Ten Years of Ecosystem Change and Society

This past week, we had a science meeting and working session based around the latest research coming out of Future Earth‘s Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS).  Under the inspiring leadership of Berta Martín-López and Oonsie Biggs, PECS focuses on a few aspects of the scientific enterprise that are truly leading the way on the study of social-ecological systems (SES) as the core of sustainability science.  In particular, we emphasize:

  • the importance of holistic research of SES,
  • the need to ground this research as place-based,
  • the need to progress from disciplinary research to interdisciplinary research to transdisciplinary research.

What this means in practice is that we take a more holistic approach to research at a systems level – not differentiating between social and ecological, but seeing them as a combined system with complex feedback loops between various parts of the system.  A focus on place-based research resonates with many political ecologists, anthropologists and case study researchers that see a need to look at context-specific cases in contrast with the ever-present global models or pure theoretic studies that push the generalizability of science at the expense of everything else – all the aspects of our day-to-day lives that we find special about where we are.  Finally, transdisciplinarity acknowledges the need to move outside of science and privileging expert knowledge at the loss of the rich and detailed knowledge and expertise of other stakeholders in the system – the business leaders, the government officials, the farmers, the campesinos, the forest rangers, the ranchers, the people that are major influences in the places in which they live, work and play.

The meeting was at Leuphana University in Luneburg, Germany in their award-winning Central Building.  Just please don’t ask me for directions in that maze of a building!


While it is dark and cold in Germany at this time of year, the Christmas markets were beautiful.

Christmas market

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