Archive for June, 2012

Loss of a Leader and Inspiration

It’s times like this that I wish that I could really write.  In 2003, I left a career in business to “save the world”.  I wanted to work on environmental issues and try to make the world a better place.  The cynic in me wonders if I’ve actually done anything.  I thought that teaching would provide a multiplier effect through the education of energetic students.

It’s to my good fortune that when I entered academia smart people convinced me to go to Indiana University to study with Elinor Ostrom.  I wasn’t smart enough to see her brilliance until much later.  Even now I often realize that some of my good ideas are really notions that Lin wrote about (and that I read years ago) that I’m only now comprehending.  Over the coming days, I’m sure that I’ll hear and read a great deal about her scholarship, her leadership in the field, her successes, etc.  But I’d like to focus on a few other points about Lin, mainly about her as a mentor.

When I think back to my naive ideals about saving the world, I see that frequently the only place that academics make a difference is in weighing down library shelves.  Lin actually wrote things that policymakers and practitioners read and utilized.  When I think about my desire to inspire students, I see a teacher that was fully engaged all the time.  How she ever found the time (and patience) to read drafts of my early papers, I’ll never understand.  Most importantly, I think about her as a mentor – how she constantly reiterated that my work was important and needed to be heard, how she typically presented her work through the lens of all the great things that her students and collaborators did, as if she were simply along for the ride, how she always seemed positive, energetic, and truly alive.  These are the ongoing lessons that Lin has given me and countless others.

People often comment that the Workshop at Indiana is Lin and Vincent’s family.  Likewise, I feel that they are my family.  Lin is like my third grandmother.  She was a grandmother that would really lay down the hammer for not putting forth best effort, but she’d also be quick with a hug and a kind word as well.  Lin, I’m going to miss you.

1st Law of Vulnerability

In thinking about so many issues of resilience and robustness in social-ecological systems and some of the fragility that comes with societal attempts to protect against disturbances, I think that it makes sense for us to use a metaphor from the 1st Law of Thermodynamics.  This metaphor is that “Vulnerabilities cannot be eliminated”, although I suppose that we’re quite good at creating new ones (witness the escape of the Stuxnet virus).  What I mean about vulnerabilities not being eliminated is that we often respond to perceived vulnerability by shifting them.  We often shift them to others in acceptable (purchasing insurance) or unacceptable (shipping hazardous waste to the Developing World) ways spatially.  Or we shift them temporally.  Again, this may be acceptable (taking out loans to pay off current charges) or unacceptably (pushing environmental hazards intergenerationally).