to not loose their richness. The poor are stressed because they don`t have even the basic things for safe human life. The richness of the rich is paid with the poorness of the poor, and the environmental degradation. One may feel: the society reached a ‘developmental climax’. It is not only hard to further ‘develop’ (where to develop?) at this stage but it becomes increasingly hard even to maintain the existing wealth and consumption (i.e. the existing stage) for the developed societies. This phase could be described as being the ‘K’ phase of the adaptive cycle of the system. One can feel: this phase is quite vulnerable to change. And the options for future of such a system are, in effect, not optimistic. The system, which initially promised all the possibilities, now is trapped in its own development. The collapse (i.e. the Ω phase) is knocking on the door.

Using as reference point the ‘K’ state described above which characterizes the western socio-economic state, Eastern Europe is considered ‘developing’. This is rather an ironic term because the very developed western world shows that ‘developing’ in fact means that a system goes through a ‘maturation process for collapse’. Indeed, from this perspective this part of the continent is in a (prolonged) reorganization phase (the ‘α to r’ phase). In this stage, the system has a lot of potential and options for further trajectories. The yield gaps (sensu above) are widely open, filled with resilience, and the soils fertile and have healthy fresh water. Everything is slow and human. The time and the space are still not lost and the connectivity is low. However, most of people in these regions aspires for a western type of development and the western system which is affected by many resource crises will fuel these aspirations and even ‘offer’ (it looks like charity but it1s not:)) their own technology to assist the ‘developing’ to ‘develop’. With the right environmental ‘tribute’ of course. Locals, through their corrupt leaders or nativity, for example, will go in this business because they are typically unaware about the environmental costs of these ‘development’ in the near future. Big western corporations specialized for industrial extraction of resources (timber, gold, shale gas) are now knocking in the door in Eastern Europe, and they use every opportunity to grab resources. The ‘K’ socio-economic phase of the western society must be prolonged as much as possible, with all expenses – because the only other option is the collapse. The key word is: ‘prolonged’. The resource capitals of Eastern Europe are crucial for prolonging the ‘K’ phase of the western systems. Without substantial changes in consumption, demography and value systems related to the environmental sustainability, the collapsing western system will pull the resource and natural capital rich Eastern European countries in collapse.

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5 thoughts on “Caught in the adaptive cycle – reflecting about Europe

  1. Nice analysis – I suspect there is some truth in what you say. Growth can not be infinite – that would be unnatural. There has to be a cycle of ups and downs to sustain life.

  2. Pingback: In pursuit of order and efficiency (and West eats East) « clear as SALT

  3. Pingback: O ciclo da Fênix na teoria dos sistemas | Pensamento Sistêmico – o curso da Unesp de Bauru

  4. Pingback: Caught in the adaptive cycle – a re-visit | Ideas for Sustainability

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