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Framework(s), Part III
I agree with both David and Sheila, although they bring different perspectivesto the problem, that the corporate sector is vitally important for the implementationof sustainable development. You may have noted Lester Brown's recent Stateof the World Report where he gives credit to Toyota and Monsanto for theircorporate leadership. It is my thesis, however, that governments have avital role to play, especially in terms of leadership, to all sectors ofCanadian society in their efforts to move towards sustainable development.As currently structured, however, they are a major impediment, and thatis the reason why we are trying to develop a new framework for governance,that is grounded, realizable and doable in our respective lifetimes.
With this introduction, I have consolidated the principles we identifiedat our June workshop. Remindful of the context of sustainable development,"where knowledge of the system we deal with is always incomplete. Surpriseis inevitable. There will rarely be unanimity of agreement among peers,only an increasingly credible line of tested argument. Not only is the scienceincomplete, the system itself is a moving target, evolving because of theimpacts of management and the progressive expandion of the scale of humaninfluences on the planet" (Holling 1996), I would like to suggest thateach of us take one of the principles and explain the need for the principleand describe its characteristics in simple language that can be widely understoodby a variety of audiences. I have taken the liberty of assigning principlesto each of us, and would ask that we have the list completed by March 15,1998. As well, please do not hesitate to add any that have been neglected.As well, I would dearly love to have principles that are analogues fromnatural systems that equally apply to human activity systems.
1. Systems approach (for me, this encompasses our earlier identifiedprinciple of holism). NINA-MARIE LISTER
2. Enlarged decision-making contexts. ANN DALE
3. Multiple perspectives. (this includes interdisciplinarity). CHRISTINEMASSEY
4. Plural methodologies. (this encompasses the idea of bricoleur) SHEALAGHPOPE
5. Feedback loops (this includes the idea of knowledge-based organizations,safe to fail). DAVID BROWN
6. Dynamic, self-organizing structures (SOHO). NINA-MARIE LISTER
7. Diversity. DALE ROTHMAN
8. Scale effects (this includes the idea of subsidiarity) LASZLO PINTER
9. Mutalism. ANN DALE
10. Resilience (this subsumes the concept of uncertainty,and the uncertaintyprinciple). JOHN MIDDLETON
11. Integrity. GLEN NEWTON
12. Equity (this would also include temporal effects, that is, intergenerationalequity.) ARJA VAINIO-MATILLA
13. Multiple contexts. ANN DALE
14. Limits (biophysical and human). DAVID SIMS
15. Cyclical processes (this includes the idea of closed-loop processes,industrial ecology, the role of industry, waste minimization) STEPHANIECAIRNS
16. Humility. CATERINA GEUER
17. Values. ELSE SKJONSBERG
18. Information (this subsumes the ideas of information and the criticalneed for negative, as well as positive feedback loops to be incorporatedinto decision-making, and the role of science). ANN DALE
Hi all and my apologies for the long silence! I am jumping in here withtwo feet to share some recent experiences from the worl that practices sustainabledevelopment...not. I have been travelling recently a fair amount and havenot yet had the opportunity to read all of the discussion that has takenplacve. It may be that my contribution is not appropriate or relevant atthis time, in addition to it being disjointed, but I need to write someof these thoughts out and share them with those of wise minds and perspective!
In the last couple of months I have been to the Ivory Coast, Tanzania,and most recently, to Tanzania. Some thoughts that have evoleved on thebasis of these journeys:
* there is no global framework for discussion on development that isgrounded in the multiple and complex realities that exist on the globe.Cuts in the health sector may be an issue in Canada and Tanzania, but theclinic I visited in Tanzania was preparing for cuts being uimposed in thename of sustainability wielding the heavy instrument of sustainability,and in practice meaning, among other things, that cesarian sections wouldin the future be carried out on patients sedated with valium. It is veryhard to begin articulating a principle of equity that can address such inequity.
* in all three countries all of the numerous development initiativesidentify four sustainability imperatives: ecological, economic, equity andinstitutional. I think we need to revisit these imperatives. Institutionalsustainability is very interesting in the context where there are no redbrick structures to signify the existence of the institutions. It reallyrefers to the sustainability of process, and I think that this is not sufficientlyaddressed by the other three imperatives.
* back to the very definition of development. Two instances from thesejourneys: a woman introducing her new time and fuel saving cookstove, saying:"This really is development". This concrete thing that makes adifference to my life. And a colleague trying to capsulate the meaning ofdevelopment as "the realization of human potential". I wonderwhether sustainable development then could be "realization of all potential".
It is hard not to feel acutely the contradictions between our electronicdebate and the struggle of survival that is for many the only means of definingsustainability: to sustain life. It is not that I am losing faith here,but I am struggling to maintain a perspective that allows for principlesthat would reflect contributions from relaities starkly different from myown.
Thank you for listening, Arja
I look forward to seeing the principles you have developed, and sincerelyhope, that we have full participation as co-researchers.
I will forward my other two principles (mutualism and multiple contexts)by tomorrow at the latest.
What I would like to suggest is that we begin a discussion over the nextthree weeks on the principles, trying to simplify our language, elaboratewhere necessary, and make any additions. Beginning in April 1998, I willdraft some strategic objectives that emanate from these principles, andin May, begin serious discussion of a framework for governance.
The role of information in the 21st century will be key for a wide varietyof reasons. A number of experts have begun to flag its importance as thenew emerging reality (Regier, personal communication; and our current inabilityto document or seek out the enormous relevant experience that currentlyexists (Hilborn and Walters 1981). There are three essential features tosustainable development information. First, we shall never attain scientificconsensus concerning the systems that are being examined, and that knowledgeof the system with which we deal is always incomplete (Walters 1986 and1993). Second, there is an inherent unknowability, as well as unpredictability,concerning evolving managed ecosystems and the societies with which theyare linked (Holling 1993). And third, it requires the collection and integrationof information from many different disciplinary perspectives, includingethicists, biologists, systems experts, biochemists, taxonomists, and economists;many of whom do not speak the same language, and are unaccustomed to workingtogether collaboratively with other disciplines. It is a stream of inquiryfundamentally concerned with integrative modes of inquiry and multiple sourcesof evidence, that is constantly evolving, and is vitally dependent uponthe ability of human activity systems to perceive and respond to negativefeedback loops, particularly in the area of natural resource managementpolicy development.
The nature and integrity of information are key to the success of pluralisticfora, and effective decision-making based on meaningful trade-offs. Theintegrity of this information is dependent on the ability of socio-politicalinstitutions for active adaptive management systems that promote learningand innovation, and for policies that recognize that process and productare inseparable for understanding. The foundation of good science, goodpolicy and effective communication (and incidentally artistic endeavour)is simplicity and focus. For information to be meaningful to decision-makers,it must have 'communicative rationality' (Dryzek 1989) in addition to 'technicaland scientific rationality'. For example, scientists, must realize thatalthough they deal in probabilities, most decision-makers deal work withrisk, and disembodied information relevant only to narrow disciplines doesnot contribute to useful knowledge.
ENLARGED DECISION-MAKING CONTEXTS
Because of the multiplicity of influencing variables; their interdependenceand the corresponding need for interdisciplinarity to respond effectivelyto them; the plurality of interests in this area, and the "high stakes"involved as well as the imprecise nature of our information, decision-makingfor sustainable development cannot be made by any one sector, includinggovernment.
Pluralistic fora are needed where a multiplicity of legitimate perspectivescan be expressed, and where public policy questions on sustainable developmentand attendant moral, aesthetic and valuation questions can be addressed.Holling and Walters (1986) have argued for the necessity to integrate ecologyand systems approaches with science, policy and management, and for interdisciplinaritybecause it "combines historical, comparative, and experimental approachesat scales appropriate to the issues". These fora must integrate boththe natural and social sciences, given the interplay of environmental andsocial systems and the current difficulty of reconciling social and ecologicalimperatives. Transdisciplinary dialogue is critical to realizing societalchanges in areas such as climate change.
It requires individuals with the ability to transcend disciplinary perspectives,to live within the paradox -- paradoxes of stability and change, of orderand chaos, of order and disorder, of sustainability and development "(Holling1989/90), of simplicity and complexity; to transcend gaps in knowledge andinformation to make decisions with irreversible consequences for futuregenerations; to deal with the parts and the whole simultaneously, and tobalance the needs of our species with the needs of "others."
I found the principle of "multiple contexts" very difficultto write, almost as if the more knowledge and information you have, themore difficult it is to extrapolate. I know that David Brown exhorts usto simplicity, and I believe it is a desirable objective, but this an academicexercise, and thus, perhaps some jargon may be excused. As well, I wouldlike to suggest, once again, that we keep refining these principles overthe next two months, and thus, any author is able to keep revising untilthe middle of June. In fact, we may wish to iterate back and forth fromthe framework for governance to these principles to see how well they translate.One principle that we may be missing is the concept of resilience, any takers?
We bring multiple contexts, at the individual, cultural, social and professionallevels to our work. These contexts are influenced by our individual mindscaptes(Maruyama 1994), prevailing paradigms, myths and metaphors that we haveadopted to make sense of our world. "Prevalent analytic paradigms andparticular intellectual perspectives are extremely limited as a means tocomprehend and inform realistic choices" (Brewer). Both interdisciplinarityand multistakeholder processes are dependent upon the development of a shared"pre-analytic vision" (Daly 1992), or what Holling refers to asthe entry point for the problems. Personal and collective awareness of thesemultiple contexts, and making them explicit is key to accepting and understandingnew information, enlarged decision-making contexts and transdisciplinaryfora.
Health, or functional existence, depends upon a faculty of the organismfor mutual synthesis with the environment (Williamson and Pearse 1980).Human existence and survival lies essentially in the functional action ofthe organism and their environment. Human activity systems are subjectivelyinterdependent and embedded in natural systems, and both are engaged inan overall and mutual process. Both influence and are influenced by eachother.
In discussing the very important concept of humility, I want to acknowledgefirst off my debt to an American bioregional philosopher and activist, FreemanHouse, whom I met last year at a Shasta Bioregional gathering in California.He helped me to jell my ideas around the need for, and importance of, humilityas a stance to take when we go out into the world and rally around the bannerof sustainability.
I also need to mention my own understanding, gained through years ofstudying Oriental methods of diagnosis and healing, that arrogance is thehighest and most intense form of disease. The more arrogant a person is,the more separated and isolated they are from the life around them, andthe less grounded they are in reality.
It is my understanding and belief that our entire culture is dominatedby arrogance--just look at the idea proposed by some that it doesn't matterif we destroy the Earth because when that happens, some of us (the "chosen")will just be able to jump into a space ship and head out to some other planetfor the taking. Another way that our arrogance shows up is in the beliefthat the human species is the pinnacle of creation--and some races withinthe species are at the top of the pinnacle!
Many people are calling for new stories and myths that will lead us andinspire us to heal and live in balance with all of the life with which weshare our home. New stories require a new vantage point, a new place tobegin re-framing the way that humans are situated here. I suggest, alongwith many others, that we must begin re-framing ourselves here from a stanceof humility. Humility, in essence, is about accepting the fact that creationcan go along quite merrily if we ourselves do not exist. It is about selflessness.It is the opposite of selfishness and greed, which so many of us identifyas the major cause of the problems we are facing.
Why are people selfish and greedy? Because they believe there is notenough to go around, that, for their very survival, they have to grab everythingthey can, even if it means that others die. By believing there is not enough,and that they themselves must survive, they actually create the very problemsthey are afraid of.
It's true that life is made up out of paradoxes. What if we live ourown lives as though there is more than enough of everything we need to sustainus? What if our first thought upon waking up every morning, and the lastone before we go to sleep, is one of intense gratitude that we are hereto enjoy the great gift of life itself? The Tibetans teach that the singlemost difficult thing in the entire universe is to incarnate as a human onthis Earth. Many traditional cultures teach that any culture is only aswealthy as the poorest member.
These are powerful ideas, and I believe they are signposts to the pathof healing our relationship to our home; to the restoration of our relationshipwith the natural world around us in which we are embedded inextricably.We need to end the compartmentalization and separation that leads to arroganceand destruction. We need to approach ourselves, each other and the worldaround us in a humble way, which will give us the space and time to considerour options, to knit ourselves back together with the life around us, tocontinue to co-create and restore the life we have ignorantly and arrogantlydamaged.
For some reason, our culture needed to see "nature" as somehowpure, innocent, and separate from humans. How powerful it will be if enoughof us are able to see nature as it is, full of both the creative and thedestructive powers that flow through humans, too. When we stand in frontof a watershed (or any system, human or natural--what about economics?)that we intend to restore in a humble way, first of all we need to acknowledgeour own shame--shame at our ignorance and arrogance that has caused so muchdestruction. We need to acknowledge "the injury that we are attemptingto reverse" (from an editorial in Restoration and Management Notes,15:1 Summer 1997 entitled Loss of Innocence, by William Jordan III) Jordangoes on to suggest the importance of not separating too sharply the actof restoration or healing from the act of destruction or injury. "Ratherthan denying the shame of injuring nature, or referring it to others, therestorationist should take advantage of the opportunity restoration offersto become aware of and to acknowledge her complicity in it. In other words,harm and restoration should not be seen or experienced separately, but shouldbe tightly linked in a ritual cycle that leads through shame to community"(op.cit.).
The reality is that life and nature are bigger and more powerful thanany force humans could ever bring to bear, ultimately. It is foolish tothink it could ever be otherwise. To accept things as they are, in a humblefashion, is the first step towards a maturity and a willingness to act asforces of restoration that will bring about the healing of our human relationshipswith ourselves, each other, our communities, and our home.
Many of us decry the denial that we see all around us--a denial thatallows us to keep on consuming, polluting, destroying and wasting. A humbleacknowledgement of our part in these anti-life activities is the first steptowards the breakdown of that stiff wall of denial and the possibility ofmaking balance again.
We will each need to start with our own arrogance, in a hundred smalland tiny ways, to keep watch over and to squelch our own inbred tendenciesto arrogance. Each tiny little victory will be a little burst of joy, asmall step to the healthy confidence, married to humility, that will allowlife itself to continue on.
The idea of multiple perspectives is integral to our efforts toward sustainabledevelopment. It is an idea closely linked to the principles of information,enlarged decision-making contexts and multiple contexts.The explanationsof these other principles add to this definition of multiple perspectives.
The principle of multiple perspectives is linked to the way in whichwe make decisions about our world. This principle holds that the ways inwhich we currently try to understand our problems provide us with only apartial view. While we will never make decisions with complete knowledge,the intent of using multiple perspectives is to assist us in making decisionswith a fuller understanding of the implications, costs and benefits of ouractions.
Despite the apparent certainty that scientific approaches can sometimesappear to give us, the principle of multiple perspectives holds that scienceis insufficient as the only way to understand a problem, although scienceremains an important tool. Even within science, there are multiple waysof addressing a problem. Often, the inadequacy of our scientific data fordecision-making is due to the limited number of scientific perspectivesused. The scientific world, as well as the whole world around us, is movingtoward greater degrees of specialization - we know more and more about lessand less. The idea of multiple perspectives helps to balance this trend.
Multiple perspectives means that we have to challenge our common assumptionsabout who is an expert and what constitutes valuable knowledge. If we valuemore than purely scientific knowledge, then we need to consult more thanscientists. If we recall the case of the Canadian cod fishery, in makinga decision about fishing quotas, a multiple perspectives approach wouldhold that the views of the scientists about the health of the cod stocksshould be considered along with what the fishers have observed about thetheir catches, historical cycles, the size of the fish, etc.
But multiple perspectives means more than just observations about ournatural world. It also means multiple views on the social and economic aspectsof our world, all of which have an impact on the way in which we make decisionsabout how we use the world's natural resources. With multiple perspectives,we might learn about the social and economic priorities of a fishing communityversus the priorities of the company that owns the trawlers. An engineerplanning the most efficient route for a new highway might not consider thesocial effects on a community bisected by the new throughway.
Multiple perspectives forces us to explain our assumptions, our valuesand our goals as different kinds of knowledge are brought to the table.The multiple perspectives approach challenges us, requiring patience, timeand trust in order to develop the understanding between perspectives.
A systems approach is a way of trying to understand the world's complexityand an associated set of methods, tools and techniques for problem-solvingin the context of complexity (see e.g. Checkland 1981; Wilson & Morrow1990). It is really a pluralistic set of approaches that share as a commonframework the "organic" view that the world is complex and uncertain,and it is more than the sum of its parts. In this sense, a systems approachis closely linked with the principles of SOHOS, multiple perspectives, enlargeddecision-making contexts and multiple contexts.
Notably, a systems approach is not really about holism per se; i.e. itis not epistemologically opposed to reductionism. Rather, a systems approachaccepts reductionism as a useful but insufficient perspective; i.e. a systemsapproach INCLUDES reductionism at appropriate scales and contexts. Specifically,reductionist approaches such as those of basic and applied science are perfectlyuseful and indeed the most appopriate techniques for certain types of problems,e.g. "hard" or "crisp" problems or those that are clear,controllable, bounded, and at experimentally managable scales where predictiblilityand repeatability are possible and desirable. In contrast, a systems approachhas been advocated (Ackoff 1974; Checkland 1981; Churchman, 1968, 1971;Koestler 1978) and techniques developed (Checkland 1981; Checkland &Scholes 1990; Senge 1990; Wheatley 1992; Wilson & Morrow 1990) for dealingwith "soft" or "fuzzy" problems; i.e. those that arecharacterised by emergent properties and complex interactions at multiplescales with multiple actors in possibly multiple roles. A systems approachis particularly well suited to sustainable development, which is a soft,real-world problem that epitomises complexity. Specifically, sustainabledevelopment is not an easily bounded problem that can be conceptualisedas a search for a definitive end -- there is no fixed end-point to SD, andthe goals themselves are problematic.
A systems approach uses many lenses through which to view the problemand many voices with which to articulate it. It is the synthesis of multipleperspectives and the resolution of these into an agreed upon problem contextand process of solution that is unique to each situation. In this way, asystems approach relies on human learning and an enlarged decision-makingcontext (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1994; Dale 1998; Senge 1990). Importantly,a systems approach is not a recipe for action, but an applied way of conceptualisinga problem and a path to a negotiated, collaborated solution (Gallopin per.comm. 1996; Lister 1998). It is neither prescriptive nor sequential in operation,but rather may be described as a set of guiding principles with common elementsthat must be shaped to each unique problem context. At the same time, asa methodology for problem analysis and solution, a systems approach *IS*rigorous -- where rigour is defined as a search for meaning through a qualitydecision-making process that is empowered and empowering, transparent, accountable,and reproducible when tailored to a unique context (Lister, 1998). Understoodthis way, a systems approach is both an epistemology and a methodology for"framing and taming" the problem of sustainable development.
DYNAMIC, SELF-ORGANISING STRUCTURES* (SOHOS)
*NB: I wasn't sure if Ann meant "structures" or "systems"in her directive -- I chose to link the two, beginning with "structures"for decision-making as they are derived from, and to some extent, modelledon SOHO "systems". Also, as requested, I was about to take a firstcrack at "resilience" but I see in re-reading an earlier e-mailthat Ann has already assigned John Middleton with the articulation of thisprinciple (Generic Principles #10, e-mail dated 14/2/98).
Dynamic, self-organising, holarchic, open structures are central to effectivedecision-making for sustainable development. In managing our human activitiesand our interactions with other species and the biosphere that nourishesand sustains us, we must adopt decision-making structures that reflect thecomplexity, diversity and uncertainty of the world that nourishes and sustainsus physically, biologically, emotionally and spiritually. For this reason,decision-making structures for sustainable development must not only copewith but embrace the fundamental uncertainty and change that characterisethe biology and cultures of our planet.
What do such structures look like? The hallmark of these structures isthat they must adapt to and accommodate change as a normal event, ratherthan trying to oppose, resist or suppress change. These structures are adaptiveprincipally because they are diverse and flexible (rather than homogenousand brittle). Through the fundamental characteristics of diversity and flexibility,they must be resilient, "learning" structures; i.e. they mustincorporate learned experience as feedback which facilitates flexibilityand ultimately evolution of the decision-making structure and its internalparticipants. The collaborative learning of participants leads to emergentnovelty of ideas and responses to various problem contexts, and as such,these structures are more than the sum of their parts. In this context,these decision structures must embody the SD principles of multiple perspectives,enlarged decision-making contexts and multiple contexts. Also called "learningorganisations" (Senge, 1990), dynamic, self-organising, holarchic,open structures for decision-making are analogues to nature itself; theyare organic models of open complex systems that occur in nature and whichhave been described by General Systems Theory (von Bertalanffy, 1968) andmore recently, in ecosystem or systems ecology (Holling 1986, 1992; Regier1993; Odum 1993; Kay 1984, 1994)
Essentially, self-organising, holarchic, open systems (SOHOS) are theresult of life itself. They are systems (generically meaning a set of elementsconnected by a process that together forms a whole) which freely exchangematter, energy and information with their surrounding environment. In thissense they can be considered organisationally ajar (Dempster, 1998 on synpoeticvs. autopoetic systems). SOHO systems are dynamic in that they are characterisedby regular but often sudden and unpredictable change, and they are adaptiveand resilient because they are able to accomodate change and they regeneratethemselves following change (Holling 1986; Kay & Schneider 1994). Inliving systems, this vital self-organisational capacity is maintained bythe diversity of organisms within the system and the information functionsit it serves (Holling et al. 1995; Lister 1994, 1998). In this respect,the SOHOS principle is closely linked with the principles of informationand resilience.
In sum, SOHO systems are characterised by complexity, diversity and uncertainty,all of which are considered emergent properties of the whole, or propertiesnot present in the system's component parts. (Examples of emergent propertiesare the taste of water, the smell of ammonia, language, symbiotic relationships,love, etc.). By way of contrast, (generally speaking) closed deterministicsystems, can be explained by and are reducible to the sum of their parts.They tend to be predictable; they may be controlled though a hierarchicaldistribution of power; and they require external force or stimuli for repair.Simplified examples are a steam engine, some cells, and certain chemicalreactions. A generalised social analogue is a political autocracy. (Somewould push the analogy further and use our present unsustainable ab/useof the earth as an example of a pathologically destructive system basedon Newtonian determinism and a mechanistic worldview.)
Here are some preliminary thoughts on equity for discussion, and I'dlove some feedback:
Firstly, the concept of equity needs to accommodate multiple and complexrealities. This emerges from a globality that includes different realitiesof place (as in different continents), of time (as in different generations)and of form (as in different life forms).
Secondly, it cannot be assumed that multiplicity or complexity of theserealities is caused by either an articulated or an unacknowledged desirefor either similarity or difference. This is important when discussing issuessuch as the use of resources, and the control over that use.
Thirdly, equity must encompass not only the visible outcome of processbut the process itself, be it as formulated as (some) decision-making processescan be or as unformulated as (some) aspirations can be.
Ultimately, equity is about power. If a principle of equity is to informour strategies on sustainability, it means that in every regard (especiallyenvironmental and economic) we need to address the issue of power. To addresspower we need to make explicit structures that have power, processes thattransfer power and outcomes that establish power.
And we need to pick up that power and......
Dr. Arja Vainio-Mattila
Hello all -
Just a quick comment to say that I was pleased that Arja explicitly introducedthe concept of power into her definition of equity. After I submitted mydescription of multiple contexts, I realized that power was an importantmissing link. All the multiple perspectives, contexts and enlarged decision-makingcontexts won't make any difference if one or two players continue to holdall the power. (I'm thinking back to some of our earlier discussions abouthow to deal with corporate power and control.) Maybe this is something forconsideration in the revisions?
The activity levels and discussions being commendble lately, may I throwin another angle of approach? This stems from my constant attempt to applywhat I read to the real world, to try to understand how a government orsociety or individual can have an impact on the current ways of exploitationvs. sustainable co-use.
How are the major problems of societies solved? We've been doing a lotof talking about ideal definitions, ideal parameters of discussion, idealmodels or examples, ... and indeed we should, but I worry that any adviceor directives we leave Ann with may not amount to too much if they are highlyunlikely to be achieved or utilized.
I serve on an advisory committee here at the university, looking intoways to redesign the university, to make it more responsive to society'sneeds, and more efficient and accountable internally (without having toshave dollars at the same time, fortunately). In other words, this is athink tank to make the university a better place. At several points alongthe way, when we idealists have come up with what appears to be a grandidea, complete with work plan, policy makers calm us down and tell us thisis not the time or place for such recommendations. "Why not?",we idealists cry out. We were asked to do this, after all. Because, we aretold, the senior management team at the univeristy currently thinks thesystem is working quite well, so they have no pressing need to change it.The current system suits their needs well, its better than what was in placefive years ago, so barring an unforeseen catastrophy or major new problem,senior management will not be receptive to major overhauls in the way theuniversity is run. Just now, that is. This kind of mentality, which canchurn the blood pressure of idealists, applies to governments, it seemsto me, of most any society. There is an inertia to change that is far moreeasily counteracted when the proposer of change can point out that lackof change will lead to a far worse outcome. In the world of sustainability,we can talk about overpopulation of the earth, pollution of the oceans,exhaustion of fossil fuels, air pollution, etc., and the totality of responseseems to be somewhat greater than a yawn. Summits, congresses, and jointcommittee meetings are held, and little seems to get done. Jobs, the economy,and the quality of air, water, soil, etc., in the next three to six monthsseems to win. We aren't doing a good job of getting society, hence politicians,working in longer time frames. I don't pretend to know what to do aboutthis, but its a problem that I think about whenever I read the many finepostings to this list.
From our perspective, the overfishing of the Grand Banks is a simple,understandable, magnificent example of overexploitation and its consequences.Yet, with the exception of within the Canadian government pertaining onlyto the east coast, there seems to have been nothing learned. Will the westcoast have to repeat the same thing? Looks like it.
Discussion of Solution: There has to be an acknowedgement of the limitsof the earth's ecosystems. This sounds kind of simple to us, but withoutit, I don't believe all the other fine discussion will amount to anything.
Can anyone suggest some concrete examples of time scales of limitations?
Will we run out of oil in 2020 at currently projected rates of usage?
Will we run out of land to prepare food for humans by 2100 at the currentrates of population growth?
Is there a constructive way to use such information to achieve change?
Sorry for the lengthy posting.
Greetings to the members of the discussion.
Some systems (a watch is the classical example) work well in some conditions,but cease working if even a small part is damaged, and once broken, theystay broken. They may be very durable, but they are not resilient to change.
Other systems (including most of those with some living components) arenot so particlar. They can change under the effect of external forces andreturn to (or close to) their original state once the external conditions
change. Such systems are said to be resilient. Resilience is thus theability of a system (say an ecosystem or a system of governance) to adaptto change while maintaining some aspects of its original condition or function.
There are at least two sticky bits. First, the idea of "externalchanges" is problematic at least up to the scale of the planet. Weare only too aware of how ecosystems are affected by but also affect climatesystems, for example.
Second, and more importantly, If we think of systems in the context ofever-changing conditions (rather than in a bell jar), it's clear that resilientsystems are always in flux. For example, a successful, evolving ecosystemwill track environmental conditions, not return to the past. Similarly asystem of governance must constantly readjust its goals if it is not tobecome quickly anachronistic. So, how can we tell if a system is resilientor not?
An extreme example: If human activity or crashing asteroids or whateverwere to eliminate all multicellular organisms on the planet, life wouldgo on. There is no unique way to answer the question of whether the systemhas shown resilience or not. By some criteria it has (photosynthesis, energyflow, nutrient cycling perhaps), by others it has not (types and distributionof species etc.). If we insist that there be NO deviation from originalconditions, then no system can be said to be resilient and the concept becomesmeaningless.
A more realistic example: imagine a forest subject to human activity.When do we say that the forest is not resilient to such impact? If the agedistribution (e.g. loss of old-growth) is changed? If the type of forestchanges (e.g. conifer to deciduous)? if the forest changes to grasslandor meadow? If photosynthetic potential is reduced? etc. There is no unambiguousanswer.
The (unsurprising) conclusion is that the concept of resilience doesnot allow us to escape value judgements about our development decisions.If we wish to use the concept of resilience, we must be explicit about thecriteria we value and think important to maintain even as conditions change(perhaps, for example, but not unambiguously, total biodiversity, democraticprocess, etc.)
(p.s. amen to David Sim's comments of March 18.)
- John Middleton
Reading John's writing on resilience, a story comes to mind: If a frogis put in coll water, he stays there. If the frog is put in hot water, itjumps out. If the frog is put in cool water which then is slowly heatedthe frog also stays....but dies. Not being a biologist, I don't know thetruth of this...but the idea that we can adapt to death rings true. So thenif resilience is adptability, what are the checks that tell us to stop adaptingbefore we boil?
You can see where my thoughts are on this near-end-of-term-my-desk-is-full-of-unmarked-papers day! I just don't want to adapt....
Greetings to all, Arja
The following discussion of diversity has been written very much offthe top of my head. Please feel free to add to it, point out conceptualflaws, etc. I have benefitted from reading the other pieces on the genericprinciples. A comment or two on these first. To Catarina and David Sims- what happens to living "our own lives as though there is more thanenough of everything to sustain us" meets limits? To Arja, how do wereconcile the issue of equity with an observable quality of many peopleto base their happiness not on what they have in absolute terms, but ratherrelative to others?
Variety is the spice of life . . . but do we really need that much spice?
Recall the story of the blind men describing an elephant. The multipleperspectives they brought all provided different insights into the objectthey were describing. It occurs to me that there might be a better metaphor,though. Think about all of the creatures and processes that will be requiredto eat, decompose, and otherwise act to return the physical elements ofthat elephant to be reused once it dies.
I am going to have to address the principle of diversity on a numberof levels. The one that immediately comes to mind is the need for diversityto achieve ecological sustainability. It has already been noted that diversityis a prerequisite for resilience. It is diversity that permits ecosystems,although perhaps not individuals or individual species, to adapt to change.More diverse systems are, in fact, more resistant to certain disruptions(think of a crop pest invading a monoculture vs. a mixed cropping system).In terms of recovering from major disruptions and in the classic theoryof succession, there are species that pave the way for later species. Thesepioneer species, r-strategist for the technically minded, "prepare"the environment so that it is suitable for the other species, K-strategistfor the technically minded. In the absence of the former, even in a matureenvironment, recovery from disruption will be much slower.
Related to this, we must recognize the role of diversity in (co-)evolution.At its most basic, no diversity, no variation, nothing for natural selectionto work on, no (co-)evolution.
On another plane, diversity is key because the world is diverse. Theworld is a big, messy, and heterogeneous place. Some problems related tosustainability are global, some are ubiquitous, but most are not quite thesame in every place or to every person. To even articulate, much less understandthese issues requires a diverse set of perspectives. To go further and todevise and assess "solutions" certainly requires a diversity ofideas and knowledge. It was not one thing that has lead to what we see asproblems; there is not one magic bullet that will solve these. And evenif there were, there would not likely be a single way to implement it.
Finally, back to where I started. Given the normative nature of the conceptof sustainability, would a world lacking in diversity, ever were it possible,be desirable?
I'm going to start by sneaking out from under the requirement to definea principle, and then in a rambling fashion try to pick up some of the pointsthat have grabbed my attention as I've read the host of postings over thelast month or so.
Ann asked me to comment on the idea of "plural methodologies"and "bricoleur". Well, I looked up bricoleur in the directionaryand it said "handyman" "putterer" and I am at a lossto make the connection.
It also seems to me that Christine and Nina Marie have already done anadmirable job of arguing for looking a problems from multiple perspective,for using different approaches to address questions and look for solutions.The question that comes to mind, having reread the postings to the dialogueover the last month or so, is how do we reconcile or integrate or make useof these multiple contexts, perspectives, and plural methodologies? I wantto know how to make this theory operational.
The only example that I have every seen (which is probably a functionof my limited reading in this area and not limited scholarship by others)of how to maintain resilience in decision making is Ursula Franklin's descriptionof how she got through a day as a mother,
university professor and researcher - by defining priorities, doing thingsas opportunities arose (her kid took an unexpected nap so she made a bunchof phone calls), by not being rigid about the order in which things hadto be done. This starts to make operational flexibility, but doesn't dealwith multiple contexts, perspectives, methodologies. Can we come up withan operational example of how to implement each of the principles? Concrete,hands on, how to. I need it. I am drowning in theory and jargon. Are there"learning institutions" out there that we can learn from? Howwould we recast the federal government as one such institution?
How do we see integrating perspectives that are opposed? I think of thecurrent "Lands for Life" (the name makes me so mad) process inwhich the government of Ontario has abused the round table system for allthat it is worth (not a hard thing to do - that's why industry and governmentlove the round table process) so that they can give half of the provinceto the forestry and mining companies. I have had no success in trying toreconcile my notions of a forested landscape that supports a diversity oflife with some of the forestry companies' perception that money is the be-alland end-all. I have no voice in this process (even though I have gone tothe trouble of making a presentation - talking into the wind...) and soit is irrelevant that I have a different perspective.
Ann called for "pluralistic fora" - you've lost me there -can you define what a pluralistic forum might look like?
Ann said that decision-making for sustainable development cannot be madeby any one sector, including government. However, she also stressed thather thesis focused on government. So how to make the government more amenableto not being the centre of all decision making on sustainable developmentissues (if it is - I still worry about the corporate influence - the offshorefishery was given the quotas that killed the fishery but supported the fishplants. Who really made that decision - the government or National Sea Products?)
She talked about enlarged decision-making contexts and multistakeholderfora for opening up the process, particularly the lobbying by private sectorinterests, to "other "groups. There used to be a notion of intervenorfunding - of supporting the dissenting voices. The Lands for Life processhas gone out of its way to quell dissenting opinions (you could only beon one of the Round Tables if you lived in the area in question - effectivelydisenfrancising 90% of the population). Is intervenor funding one way thatwe can address power and bring multiple voices to the table, to make differentinformation available?
Ann talked about the integrity of information. What does this mean -that we have validation of the information - like the International Panelon Climate Change review process that strives to make clear by rigourouspeer review by armies of scientists what is known and what ideas we havea far amount of confidence in? Is this a valid model? We are drowning ininformation - how do we know what to listen to? This comes back to the multipleperspectives in that that validation has to be by a variety of people -Christine's comment about listening to the fishers and not just the scientists.
Ann said that the role of information in the 21st century will be keyfor a wide variety of reasons:
1) incomplete knowledge - can't know it all before we have to act
2) inherent unknowability and unpredictability - we can't ever know itall
3) we don't all speak the same language - can't communicate what we doknow
Why is this true for the 21st century more than for any other? Is informationreally a new emerging reality? Has it not been central in the past? Or isit that the speed at which we can process it, move it around, analyze itthat makes it more central, more key?
I wonder if Caterina's arrogance cannot be defined in the context ofinformation as "working from the assumption that you can know everything- or that what you know is sufficient" - not having the humility toadmit that you can't know everything.
I was greatly intrigued by Arja's call for institutional sustainabilityand her defining that as sustainability of process and further that "equitymust encompass not only the visible outcome of process but the process itself".I presume we are going to be selective in what processes we value and tryto maintain - Suharto is doing an admirable job of maintain himself andthe processes that support him, but I'm not sure we would support him inthis regard. There's those values sneaking in again.
Specifically seeking clarification:
Nina Marie states that "a systems approach is not a recipe for action,but an applied way of conceptualising a problem and a path to a negotiated,collaborated solution (Gallopin per. comm. 1996; Lister 1998). It is neitherprescriptive nor sequential in operation, but rather may be described asa set of guiding principles with common elements that must be shaped toeach unique problem context". So what constitutes that set of guidingprinciples?
Arja said that "Firstly, the concept of equity needs to accommodatemultiple and complex realities... Secondly, it cannot be assumed that multiplicityor complexity of these realities is caused by either an articulated or anunacknowledged desire for either similarity or difference. This is importantwhen discussing issues such as the use of resources, and the control overthat use." You lost me on the secondly.
I'm asking questions because it seems to me a dialogue should be backand forth - not just everyone putting ideas in the pot (hence I've substituteda paucity of ideas in this posting for a plethory of questions). Salut,Shealagh
- Shealagh Pope