Ozone under a Social-Ecological Systems Lens

With my colleagues Graham Epstein, Chanda Meek, and Irene Perez-Ibarra, we have a manuscript coming out in the International Journal of the Commons this month, “Governing the Invisible Commons: Ozone Regulation and the Montreal Protocol”.  We are very excited to see this in print for a number of reasons.

We wanted to highlight both how the SES framework and, as an extension, the SES Meta-Analysis Database could be used for pollution cases, and we wanted to show the insights gained by such an analysis in general.  This goes against some commonly held beliefs on the generalizability of case studies.  We believe that the manuscript makes important independent contributions related to the relevance of CPR theory and the SES framework to large-scale pollution cases.  As the analysis shows several factors associated with CPR theory such as proportionality, political participation, and nested governance are associated with substantial reductions in ODS emissions.   This suggests that common-pool resources and scale may not act as a boundary for CPR theory which may apply to a wider range of goods and environmental problems.  Second, the SESMAD approach draws attention to the complexity of social-ecological systems which is often lost in narrow theoretical accounts.  Many past studies apply a  a single theoretical lens to analyze the Montreal Protocol, and focus on one or a few variables.  Given well-known problems with applying singular models to cases, we believe that our approach which draws attention to some of the real-world complexity of the case is, at a minimum, a useful complement to other studies and at best draws attention to the multiplicity of factors whose interactions led to its success.  Given the general failure of a Montreal Protocol type approach to resolve problems associated with climate change, it would seem that such considerations possess both theoretical and policy-relevant value.

We think that the greatest strength of the case study utilizing the framework is its development of a systematic approach to perform within-case analysis using snapshots over time.  This allowed us to identify important changes that may have contributed to the general success of the Montreal Protocol.  However, we acknowledge weaknesses in reducing the level of measurement associated with some variables, the loss of dimensionality of others, and the averaging over heterogeneity in some as well.

(Thanks to my co-authors for their brilliant insights.)

Ozone Layer from 1979-2008 from NASA

Ozone Layer from 1979-2008 from NASA


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