Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

Welcome to the Anthropocene

It’s the time of year when the academic calendar starts to get long in the tooth, and I only occasionally have time to peek out from behind the curtain of campus.  When I did this recently, I realized that there were a few phrases that I use regularly in my teaching and research that seem commonplace to me, but my friends outside of academia had no idea what I was talking about.  This concerned me both because I was so out of touch but also because these seem, to my mind, to be crucially important concepts for today’s society.  The two phrases were the Anthropocene and the Great Acceleration.  I remember having similar feelings several years ago when I referred to global climate change, and I was met with either blank stares or a “you mean global warming” question.  Happily, I generally hear global climate change today.  I hope that soon I won’t encounter blank stares when I mention the Anthropocene.

To begin, the Anthropocene captures the idea that human society has so fundamentally altered the planet that we are no longer in the geological epoch known as the Holocene but now in a new human-dominated epoch, the Anthropocene.  This is introduced by Will Steffen and others in a wonderful paper in Ambio in December 2007 (Steffen, W., Crutzen, P. J., & McNeill, J. R. (2007). The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature. Ambio: A Journal of the Human Environment, 36(8), 614-621.). [Note:  there are references to the Anthropocene going back several more years to 2000, but this article is 1) one of the most highly cited and 2) a really good read.]

The basic idea is that in the Pre-Anthropocene period, humans didn’t have the capacity or the technological means to dominate nature (the Earth Systems).  This started to change in the Industrial Era (Stage 1 of the Anthropocene) from around 1800-1945.  With the onset of industrialization, the expansion of the use of fossil fuels, and the advancements of technology, we began to transform the earth on a global scale.  This shift from local effects to global was the key change.

Stage 2 of the Anthropocene (1945-present) is when things really started changing.  This is known as the Great Acceleration.  Pressure on the global environment intensified.  Often people talk about exponential growth in population or the global economy, but the Great Acceleration goes far beyond that, as shown in the figure below.


The figure is from the very informative website:  This website explains these ideas in much more detail with great references for further, more specific questions.  This is interesting for a number of reasons.  Of importance to me are a number of questions about the ramifications for social-ecological systems and what this means for changing how we govern and collectively make decisions in such an environment – in a world being altered at an accelerating pace, with increasing connectivity around the global between people and their aggregate actions.  Ultimately, if humans are shaping the world in entirely new directions, can we also collectively decide the type of world that we want to live in and make decisions to get there.

I’ll end with one final comment.  There is a proposal to formally adopt the Anthopocene as a geological epoch.  It is currently under review with the International Commission on Stratigraphy, with a current target decision date of 2016.  The question is whether geologic formations would show a distinct demarcation for when the Anthropocene began.

New Project with Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society

Georgina Cundill and I are heading up a new project recently endorsed as a Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) working group that will focus on collaborative governance and management in support of resilience-based ecosystem stewardship:

For those not familiar with PECS, it is a new initiative in the ICSU’s set of programmes on global change.  Its aims are “to integrate research on the stewardship of social—ecological systems, the services they generate and the relationships among natural capital, human wellbeing, livelihoods, inequality and poverty.”

George and I are very excited for this opportunity and look forward to combining insights from field work in the US, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Sweden, and several other locales around the globe.  More to follow on these projects in the coming months.

More thoughts on Collaboration in Environmental Management

In my last (sleep-deprived) post, I commented on the disciplinary divide between social and natural scientists in their views of collaboration.  I noted that the social scientists often focus on building social capital, reducing transaction costs, etc while the natural scientists often focus more on scale.  Clearly, I oversimplified and under-thought (thunk?) these ideas.  The clearest examples of oversight come from any of the literature on watershed management, corridor conservation, or firescape management where both aspects of collaboration are routinely discussed.  But these two different (although not necessarily always discrete) types of collaboration still stumped me.

However, last week I had the good fortune of discussing some planned laboratory experiments on collaboration with Diego Galafassi.  In these experiments, Diego, along with Marco Janssen, Jacopo Baggio, and the esteemed Orjan Bodin, are comparing social-ecological systems in which the ecosystems are connected but different groups of actors have access to different patches.  In each treatment, there are two groups of players each drawing from only one of the ecosystems.  Because the ecosystems are linked, the behavior of each actor affects the other parties.  In one treatment, no one can talk to anyone else.  In another the members harvesting from the same ecosystem can communicate with others also harvesting from the same ecosystem but not to the other parties using the adjoining ecosystem or habitat patch.  In a third treatment, the groups from each ecosystem can talk with each other.  Stay tuned for more about these experiments as we start to run them.

While this is an overly brief synopsis of these experiments, discussing these with Diego sparked a few ideas.  First, the divide in collaboration that I was discussing wasn’t a disciplinary one at all.  Rather, it was about two distinct types of collaboration.  In these experiments, the “within group” treatments is really about collaboration with peers on a given site.  It’s about building social capital, etc (the naively-denoted social science view mentioned previously).  The links with other groups on connected (but separately managed) ecosystems is about scale-expanding.  When I consider case studies from my own research, I started thinking about the work at Agua Fria National Monument.  Here, the Nature Conservancy has facilitated collaborations between the BLM, Forest Service, and Arizona Game and Fish regarding grazing allotments and Collaborative Adaptive Management plans across adjacent BLM/USFS land.  This aspect of the collaboration fits with this view of collaboration as being about scale-expansion.  However, the Collaborative Adaptive Management process that the agencies are going through goes far beyond this.  On the National Monument alone over 50 stakeholder groups have participated in workshops and planning meetings or been invited into the process.  Few of these groups is a land owner in the sense that their collaboration expands the scale of the project in any meaningful sense.  However, it does increase the knowledge base, build legitimacy in the management process, add social capital, and so on.  The two aspects of this case mirror the two separate forms/purposes of collaboration.

Again, these thoughts are still being written in a quick fashion by an author with chronic sleep deficit.  But this framing may help us to better understand collaborations in the field and in the lab.  I’m hopeful that we can explore these ideas in the upcoming research.

Collaboration in Environmental Management and Scale

Just a few quick thoughts…

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the recent push by US Federal agencies for increasing stakeholder engagement and collaborative management.  Most of the discussions within the agencies as well as in the academic literature (in collaborative management, collaborative governance, co-management, etc) have been about collaboration and the social benefits – increasing legitimacy and buy-in, building social capital, gaining access to local knowledge, improving monitoring and enforcement of rules, and so on.  It appears that only occasionally is reference made to the literature that comes from corridor ecology and conservation biology about the gains from changing the scale of management.  The bioregionalism movement focuses on shifting scales and the transboundary conservation work acknowledges this as well.  However, it’s mostly missing from the “collaboration” literature.

The environmental challenges of today are occurring at ever-increasing scales as we approach planetary boundaries in the Anthropocene.  The impacts of increasing populations, affluence, and the globalization of trade, communications, and energy markets have led to a host of problems that span beyond borders.  The real benefits of collaboration, particularly when we look at collaborative governance beyond the most local of scales, seem to accrue from scale expansion, not social benefits.  But I guess this remains to be tested empirically.

– Thoughts from a sleep-deprived new dad