A (hopefully lasting) return to original content: Big update – The Book is Done!

Jahi Chappell’s new book is out, and he introduces it on his blog — which I reproduced here. Likely to be of interest to a number of readers of ideas4sustainability, too!

AgroEcoPeople

Hello fine folks of the interwebs–

It’s been pretty much nothing but reposts for months now here on Agroecopeople. I have been focusing on finishing a fairly major project! That is, my (first?) book, Beginning to End Hunger: Food and the Environment in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Beyond, due out this December from University of California Press! Based on my research in Belo Horizonte, Brazil over the past 15 years, the book presents BH’s story.

Vista do mirante no bairro Mangabeiras em Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brasil. (c) bcorreabh / Adobe Stock

From the official summary at UC Press, Belo Horizonte

“is home to 2.5 million people and one of the world’s most successful city food security programs. Since its Municipal Secretariat for Food Security was founded in 1993, malnutrition in Belo Horizonte has declined dramatically, allowing it to serve as an inspiration for Brazil’s renowned Zero Hunger programs. The Municipal Secretariat’s work with local small family farmers also offers a…

View original post 256 more words

New Paper: Refocusing ecosystem services towards sustainability

BY DAVE ABSON

The ecosystem services concept has evolved considerably over its 30 odd year history. Its earliest incarnation was as an eye opening heuristic for thinking about sustainability and the interdependence of human well-being and conservation of the environment (see for example, the wonderful “Rivet Poppers” metaphor by Paul and Anne Ehrlich). This initial discursive phase was followed by a relatively manic phase of classifications, typologies, mapping, modelling and the development of valuation methods. Now there are increased calls for the ecosystem service concept to be used as an explicit decision making tool (e.g. Bateman et al. 2013). In many ways this is a positive trajectory. If we are serious about the ecosystem services concept as part of “solution oriented” sustainability science we need to move beyond metaphors and towards practical tools for addressing unsustainability. However, with regard to ecosystem services research we are in danger of losing something vital along the way.

Once the notion of ecosystems moves beyond a concept and becomes a tool there is a danger that it becomes an indiscriminate end in its own right without regard to the reason we wanted such a tool in the first place (“if all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail”). For example, does it really make sense to conceptualize non-renewable peat extraction (e.g. the UK NEA) or industrialized crop production as ‘valued’ ecosystem services to be conserved in the pursuit of sustainability?

In a new paper we attempt to realign the ecosystem services with the normative goal of sustainability from which it originally arose. We identify seven key sustainability strategies (see Figure) for linking ecosystem services and sustainability outcomes and discuss how these strategies can be pursued when operationalizing the ecosystem service concept.

ES and Sus figure

The seven strategies are:

1. Equitable intergenerational distribution: Ecosystem services assessments should account for the potential liquidation of natural capital, for example, by differentiating between food provision that maintains or erodes so soil fertility. Assessments should also consider how ecosystem service appropriation can maintain and support the long-term capacity of valued social-ecological systems, including the maintenance of the less tangible benefits related to the direct interaction of humans with nature.
2. Equitable intragenerational distribution: Aggregate valuations can gloss over gross inequalities in who has access to, and can benefit from, the appropriation of ecosystem services. Here more focus is required on who benefits from the multiple services that flow from specific ecosystems, rather than on maximizing the provision of individual, often market oriented, ecosystem services. For example, plantations maximize timber production may conflict with conserving diverse forests from which people can collect wild foods, or enjoy cultural ecosystem services.
3. Equitable interspecies distribution: Here we need to acknowledge that humans are not the only species that appropriate energy and material flows from ecosystems. In almost all cases a ‘just’ appropriation (in relation to the needs of other species) is likely to be less that the capacity of an ecosystem to sustainably provide those flows.
4. Fair procedures, recognition and participation: Ecosystem service assessments and management should move beyond simply assessing ecosystem services benefits and study the procedures by which ecosystem services are appropriated and the extent to which such procedures are inclusive, just and address issues of political, social or economic power.
5. Sufficiency: ecosystem services research need to start asking “how much ecosystem service appropriation is enough?” rather than ‘‘how do we maximize ecosystem service provision?” A focus on sufficiency requires a greater focus on our normative goals, for example, by considering what an ideal social-ecological system might look like, rather than on how many services can we squeeze out of a given ecosystem.
6. Efficiency: The efficient use of ecosystems should be explicitly considered only as an instrumental means to a clearly defined normative goal, not as an intrinsic ends in its own right.
7. Persistence: ecosystem services research should acknowledge that ecosystems are dynamic and consider temporal ecosystem dynamics, potential regime shifts and long term degradation of ecosystem properties. Research should also identify to what extent the appropriation of benefits from ecosystems are dependent on non-renewable inputs and how this influences the long term persistence of the flows of ecosystem services.

We hope that highlighting strategies, in some small way, can help reorient ecosystem services research towards a more sustainability focused solutions based science.

The full paper can be found here.

Schröter, M., Stumpf, K.H., Loos, J., van Oudenhoven, A.P.E., Böhnke-Henrichs, A. and Abson, D.J. (2017) Refocusing ecosystem services towards sustainability, Ecosystem Services, 25, 35-43, doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2017.03.019.

Critiquing the ‘Double food production’ narrative

There is little doubt that 9-10 billion people will need to be fed during the next few decades. How we do it is open for debate. The research in our group focusses on the food-biodiversity nexus (Fischer et al 2017), i.e. the challenge of attaining food security for all while conserving global biodiversity. In this field a couple of arguments on how to achieve these goals dominate the discourse. If you want to read more about them then see here, here, here and here for some examples.

Typically, papers addressing these two challenges begin with statements about how agriculture is a major driver of biodiversity loss, something like “Land use change is the biggest threat to biodiversity”, and then the attention turns to food security. Here is where you will more often than not read about the need to increase food production by 70-100 % to feed 9-10 billion people. These two statements are very convenient, and compelling, arguments with which to frame a paper and convince policy-makers. The first statement is uncontroversial. The second statement however uses statistics which are the focus of an excellent critique in the Journal of Rural Studies (Tomlinson 2013).

Tomlinson presents a very good analysis of the origin of this statistic and how it is being used to support academic and policy discourses. I think it is important to note that I have used this statement (with some hesitation) because of its sheer simplicity and the perception that it’s nearly beyond reproach. The paper demonstrates that these data can be used out of context and lack nuance, with the effect of presenting a ‘cut-through’ message for academics and policy-makers. The analysis is far more comprehensive than this so I strongly encourage you to read this paper because it reveals how statistics can be used to influence very important discussions about how we deal with issues of public policy.

References

Tomlinson, I. (2013). Doubling food production to feed the 9 billion: A critical perspective on a key discourse of food security in the UK. Journal of Rural Studies 29: 81-90.

PhD position on butterflies in a social-ecological context (with Jacqueline Loos)

By Joern Fischer

A little while ago, Jacqueline Loos finished her PhD research in my lab. Among other things, she worked in agricultural intensification and butterfly conservation — both in a context of social-ecological systems thinking, or if you like, landscape sustainability science. Jacqueline has now moved on to bigger and better things, and is setting up an exciting new research project on butterfly conservation in South Africa. Like her past work, this work will have a strong foundation in ecology, but will strongly link with the social context, including socio-economic issues and questions of what is valued by local landholders.

The position will be based in Goettingen, Germany.

For this new research, Jacqueline has just advertised a PhD position. The due date is 28 February 2017. The details are described in the PDF that I provide below. (Please do not contact me about this position, but Jacqueline, whose contact details are in the PDF!)

Please help distribute this nice opportunity through your various channels! Thank you!

For details, see this advertisement (PDF): butterfly-phd-position-with-jacqueline-loos

Book recommendation: Resilience, Development and Global Change

By Joern Fischer

I would like to warmly recommend Katrina Brown’s new book entitled “Resilience, development and global change”. I found it a thoughtful, authoritative book that links and transcends several deeply entrenched ideas and discourses. As such, I think it is an excellent input (or even entry point) for people working on social-ecological systems – especially, but not only in the Global South.

The book articulates different, partly conflicting understandings of resilience, both in science and policy arenas. This overview of existing perspectives is useful, simply because resilience is used in so many different ways, by so many different people, that it’s helpful to get an overview of who actually means what. A key point here is that in much of development policy, resilience is employed to argue for status quo approaches to development. Perhaps needless to say, that’s a long way from the paradigm shift some scientists might envisage ought to come with focusing on resilience.

But to my mind, the book got most interesting at the point where it speaks of “experiential resilience”. Here, different case studies from around the world are used to highlight how people experience their own resilience (or lack thereof) in relation to surprises or shocks. Resilience dimensions touched on include winners and losers within and between households, gendered responses, different narratives of change, cultural and political dynamics, and place attachment – to name just a few.

In her conclusion, Katrina Brown argues for a re-visioning of resilience in a development context. Such a re-visioning should include three aspects of resilience. First, resistance denotes the ability to absorb shocks, but in a social context also taking an active stance against threatening outside forces. Second, rootedness denotes the deeply place-based nature of resilience, especially in a social context, but also with respect to human-environment interactions. And third, resourcefulness relates to the capacities and capabilities that people have to absorb and adapt to change.

In summary, this book bridges gaps between disciplines, between theory and practice, and between different discourses on resilience. It thus makes a theoretical contribution — but one that promises to make resilience have greater practical value.

New paper: Many pathways to sustainability, not conflict but co-learning between transition narratives

There is an increasing focus in sustainability science on transitions and transformative change and an increasing number of proposed pathways for transitioning towards sustainability. In a new paper by Chris Luederitz and colleagues we discuss four archetypical transitions narratives (the green economy; low-carbon transformation; Ecotopian solutions and the transitions movement) in terms of the kinds of interventions these different approaches engender and the ‘depth’ and nature of systemic change they seek achieve.

In addition to summarizing critiques of these four approaches to transformative change, we draw on Donella meadows’ ‘leverage points’ concept (see also here) in order to characterize the different narratives in terms of their potential to enable systemic change.  The different transitions narratives seek to act on different system characteristics ranging from system parameters (taxes, incentives, rules) and system dynamics through to challenging the fundamental design, rules, values and goals of the system. We therefore argue that rather than representing competing visions for societal change, there is considerable scope for co-learning between these different approaches. By understand where in a system a given transitions approach does or does not seek to intervene we believe it is possible to combine facets of these approaches to create a more holistic transitions pathways that act on multiple leverage points for systemic change.

Luederitz, C., Abson, D.J., Audet, R. and Lang, D.J. (2016) Many pathways toward sustainability: not conflict but co-learning between transition narratives, Sustainability Science. doi: 10.1007/s11625-016-0414-0

 

New project: Governance of global telecoupling – and two open post-doc positions

Reblogged from Jens Newig’s blog — very nice new opportunity here at Leuphana! Please help distribute this widely. Thanks!

SUSTAINABILITY GOVERNANCE

By Jens Newig

In recent years, more and more research has been pointing to the importance of distant connections of natural and social processes for issues of global unsustainability. Land-use scientist have labelled this phenomenon, which might entail global commodity chains, migration, or the spread of diseases, “telecoupling”. While there have been substantive advances in describing the flows and the associated implications for environmental sustainability, we know little about how to govern such telecoupled global linkages.

Our new project, which is jointly led by Andrea Lenschow from Osnabrück University, Edward Challies and myself, will investigate how state, private and non-governmental actors have sought to govern the (un)sustainability implications of telecoupling in the past; what (polycentric) policy-networks have emerged in doing so; and, together with key state and non-state actors we will map out scenarios for more effectivley governing global telecoupling for environmental sustainability.

We’ve already published two papers on this…

View original post 110 more words

Managing research environments: heterarchies in academia

By Joern Fischer

A little while ago, I recommended Graeme Cumming’s new work on heterarchies on this blog. Thinking about heterarchies implies thinking about system architecture in terms of (i) how hierarchical it is, and (ii) how connected the elements of the system are. This is interesting in ecosystems, in social-ecological systems … and I think also in academia!

slide1

Heterarchies in academia

As a little thought experiment, let’s bring to our minds different academic environments that are combinations of networked vs. not-networked, and hierarchical vs. not-hierarchical. Most environments are mixtures, but some are close to one kind of stereotype, while others are closer to other stereotypes.

  1. Hierarchical, but not highly networked – the “guru” model. This type of academic environment is one of strong silos, which might be lab groups. Such lab groups don’t interact very much. Each of them is headed by a professor and responds to the head of department. Within the lab groups, too, there is a hierarchical structure. Postdocs sit between professors and PhD students, acting as intermediaries. However, in his world, different postdocs and PhD students probably work on different projects, and exchange among those projects might be limited – there isn’t a culture of strong collaboration within the lab, just within specific projects, as designed from the top down. I would argue that I have seen examples that are similar to this kind of structure in some settings.
  2. Hierarchical, but highly networked – the visionary facilitator model. In this world, there is a clear lead. For example, there might be a visionary head of department, or a professor strongly driving the agenda of her research group. Still, despite such a lead, interaction among lab groups, and researchers of all levels is encouraged – even when they work on slightly different things. Senior researchers have open doors for more junior researchers, but still provide direction and a level of “control”. Again, I would argue that this way of organizing academic workplaces exists in the real world.
  3. Highly networked, but without a strong hierarchy – the collegiate model. In this world, there is strong exchange among researchers, but no clear hierarchy. In my view, this could mean a lack of strong leadership. For example, there might be a collegiate environment, where people talk and exchange ideas – but nobody is there to provide vision and direction, or make some tough decisions. Yet again – this kind of place exists, be it in certain big projects (where nobody wants to lead) or even whole departments (that pride themselves of having a flat hierarchy).
  4. Not highly networked, and lacking a strong hierarchy – the individualistic model. This is a world where everyone fights for their own survival. Corridors are empty, and behind closed office doors are individuals who “do their thing”. Some do well, some don’t. They may or may not realize that there could be benefits from talking. Nobody provides a strong vision or direction. Each is in it for their own micro-world. Yes … this world, too, does exist in some environments in academia.

Given that all of these places exist, let’s ask some questions about them. For example, other things being equal …:

  1. Which is likely to foster creativity in the best way?
  2. Which is likely to generate the most academic impact?
  3. Which is going to be most pleasant to work in?
  4. Which is likely to survive major funding cuts in the best way?
  5. Which is most likely to survive re-structuring at the level of the university?

A next step of analysis then would be to think about how to get from one kind of system to another. This might be useful for research managers to think about.

For anyone who’d like to see an “official” version of these thoughts: A refined version (largely in terms of wording) has just been published as a response to Graeme’s paper in TREE.

And then … there was a state of emergency

By Joern Fischer

An eventful week in Ethiopia lies behind me. Months ago, protests started in Ethiopia, initially relating to the expansion of the capital, Addis Ababa, into surrounding land. Protesters argued that farmers had been insufficiently compensated. The latest level of escalation was reached yesterday, when the government declared a state of emergency for the next six months.

Ethiopia has long been seen as one of the most stable countries in Africa. Outsiders have often commented that it might not be quite as democratic as it could be, but at least it was stable, and experienced impressive economic improvements.

The latest unrest stems, at least in part, from a sentiment in the population that “development” did not seem to be benefiting everyone equally. Especially in Oromia, more and more people started to protest, initially against further plans to expand Addis, but more recently also for the release of political prisoners, and against government responses to the demonstrations that they perceived as unjustly forceful. Over the last few months, numerous people were killed during demonstrations.

Then, last Sunday was a cultural holiday, and tragic events took place in Debre Zeit, a town a little way out of Addis Ababa. Official sources speak of a stampede killing 50 or more people; unofficial reports speak of many more dead, report the use of tear gas from a helicopter, and speak of shots fired into the crowd.

Following last weekend, protests intensified. In some places, road blocks were erected. Anger was unleashed against the government, cars were burnt, and rocks thrown at vehicles. An American postdoc died when the minibus she was on was attacked by protestors.

With these developments, we were unable to travel by car between our study area and Addis, and had to fly to get over the road blocks. One day after getting to Addis, news reached me that a state of emergency had been declared; and only hours after that, that a number of soldiers had shown up right in our study site. Two of our researchers and two Ethiopian colleagues are still there, in the midst of this. They’ll leave within a few days, and until then, have been assured their safety by local authorities (who had previously received our research findings with genuine interest).

This blog is about sustainability, and I’m not here to put forward a political argument – for those interested in the politics, it’s easy enough to research these issues on the internet and formulate an opinion.

All I want to say here is very simply that it makes me sad. Just days ago, we distributed initial research findings to local politicians and government experts – who, by and large, were very interested in what we had found. But now the country seems to be at a very real risk of slipping into a spiral of conflict. Conflict kills people, research, and many other good initiatives taken by both civilians and government representatives to improve human well-being while also protecting the environment. I hope for all the people of Ethiopia – regardless of political disposition – that the current situation will be resolved with as little pain to the people as possible.

Values, conservation and sustainability

By Joern Fischer

In 1992, Shalom Schwartz published a seminal paper entitled “Universals in the content and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries”. The paper has been cited something like 12,000 times, and the findings have been refined since then. In short, it summarises different value orientations held by individuals. On reading this paper, I began to wonder what the implications of this are for conservation and sustainability.

schwartz_spatial1

Source: valuesandframes.org

I’ll start with a disclaimer and a summary of what Schwartz found. First the disclaimer: perhaps everything I write below has long been known by people working on conservation and sustainability, and I’m very late in catching up. If so, I’m happy to be further educated, e.g. by people explaining to me and other readers how this has been applied to conservation and sustainability in the comments below. But if I’m somewhat “typical”, then this is not at all widely known, understood, or reflected upon within the conservation and sustainability fields. And if that is the case, there might be some pretty important implications that require our attention.

Second – a summary of what Schwartz found. In the original paper from 1992, Schwartz developed theory, and then tested it on a large sample of individuals from a number of different countries. His theory was largely confirmed, and went something like this. Different people hold different values. Some values are compatible, whereas others are oppositional. Compatible values are, for example, if I value the attainment of wealth, and if I value the achievement of social recognition. Oppositional values might be valuing tradition versus seeking excitement in life.

These kinds of constructs – compatible and oppositional values – can be depicted in a kind of circular wheel, as shown in the Figure above. This wheel was generated by a multivariate analysis of many people responding to the same questions about their values, so this is an empirically grounded theory . Adjacent sectors in this wheel are compatible values, whereas opposite sectors in the wheel are oppositional.

So far so good – how is this relevant to conservation and sustainability? I think it is in a number of ways.

A lot of the values associated with conservation and sustainability cluster in the sector on “universalism” (top right). For example, here, we find “protecting the environment”, “social justice”, and even “unity with nature”. Opposite of that, we find the sector “power”, with values such as “wealth” and “social recognition”.

We can now ask ourselves where in this wheel individuals belonging to different cultures might sit. This is relevant for conservation and sustainability, because we might pitch our messages differently, according to people’s values (e.g. see this comprehensive report, or here for a simpler summary; and here for additional materials).

But I think perhaps there is something even more interesting going on. Here, I present three testable hypotheses, which would have implications for conservation and sustainability action.

Hypothesis 1: A substantial proportion of the population (probably differing between jurisdictions) actually holds values that are compatible with universalist values (i.e. sustainability and biodiversity conservation).

Hypothesis 2: Despite this, we are seeing patterns of behaviour at an aggregate (societal) level that emphasise values that are largely oppositional to sustainability, such as achievement and power. That is, we have created institutions that foster values that are not inherently shared by people. We thus have a mismatch between the value sets fostered by institutions and the value sets held by people.

Hypothesis 3: If this is correct, the “solution” to sustainability problems becomes one of “simply” re-aligining institutions to what people actually want. This may be a major task, but is a relatively smaller problem than if people themselves actually did not hold values compatible with sustainability. In other words, we may not need to “re-educate people”, but rather draw out what people actually want, and ensure that institutions are reformed in ways that reflect the want of “the people”.

Hopelessly optimistic? Actually, people are selfish and individualistic, and care about power and wealth and nothing else? Perhaps – convince me if you can. But at this stage I think it’s more likely that we are dealing with a mis-match between values fostered through institutions and values held by individuals. I speculate, in turn, that such a mis-match has probably arisen from power dynamics that go hand in hand with how we have organized societies (including economic principles); i.e. the whole thing is an institutional and power problem, not fundamentally one of values.

If I’m right, all of this points to us needing more conversations at a societal level about what it is that we truly value — and then working towards how to (re-)organise society accordingly. And then who knows, perhaps sustainability is within closer reach than we may have thought …