Arquivo de etiquetas: socioresiliência

Antropoceno XVI – entender a complexidade num mundo turbulento

Human development in the Anthropocene requires that we understand not only the rising human pressures on ecosystems, nature, and the planetary system as a whole, we must also understand how nature and the earth system responds.366

We’re learning more and more from empirical research around the world, that nature doesn’t respond in just incremental and linear ways. In fact, we now recognize that systems from coral reefs, to rainforests, to temperate forests, have several distinctly different states, separated by thresholds.

So, a system can be either a rainforest or a savannah. And if a system is pushed through environmental changes, across this threshold, we talk of a tipping point.  When a system changes fundamentally its structure and function, and tips over from one stable state to another stable state.  So strictly speaking the definition of a tipping point is when a system fundamentally changes structure and function, and settles into a new stable state. And the prerequisite to do so is that a feedback mechanism, which keeps the system tightly in one state, changes direction.

For example, a rainforest, its feedback is that it sustains its own moisture – it’s a self-wettening system. The feedback is that the green canopy sucks out a tremendous amount of water from the soil, feeds that back a vapour back into the atmosphere, and self-generates rainfall, and also keeps moisture within its very tight, dense canopy. That’s the feedback keeping it in a rainforest state. When that system is cut open through deforestation, it dries out, and warms up due to climate change, the feedback can change into a self-drying system, where instead it being wettening, becomes a self-drying system, and the system crosses a threshold, it becomes a tipping point, and gets locked as a savannah.365

This is “tipping points.” Now tipping points have been explored for decades, and have been understood in small ecosystems from lakes and forest systems, but increasingly we see evidence that large-scale systems can also be subject to tipping points.

And this is just one example of a potential tipping point that really, really concerns scientists across the world. It’s data from Greenland, showing on the x-axis months of the year, and on the y-axis showing the percentage of incoming heat from the sun, which is reflected back to space – what we call Albedo.

Now in the coloured thin lines, you see the stable state with a permanent ice layer on Greenland. When the ice is stable it is a very white colour, and as well all know, a white, light colour reflects back roughly 90-95% of incoming heat. And that’s exactly what we see. It goes down a little bit during the Arctic summer of June-July, when the fringes of Greenland always melt and become a slightly darker liquid surface, but overall, it’s a mirror, it’s a cooling system, it’s a prerequisite for the earth to stay stable in the Holocene.363

But look at that thick red line, which are observations from NASA in 2012. An extraordinary exception suddenly, for two weeks in July, the feedback changes direction from being a mirror, reflecting back heat, ie. a cooler, to becoming a net heat absorber. More than 50% of incoming heat is sucked up because for the first time in observational history the entire Greenland ice sheet is melting and covered by a liquid darker surface. Now Jason Box at the Byrd Polar Research Institute concludes in calculation that just these two weeks of change in feedback corresponds to a new injection of heat of in the order of 300 exajoules of energy.

Now 300 exajoules is a very difficult number, but just to give you some comparisons, the annual energy consumption in the US is in the order of 200 exajoules. The annual global energy consumption is a bit more than 600 (exajoules). So momentarily this means that Denmark bypasses China and the US as the world’s largest climate forcing nation. And this occurs when Mother Earth changes directions in the feedback, which potentially could be a tipping point.

Now for the Arctic, for example, there is emerging research showing that several systems can be subject to these kind of tipping points.  Such as a flip in the Arctic Sea ice cover, meaning that it could suddenly flip over into a situation with permanent open sea.

And other systems that keep the ocean circulation functioning between the Arctic Sea, and for example, the Atlantic. Now recent research on Greenland shows something quite remarkable. Ice core data, looking at the conditions on earth the last time we had a warm interglacial, the Eemian warm interglacial period, some 120 000 years back. To explore whether or not the Greenland ice sheet melted in its entirety.

The reason why this question is so critical is that at the time, during several of thousands of years, mean average temperatures were more than 4°C warmer than today. And normally, we have always expected that if we would reach a 4°C warming, an exceptional situation which we haven’t seen for 4, 5, 6 million years in a longer time period, that the entire Greenland ice sheet would melt.

But this recent data, led by Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, one of the world’s leading glaciologist, shows something surprising. Maybe that Greenland, in fact, did not melt. In fact, only contributed to in the order of 2 metres sea level rise, in a world that we know, with high degree of certainty, had a sea level which was 6-8 metres higher.

How come we know that the sea level was 6-8 metres higher? Well, we see that from very, very good data on coastal regions that show remnants of fossils from this period. So, we’re quite certain about the sea level rise. This shows, and gives us something of quite remarkable good news. It indicates, in fact, that Greenland is most likely more resilient than we previously thought.

Resilient in the sense that even a +4°C degree warming would still keep the Greenland ice sheet, you know, relatively in tact. But the drama is the following: if that’s correct, and Greenland thereby only contributes to 2 metres sea level rise, where is the lacking difference?

Because we’re missing in the order of 4-6 metres sea level rise, which must have caused, or been triggered, from somewhere else. And the trick is that there is only one potential candidate as a source for that rise, and that is Antarctica.

Antarctica, which we’ve always thought to be a more resilient system than the Arctic. And remarkably, just this year, 2014, two separate research teams have recently published data of, I would call it even shocking nature, showing from observational evidence that several glaciers in the west Antarctic ice sheet potentially have crossed the tipping point, and now have entered irreversible melting, which could explain this rising vulnerability. If this is correct, it would actually mean that we have to revise our average estimates of sea level rise for this century, from roughly 1 metre to 2 metres, so a doubling in risk for this century.

So this is showing why it’s incredibly important for us now to understand the risk of tipping points in large systems that regulate the stability of the earth system. But it goes not only for the polar regions, similarly, science shows the same kind of risk pattern with regard to the large rainforest systems.

This is data from the Amazon rainforest, showing the unprecedented droughts  from 2005 and 2010, which led to a remarkable penetration of drying, even inside the rainforest. And increasing evidence indicates that these kind of shock events, of droughts related to global climate change, together with the large and vast deforestation, which open ups tracts of forest leading to more dry air penetrating the normally moist canopy, could in fact lead to abrupt behaviour, meaning that the system could tip over and, quite abruptly, shift into a savannah.  Mapping out these risks globally is increasingly a key priority for science.

What you see here is one such effort of trying to identify the hotspot systems in the world where we could anticipate this kind of shift occurring from one stable state to another stable state if we cross a threshold, leading to a tipping point.

And what you see here is that this goes not only for the polar regions and the Amazon rainforest, but for example, for the large rainfall systems, in both the southeast Asian monsoon, the west African monsoon, which sustains livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people.

The risk that we get abrupt shifts in methane release in permafrost; a shift from a frozen to a thawing, and permanently thawed system. And these risks of tipping points, now at the large scale, is a fundamental importance in understanding what occurs in the earth system. But finally, this also has direct operational implications for the way we manage large sectors in society.

This is an attempt to analyze, for example, is there a risk of inducing tipping points also when it comes to freshwater systems? Not due only to climate change, but the combination of climate change and land management. And what you see here is a first analysis of hotspot regions in the world where you could see a fundamental shift in freshwater supply, if continued unsustainable management is pursued.

Where we see shifts in moisture feedback related to deforestation, which changes rainfall patterns, which could abruptly shift runoff flows and rivers, and thereby undermine the possibility for irrigation, and freshwater supplies to cities. So, the large scale regulating systems in the polar regions, for example, connect to the direct operational scales of managing food security in the world, across different scales.

So overall the conclusion is that in order to navigate sustainable development in the Anthropocene, we need to understand both pressures and tipping points, and together this allows us to explore: what is a safe operating space for development?

Antropoceno XV – Resiliencia do Planeta e interações multi escalares

When we’re exploring sustainable development in the Anthropocene in the era when we no longer can exclude undermining the way the entire Earth system operates, we must understand and explore what resilience means across different scales.353

So we’ve been exploring the resilience of systems, the ability of a household or an economy or a rainforest to withstand different disturbances without shifting into a different structure or function, for example, a rainforest tipping over into a savannah. We must explore what is the risk of pushing the entire Earth system outside of its stable state. We call this Earth resilience.

Earth resilience is entirely dependent on the different components of the Earth system operating together and either through what we call negative feedbacks, meaning processes that dampen change, or through positive feedbacks, where processes actually accelerate change, and applying these interactions regulate the ability of the Earth system to remain either in a Holocene-like state or propel itself outside of that state.

So in exploring Earth resilience we must also understand what we call cross-scale interactions, how for example a carbon sink or a methane sink in a local forest, or a wetland, or a savannah, interacts with the atmosphere or the polar regions, so from a local, to a regional, to a global scale. That is different to Teleconnections, which is when one system changes in one place of the world and has domino effects on other systems.

For example when a forest system that feeds back moisture and creates rainfall affects the monsoon system several continents further away. These are complex notions but must be understood in the Anthropocene. And in this lecture we’ll explore a bit further what we need to understand when we define Earth resilience. Now it takes us back to the absolute starting point when defining our desired future, which is going back to the ice core data which defines our desired state, namely the Holocene. So this is again the hundred thousand years of change in the world showing that the last ten thousand years in the red circle here is an unprecedented stable state of the planet. In fact we can call this the Eden’s Garden of human development, the stable state within which we want to remain.

352The reason why referring to this state when exploring Earth resilience is that the Holocene is a state that we understand very well. We know the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the phosphorus cycle, and the limits within which essentially all the key parameters that regulate the stability of the Earth system have been operating over the past 10 000 years, illustrated for example in this extraordinary set of data showing concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane over the past 400 000 years.

And if you look very carefully you’ll see the very stable and narrow range within which these gases operate over the past Holocene, and the blue arrow showing how we are moving away from this very stable state.

This Is very helpful, it actually helps us define a safe operating space for human development because we understand fairly well how, and what are the conditions, within which the Earth system can operate in the Holocene. Now the excitement about this comes across I think in a very pedagogic way in the following exploration of what role does the biosphere, the ecosystems of the world, play in terms of trying or attempting to maintain a Holocene-like state? And let me just run through this example to you in quite detail.

So we are emitting greenhouse gases and have been doing so since the Industrial Revolution in the end of the 18th century. We’ve emitted an estimated 365 billion tons of carbon from industrial emissions, and another 180 billion tons of carbon from land use change.351

That together ends up in an enormous 545 billion tons of carbon emitted cumulatively since the Industrial Revolution. This is relevant because carbon remains in the atmosphere for over 1000 years. So what we did 200 years back is still warming the planet.

The big question is temperature has risen with almost 1° Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. Is it all of these 545 billion tons of carbon that now reside in the atmosphere causing 1° Celsius warming? The answer is no, because the astonishing reality is that over half, roughly 55%, of these emissions are actually absorbed by the living biosphere, 155 billion tons in the oceans, and another 150 billion tons are estimated to have been taken up by terrestrial ecosystems.

This is the most profound proof that the Earth system, through its biogeophysical processes, is applying Earth resilience in practice, meaning that the Earth system is applying these processes to try to remain in its current stable state, the Holocene, by dampening the impacts of our disturbance, emitting of carbon dioxide in this case.

And these carbon sinks are tremendous. And the net remaining amount of carbon in the atmosphere is only 240 gigatons of carbon which has contributed to the temperature rise so far.

Same story goes for heat, for example. 95% of the heat caused by global warming is stored deep in the oceans. These are all processes that try to dampen and maintain the self-regulating biogeophysical processes in the Earth system in the Holocene-type state. Now it goes beyond just understanding the big climate system.

There are critical functions that all the biomes play in regulating Earth resilience. So the polar regions, for example, are permanent white surface areas that reflect roughly 90% of incoming heat from the Sun, reflecting it back to space. These polar regions are massive air conditioning, cooling systems for planet Earth, thanks to their permanent white surface.

These are negative feedbacks. They’re actually cooling the planet. When ice melts and changes color to a liquid surface, just that color change means that instead of reflecting back heat and functioning as a cooler polar regions can transform themselves into becoming net absorbers of heat, meaning becoming positive feedback triggers, self-generating heat.

Same with rainforests currently being huge carbon sinks, regulating moisture feedback and rainfall patterns across the world, being residuals or residing massive hosts for biodiversity, and also generating oxygen; marine systems functioning and heat conveyers, carbon sinks, and banks of genetic diversity; the world’s temperate organic systems being sinks and huge stores of methane; the temperate forests also being major carbon sinks and regulating rainfall patterns and generating oxygen across the world; and finally savannah systems that are playing also a role as moisture feedback, and regulating carbon and rainfall patterns; altogether systems that define Earth resilience.

And the key insight here is the recognition that in the past we’ve been very preoccupied of managing ecosystems at the local scale. This has been important for local livelihoods and local opportunities for good living conditions. Now we must connect the local to the biome scale, and the biome to the planetary scale, and recognize that we have to become stewards of all these systems collectively because they determine the ability for any scale, from household to business to nation, to develop in the future.

Antropoceno XIV – Compreender a complexidade num mundo turbolento

In the world of Anthropocene, with rising not only human pressures on the planet, but also an increasingly interconnected world in terms of social, financial, and economic exchange across all nations in the world, we must recognize that we are entering a realm where interconnectedness translates into what we call teleconnections.335


Teleconnections are when changes in one part of the world cascades itself to impacts in other parts of the world. One example is when rainforest is cut down, changing rainfall patterns in, for example, Latin America, which can translate and propel itself and change rainfall conditions and temperatures all the way to inner China.

And these kind of teleconnections must be understood because they can themselves trigger surprise and what we call inconvenient feedbacks that can implicate the possibilities for sustainable development. And this is a difference compared to the way we’ve perceived development in the past, where we’ve tried to map out resources, tried to predict and assume that things change linearly and incrementally. That’s on the basis upon which we built our entire economy, assuming that we can predict change in the environment. And now we are in a situation where surprise is a core element of change

But on top of that we must also add an element of complexity. Not only is climate, ecosystems, health, and development interacting with each other in the hyper-connected world, not only do we have teleconnections, but what can occur when a series of global drivers, for example climate change and financial change across an interconnected global financial systems, when these global drivers cause an impact which is totally unexpected often in a very, very different part of the world than the very source of the problems, we call that inconvenient feedbacks.343

These are big, major surprising events that occur based on global drivers translating themselves to unexpected outcomes. These examples of social hyper-connectivity are increasingly well understood. They must be layered together with the recognition that we have exactly the same rising hyper-connectivity, even interdependence, given the teleconnections we see when it comes to changes in the environmental system.

And if you put this together, the larger scale changes in the social and environmental systems, you come to the recognition that we live in a much more complicated hyper-connected world where changes in the climate system affects ecosystems, which together influences both human health, economics, and development at large.

And that this is the new reality that we’re facing. Now the evidence around this of course is well illustrated by global internet connections, by the global transport systems that connect all continents, which means that for example a pandemic in one corner of the world can propel itself very rapidly, a volcanic eruption in Iceland can suddenly shut down large parts of the transport systems, affecting even the world economy. The fact that we’re interconnected in our energy fluxes, which means that a shift not only financially in one corner of the world but even in terms of resource use, for example prices on natural gas, or shutting down, or instabilities in the Middle East, propel themselves across the economy very rapidly.

The fact that we can now see changes and democratic movements in one part of the world propelling themselves across Facebook suddenly becoming global movements in the moment of seconds. This is in truth a connected world that has become a hyperconnected world in just the past couple of decades. But the key insight is that we’ve moved from a hyperconnected world to a totally interdependent world, where all the components of the Earth system, the biomes, the regulative resilience of planet Earth and its ability to stay in the Holocene-like condition is essential for every economy, business community in the world.342a

Now this has been increasingly explored scientifically, recognized the interactions between the climate system, ecosystems, human health, and the economy, and also articulated as a core component of our ability to navigate the Anthropocene. But now it’s not enough to have a stable financial system, we must also have a stable climate system in order to secure health in different parts of our economy.

But it’s also a world where we must now understand risk and the probability of what we call super wicked problems, that different changes interact and amplify change. And a few examples of this have been, and are, increasingly recognized also by organizations like the World Economic Forum and business leaders across the world.

This graph shows a recent analysis among thousands of CEOs, how they perceive risks in the hyperconnected and interdependent world of the 21st century. And what you see here is the fear of predictably financial crisis, regulatory failures, liquidity problems, instabilities in institutions, transparency corruption, which affects the failures or success of global governance in economy disparity. But if you look carefully at this graph you’ll see at the lower left-hand corner infectious disease, chronic diseases, water security, food security, climate change, air pollution, storms, flooding, biodiversity loss, a whole battery of large processes that are increasingly recognized that they do interact in real time with the social, financial, economic parameters in the world which together creates this complex cocktail of potential super wicked problems in the world.

An illustration of this, which is still very much debated but I think it’s worth sharing, is the tremendous disaster we’re now seeing playing out right in front of us in Syria, a civil war which is causing massive disaster for hundreds of thousands of people and a complete destabilization, not to say collapse, of an entire nation propelling itself to instabilities in an entire region. Interestingly data shows that just two years before the civil war in Syria was the longest and most profound drought period ever recorded in Syria, probably the worst drought ever recorded since agriculture was invented eight thousand years back, and that this series of years of drought triggered millions of Syrian farmers to move into cities.

Now it’s very difficult of course to make the connection between this transformative change of forced migration into cities among poor desperate farmers and the current uprising and the instability we see in Syria, but there’s no doubt that we start seeing example, example after example, of how these kinds of social changes also interact with abrupt ecological changes occurring in the Anthropocene.

That Hurricane Sandy, which veered in and is actually the largest ever invoice for any city, forty billion US dollars for New York City due to this unprecedented, totally expected veering of an hurricane moving right into shore, is an example of something that can no longer be disconnected from the Anthropocene. On the right-hand graph you see in yellow the normal trajectory of hurricanes, which do occur as part of the natural variability and the natural part of the weather systems. And in red you see the sudden veering in on land, the westward trajectory of Sunday, which can only today be explained by factoring in the warming the Arctic and the changes of the weather patterns up in the polar regions.

So again an example of how a financial abrupt change interacts with an ecological change at large scale. Now is this a trend that we’re seeing empirical evidence for? The answer is yes.

This is a very messy graph but it’s one of the most telling empirical observations over the past fifty years. This is data from NASA showing from 1955, each map here is a year – all the way to 2011 in the lower right-hand corner, the observed frequency of ultra-extreme events, so-called three sigma event. Three sigma event is statistically extreme weather events that occur less than one in a thousand years, so we’re talking absolute extreme droughts, floods, heat waves. In 1955 the occurrence across the world of these kind of extreme events covered only 1% of the world’s surface, totally stochastic, very chaotic, we can never predict where it occurs, but it occurs over essentially no part of the world, which is why we call them three sigma events, they should in fact not occur.

In 2011 it covers an astonishing 14.8% of the Earth’s surface. The unexpected has suddenly become normality.

We cannot predict where it occurs but it’s a recognition that we’re moving rapidly into a situation where interactions, feedbacks, and unprecedented inconvenient feedbacks are part of the normal, so to say, geopolitical situation that we now must face.

Now in terms of implications for development we must also recognize that it has directly profound operational impacts. Just to give you one example this is a photograph of a standing, stable rainforest, which pumps up vast amounts of water, which creates water vapor, develops into clouds, and generates rainfall. Now the latest science shows the following.

What you see here on this world map in red regions are the regions which to 80% or more gets its rainfall from evaporation from forests in neighboring countries. So just look at China here, the vast northern China plains depend to a very large extent on sustainable management of forests in the westward neighboring countries, all the way from Russia, Ukraine, to the Baltic Sea – Baltic states. This in my mind is a geopolitical bomb recognizing that a country like China depends on sustainable management of ecosystems in its neighboring countries. Same goes as you see in red here for the Congo region, the wet savannah regions in West Africa, but also the nations that reside downstream or in the southern parts of the Amazon rainforest.

Again, a proof of the interconnectedness and teleconnections that we do depend on in terms of development. Same for the Arctic. These are the kind of data we generally see from NASA showing the temperature distribution across the world. What you see here is the anomaly in January 2010 which is an extraordinary period because one, you see this blue region here which is an unprecedented cold lock-in with 2, 3, 4° Celsius colder than normal, an extraordinarily icy and snowy winter period in Russia and in the Scandinavian region. But also see in dark red, which is the extraordinarily heat in the Arctic region. Increasingly evidence shows that there’s a teleconnection between the extraordinary unprecedented warmth in the Arctic region and how that pushes down Arctic air to lower latitudes, explaining why we see these cold pockets of winter climate in lower latitudes.

To put it simple, Arctic climate moving southwards, and teleconnections in the Anthropocene. The food system is increasingly understood as being perhaps the core and most significant part of the Anthropocene. Here you see a whole set of front pages in media recognizing that the food system is the number one victim of change in the Anthropocene because food requires fresh water. Fresh water is the first victim of climate environmental change. And reverse, the food system is the number one driver of changes at the planetary scale, a teleconnection and an inconvenient feedback we must recognize.

Now the final story here is a complex one showing how small scale fishermen in communities in West Africa, due to European fish policy which means that large, large industrial fisheries empty the coasts of the African fish resources, have increasingly forced small scale fishing men and women to abandon fishing, their livelihoods, and basically, and literally put their boats on the shore and for a livelihood they’re forced to start moving inwards on land to chase bush meat.

Similarly with farmers that are losing their livelihoods because of land degradation and droughts, and you see a movement of communities desperately moving into, let’s say, natural ecosystems, forest systems, to hunt for bush meat which in turn leads to rising risk of zoonotic pandemics when we get infectious diseases moving across species from bush meat to human beings, showing a very complex interaction across scale. Climate change pushes changes at local level, political decision in one part of the world changing resource access in another part of the world, which in turn forces communities to suddenly change the life support systems, which in turns puts them in a vulnerability that triggers and unexpected change, in this case zoonotic pandemics that you normally would not see.

This is the kind of feedbacks and interactions that we must start understanding when we try to navigate a situation where human development is so tightly connected with abrupt environmental changes from local to global scale.

Antropoceno XIII – Exemplos de Surpresas ecológicas

Ecological surprise. And ecological surprise is both something that’s been persistent throughout the history of people on Earth, but also something that’s maybe not so much, incorporated in our ecological thinking because it is surprising.335

But what we can kind of, I think, improve how we think about ecological surprise. And the first thing, I think, to think about is really to be aware of how common ecological surprise is. And one of the ways of thinking about this is that, as we’ve increasingly dominated the planet, often our domination has produced a lot of surprising things as went along, not things that people never thought would happen, or no one ever thought would happen, but things that were really missing from the mainstream or the dominant way that people were doing things.

I think four kind of classic examples of surprise from the 20th century that probably most people know about to some extent are these I’ve got listed here.

  • So one’s the use of pesticides to control pests and pathogens worked, but very quickly nature evolved resistance to these in many, many cases. And one of the most famous ones is DDT where malarial mosquitoes rapidly evolved resistance to DDT, making it less effective.
  • But also other ones that have been a bit more surprising was toxins being biomagnified in food chains. One of the classic examples of this is mercury being biomagnified. As people released mercury to the environment thinking it was inert, that it wouldn’t go up in the food chain, but unknown bacteria living in the bottom of the sea turned this into forms of mercury that are organic and could be accumulated. And so you ended up with people being contaminated by stuff that no one expected. And this is also something where you have today people in the Arctic who are distant from all the industries of the planet sometimes have the highest levels of toxins, which are biomagnified in food chains in somewhere distant from where the toxins are produced and used.
  • Another type of example is how agriculture, which has been hugely beneficial to the people, also by changing the disease ecology of local places has led to the emergence of new diseases. One of the classic examples of this is how irrigation led to the rise of River Blindness in West Africa, by providing habitat for, one of the animals that transmits this disease.
  • A final example, that’s especially relevant in North America and Europe, is how the simplification of ecosystems, particularly by removing top predators from land and from oceans, has destabilized these ecosystems, causing them to become more variable, and have more ecological regime shifts. So these are all examples from the 20th century.334

But we can also see, emerging kind of novel social-ecological surprises in the 21st century. And some of these are what we call more regime shifts. Where we’ve had changes in fishing, leading to the collapse of fish stocks. And one of the, most well known examples of this is the Newfoundland cod collapse, which was one of the longest-lasting, most productive fisheries in the entire world, which then collapsed in the early ‘90s in Canada, was closed with the idea that it could recover, but now after two decades of closure it still hasn’t recovered. And people are really not sure why this has occurred. There’s some idea it’s been a transformation of the food web, maybe something with changing climate, marine algae populations, but not completely clear. And if people had known there was the possibility of this collapse that couldn’t be recovered from, or in any short time recovered from, people might have managed this fishery quite differently.

Another example of more of a novel type of connection is this new and relatively recent increase it seems in coupling and turbulence in world oil and food markets. After almost three decades of relative stability in global food prices, we’ve had since 2008 both a lot of variation, and it seems an increased connection between oil and food prices. And this, of course, had big consequences, both in terms of what people have to spend on food and oil, but also some people argue has contributed to things like the Arab Spring, where there’s big changes in what people could afford in their daily life leading to social unrest.333

And I think it’s these types of novel social-ecological connections is what we can expect more and more to occur in the Anthropocene. So how can we understand these?

Well I think two ways of thinking about it is: one is we have these global forces that are changing how local places are connected together, and providing new types of pressure on local places; and the other one is that we’re also just changing how local places work. And I think this is somewhere where you can kind of think about how these sort of social-ecological regime shifts connect to global surprise.

And I think one way of thinking about this is to think about regime shifts in agriculture. So this picture is showing, in a cartoon form, the connection between agriculture and water, and how there are three different ways that the connection between water and agriculture produces regime shifts.332

First, is maybe the most classic, is what people mostly think about water, it’s like rivers and the ocean, what people call blue water. And this is by connecting together different places from running off of land you have connections which can cause regime shifts. But you also have the recycling of water from land as it evaporates, then falls as precipitation. This connection of land and how you change these connections through agriculture can also produce regime shifts. Then finally, there’s sort of this brown water, or water that’s soil moisture, and how you have interactions between plants and soil moisture, and between soil structure and water, can also produce regime shifts.

So this figure is showing how you can have these nonlinear changes at a variety of different scales.

In orange are these generally faster and smaller scale, soil moisture-related regime shifts, in green these very big scale, moisture recycling regime shifts, and in blue these more regional level, blue water regime shifts.

And these types of ecological surprise can occur within a field, or within a whole continent. So the surprise can occur at different levels, but what we really have is in the Anthropocene we’re changing these things at many different places simultaneously. So, we’re also producing multiple types of regime shifts in many different places, and connecting them together in new ways. For example, we have these sort of horizontal couplings across the landscape where, say, agricultural transformation, in somewhere like the upper Midwest in the United States, can produce aquatic regime shifts in lakes, which cause going from having clear water to being murky, and over-fertilized. But also transport across the entire landscapes in the US, through the Mississippi River, can move all these nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico where you can go from having productive fisheries to a dead zone.

So you can have these small scale processes can be aggregated to have an impact somewhere else. And these produce all sorts of challenges to management of how do you both deal with your local problems, but deal with these long distance transport ones?

Secondly, you can have things like with moisture recycling, or the interaction between soil and moisture, and moisture recycling. In somewhere like the Amazon where you have fire (it) can mediate between the ability of plants to grow in different landscapes, and maintain moisture in those landscapes, to have a shift between a savannah and a forest state. But you can also have with moisture recycling over an entire landscape that a savannah doesn’t recycle as much moisture as a forest, making it more difficult for forests to grow. So there can be an interaction between local scale regime shift and a more continental scale regime shift.

And a third one, which is less well understood, is how, say, human activities and climate activities, or animal migrations, can provide teleconnections between different places. For example, how, migratory birds can have their populations increased due to agriculture, and then destroy salt marshes in the Arctic; or how long distance, climate fluctuations can mean that changes in land use in one part in Africa have consequences for rainfall in a far distant part.

So what I think you can think about with ecological surprise is there’s sort of two ways we can kind of look at this.

There’s one from the how do local places function and what ways can they respond surprisingly? But also how can these top-down drivers, or large scale processes, drive these systems in different ways but also connect them in new ways?

So I think, just to wrap up, there’s lots of examples of ecological surprise.

  • That by looking at them from different angles we can get some understanding of what, surprises we know can happen?
  • What are some of the drivers that can cause things that we could expect to happen?
  • But also what are some of the variables that if they change, like nutrients or climate or moisture flow, that [we] could expect to transmit surprises around the world?

That these sort of surprises vary in their impact, but we can expect, as we produce a novel planet, we can expect both more of these surprises, in terms of surprises that we expect to occur, but also in truly novel things in novel types of systems.

And to better understand the potential for both of these, we need to kind of have a better understanding of the ways we’ve been surprised about how we’ve been living on the planet, and how we’ve been able to successfully cope with these surprises.335

Antropoceno XII – Resiliência, feedbacks, interações e transição

I’m going to talk about feedbacks, interactions, and regime shifts in social-ecological systems. And this is basically the idea of how ecosystems, or social-ecological systems, can go from being organized in one way to being organized in a very different way.326

And this is a concept that’s been around for a long time in ecology, and is in many other fields under many different names. And the term I’m going to use is regime shifts, but this also can be talked about in terms of tipping points, alternate ecological states, or critical transitions.

And what I mean when I say a regime shift, I use the definition, which is focused on people and the way they interact with nature. So thinking about, some change in a social-ecological system where you go from getting one set of ecosystem services to a different set.323

And this persists over a time that matters for people, so usually at least a couple of years. And there’s some kind of stickiness to this that makes it, not just go back to where it was before, but there’s something that keeps it in this new type of state. So this is showing in this figure where you’re going from one set of ecosystem services to another, and there’s some really, distinct change over time, which persists.


So, why is this important? Why is this a useful concept? Well, there are two reasons why it’s useful.

  • One is that a lot of ways people think about the world are based on sort of gradual or linear change, when that isn’t always true, how things happen. So, it’s at least sometimes useful to think well, what happens when we have changes that are abrupt and persistent?
  • The other one is that these types of changes often have much bigger impacts on people. If a fishery, so say like the Newfoundland cod fishery, ends up closing as the Newfoundland fishery’s been closed for 20 years, this has huge impacts on both individual fishermen, but also the ability of towns to survive. So, these impacts can have very big consequences. Also when these occur they’re not easy to reverse. So once you’ve gone over these thresholds it’s much harder to come back; both in terms of the amount of effort, and in terms of costs in human resources and money. Finally, one of the other things that’s very tricky about regime shifts is that they’re very difficult to predict, even when we know they can occur.

So say, for example, people who study lakes. We still don’t know when exactly they’re going to occur, because they are non-linear and difficult to predict. So this means we often need to think about managing things differently.

And this requires thinking about the context, the history, and the possibility of surprise rather than just trying to get things right or trying to adjust to some kind of thermostat or dial to get the optimal outcome. So it’s really quite a different way of thinking about things when regime shifts occur.

So, what is a real example of regime shift? Well, one of the best studied ones in the world is coral reefs. In coral reefs all over the world there’s been shifts from diverse coral reefs, which are: dominated by coral, have rich fish populations, often have ability to support lots of tourist industries and protect the coast from storms, to algae-dominated reefs where there’s much less fish often, much smaller fish, and not a diverse community of things. And this can have big impacts for both the ability of local people to persist, and on the conservation of nature.

But not all big changes that you see in nature are regime shifts. For example, stuff can change around a lot, but if it returns to where it was before it’s not really regime shifts. This figure is trying to show an example of this. If you have something changing over time and you get maybe a storm, or you get some invasion of a new species and the system changed in the response, that’s not a regime shift.


A regime shift is when you get a big shift, which doesn’t go back to where it was before. And so you can see evidence for these regime shifts in time series stayed over time, but you can also guess that often it can be quite ambiguous of actually whether you’ve got a regime shift of not. And it can take some time to resolve this. So often there’s some uncertainty about what’s going on with regime shifts.

But one of the key things of regime shifts is that they’re maintained by feedbacks. And this figure here is showing an example of one of the other classic types of regime shifts, which is the change of shallow lakes from being clear water to being turbid and full of algae.

And there’s feedbacks that maintain both of these regimes, and it’s the competition between these different types of feedback; between a benthic-dominated, clear water regime, and a pelagic-dominated murky water regime that controls how likely you are to have one of the regime shifts to occur. And when you have these regime shifts occur different feedback dominate. So to understand regime shifts requires understanding feedbacks.

A simple way of thinking about this is that these types of regime shifts are generic features that you can expect to occur in all types of complex self-organizing systems, where you have lots of different processes interacting with one another. That’s because a whole bunch of different feedback processes interact. And a way of simplifying this is these sort of ball and cup diagrams, representing a whole set of complex interactions as a ball, which is representing your system, or your ecosystem or social-ecological system, and a landscape where the shape of the landscape is determined by the interacting feedback loops.

So this is saying you can think about how regime shifts occur in two ways.

  • One is where you have shocks, which cause the feedback process to be overwhelmed, and a system to shift from one state to another. For example, a big pulse of nutrients coming into a lake can cause a lake to shift from being clear water to being turbid water.
  • The other less obvious one is changes in the feedback processes themselves that can reduce the resilience, or the ability to persist in one of the states. So this could be, for example, changes in the fish community of a lake could reduce the ability of the lake to cope with nutrient inputs.

So all these kind of inputs that formerly wouldn’t cause a shift in a lake start to be able to cause a shift in a lake, and maybe unexpectedly you get a big shift which you can’t go back to because the feedback processes have changed.

And this is often one of the key features of regime shifts, is this gradual erosion of resilience where shocks that previously could be coped with, can’t be coped with. And this is also one of the things that makes predicting regime shifts so difficult, because even if you fully understand these slow processes the actual triggers of the regime shifts are these very difficult to predict, or almost unpredictable, shocks. But often it’s quite difficult to understand these slow processes.324

So just to kind of wrap up, what does this mean for management? Well, there’s basically three different ways you can kind of think about managing regime shifts, and this goes with thinking about the shocks and slow variables.

  • The first one is to try and think well what are all these perturbations that are affecting a system and how can you reduce the ability, the exposure of the system to these perturbations? For example, reducing fishing can enhance the ability of coral reefs to persist, or reducing land processes that are putting nutrients into a coral reef can decrease these shocks.
  • Similarly you can think about maintaining the feedback loops, or enhancing the feedback loops, that are managing these sort of slow variables that increase the resilience of a system to regime shifts by, for example, ensuring there’s a diverse set of fish, there’s lots of different types of coral structure.
  • But finally, and especially something that’s really key to think about in the Anthropocene, as we’re changing processes all around the world, is: well, what are the possibilities of novel regimes, as new species enter a system, new types of human activities? What are novel types of regimes that we either want to really avoid, or we’d like to restore systems to?


So it’s sort of three different ways of thinking about both these fast and slow processes as more normal ways, and then for the Anthropocene trying to think about what are novel outcomes we want to, achieve or avoid.321

Antopoceno XI – Resiliência Socio-ecológica

Today we see  why we need to study and understand social-ecological systems, and not just social systems or ecological systems.

So I start out a little bit with what is the social-ecological systems approach?

To us it’s a concept where people are looked as being part of the planet we’re living on. That may seem extremely self-evident, but it’s not always clear when you look at the relations between people and nature.

Really this point that people and nature are intertwined, and humans are really an embedded part of the planet, and shaping the planet now from local to global scales. And especially the global scale has become a fairly recent one where we are now in the Anthropocene era.

And at the same time, as we are shaping the planet, we are also fundamentally dependent on the capacity of this little round ball that we’re living on to supply us with the basics of food, water, and a lot of ecosystem services, like recycling of basic nutrients and minerals salts that our body needs, or other types of services like regulating the climate.

So, I thought of giving you a few examples of these ecosystem services. Some classical ones often talked about are things like pollination of crops, or seafood production, the capacity of marine systems to produce the food we get from the sea. Carbon sinks are of course a lot of discussed in relation to the climate issue. How can we draw down carbon that we emit into nature through marine systems or through forests? And also regulation of water cycles through rainforests, or the role of parrotfish and other big fish on coral reefs in regenerating reefs after they’d been hit by cyclones. So ecosystems supply an enormous amount of services that people depend upon. And I’d like to use the idea of ecosystem services to illustrate social-ecological systems.

So first let’s move into an area in southern Madagascar. It’s an area where people are poor and live in very worn down landscapes. So if you look from a map of southern Madagascar what you see is really worn down  landscapes. But if you would increase the resolution through a GIS system, or another remote sensing system, you would start to see that there are green spots in the landscapes, like small forest remnants here and there, many of them. And what’s interesting is that these green spots, they connect biodiversity in the region. So everything like lemurs, and a lot of other species need those green small areas. And they also have natural beehives in them and the bees go out in the fields and increase the food production by 30 to 40 to 50% in those regions. So what would you do if you were an ecologist and you would like to protect those green spots? And we would presumably contact the big international conservation NGO, and go to the government of Madagascar and try to make those into protected areas, excluded by humans. So the reason they are there is social and cultural, and not ecological. And actually the whole culture there is dependent on those services generated by those green spots, but they are protected by the belief systems and the worldviews of this culture.

So some key things to think about in relation to that story is that ecosystem services are not just generated by the ecological system or the ecosystem, but by a social-ecological system. And this is quite obvious now when we’re living in the Anthropocene, where people are everywhere shaping all ecosystems all over the planet. And they are complex systems, social-ecological systems, and they are connected across levels; from the local to the global, in time from history to the future. And as we are now living in this interconnected planet I think that the social-ecological is everywhere, it’s not just an exception. There are no ecosystems, there are no social systems, it’s only social-ecological systems.

Let’s take you to the other case, which is a classical one described in anthropology and other social sciences as one of the really good success stories of collective action, where people actually have come together as stewards of a marine resource: the lobster. And the lobster has not been overexploited, which is very unusual in fisheries, as you may all know. And in Maine, people from the lobster fishers have developed norms and rules, and are connected up to the State domain and to global markets, and have a very lucrative industry there around the lobster. So, it has really been described as a fantastic collection action success story, no over-fishing, and beautiful collaborations. But if you expand the horizon from the single lobster to the whole ecosystem in which the lobster lives you discover that the lobster is there largely because all the other species that ate the lobster have been overexploited. So the lobster has taken off like an insect population in the sea and become a huge, vast monoculture. And as you know monocultures are susceptible to shocks and crisis like diseases, for example. And for the south in Cape Cod, about 80%, 75 to 80% of the lobster population has been wiped out due to shell disease. And that seems to be moving up towards Maine now. So the lesson here is that if you create simplified ecosystems for production of a commodity that has a high market value right now, you create vulnerable systems sensitive to these types of shocks.

And that moves us to the whole idea of resilience thinking. Resilience is the capacity to be able to deal with change, to live a change and to make use of change, not only incremental and sudden change, but also shocks and crisis, to turn crisis into opportunities basically.

And in the Maine case they have reduced the resilience of the ecosystem so much that they are susceptible to these type of crises. And the question is to what extent they will be able to deal with it.

Resilience is often divided in three parts.

  • The first part is about persistence, how do we continue to live and develop in the face of these changes?
  • The second part is about adaptability, basically how do we continue to develop on the same path that we are on, and adapt on the path in the face of changing conditions?
  • And the third, which is a very critical one now when we are in the Anthropocene, is how we can shift pathways, development directions into novel ones or new ones?

And we call that transformation; how we can transform societies into new development paths in line with the way the planet operates for human well-being, and for a good life for people on Earth.

The core of resilience thinking, a metaphor for resilience thinking, could actually be from the music industry. A person like Madonna, for example, who has been going through lots of changes on her career path, and actually complete changes in the way she do the music, but still remained on the path of being an artist for a very long time. So, that’s an example of being resilient in the face of change, and also created innovation and novelty in the music as part of that.

Another way to think about resilience, and what we often use, is some type of diagram called the ball and the cup. Where we have found by looking at the real world cases – we often do, we often try to look at the real world, and not just do theories around it.

We have studied several places on the planet with these type of interactions, and we find that they often go through a cycle of three phases.

  • Where they first start to build resilience they know that they’re on a path that’s not sustainable, they try to build resilience to get out of the path, but they can’t do it because they’re locked by other laws, or social norms, or government policies, or business activities.
  • But then suddenly there’s a window of opportunity where the forces aligns, and they can shift over the whole governance structure into a new pathway.
  • And that requires skillful leadership and other actors, and then they can after that start to build resilience of the new path they’re on to be able to continue on that path and live a change. So, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is one example. A lot of landscapes in southern Sweden are other examples. And also the whole agricultural revolution in in Latin America, a third one.

So here I tried to talk tried to talk about social-ecological systems and gave you two examples of why we need to think about people and nature as totally intertwined, and especially in the Anthropocene. And we’re operating through a new interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary platforms in the world called sustainability science, which is more defined by the problem that it addresses rather than by the discipline it employs.

So any discipline where any knowledge system or any understanding that can contribute to dealing with these problems of sustainability are part of sustainability science. And the social-ecological approach is a critical one for sustainability science and resilience thinking, another critical way of operating on that pathway311

Antropoceno X – Resiliencia Socio-ecológica

You’ve now worked yourself through deeply into the Anthropocene, including how to turn it into something good, where we humans become wise stewards of planet Earth.

Now this is actually key for the continuation of our modules; the recognition that the insights of the Anthropocene is neither good nor bad. It’s the recognition that we are now in the driving seat, determining our own future.

With this as a base, we will now move into the next module, where we will be probing much more in detail what :

  • we mean with social ecological systems,
  • how humans and nature are interwoven,
  • how societies and ecosystems are interdependent,
  • and how our world depends on a sustainable and resilient Earth.

We’ll also be exploring new concepts of positive and negative feedbacks, regime shifts, teleconnections, and tipping points.

So it will be a challenging  and will see the tools to understand and be able to address some of the more applied opportunities further on.