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2010 Weekly Sessions

Reading material, power points and a recording of the session will be posted here.

Session 1 09.13.10 Introduction
Power points and video for Session 1.
Session 2 - 09.20.2010 Sustainability Science and Sustainable Development (Speaker: Bill Clark)
This session provides the context and purpose of the rest of the seminar. We begin with a discussion of the origins and present status of the idea of sustainable development. Next, we illustrate the range of contemporary challenges facing those who would promote a transition toward sustainability. We then trace emerging efforts to better harness science and technology to advance the sustainability agenda and characterize the emerging field of sustainability science.
Session 3 - 09.27.2010 Long-term trends and transitions in nature and society (Speaker: Robert Kates)
Population size has increased globally throughout most of human history, stimulating rising demand for environmental resources. This relationship has proven to be so strong that virtually all assessments of sustainability begin with it. Over the last two centuries, however, this driver of environmental change has been joined by that of increasingly high levels of individual consumption. This combination of forces has escalated demands on the environment to unprecedented levels and raises important questions about sustainability. What do current trends in population and human well being imply for those of the environment, informed by insights from past human-environment relationships? Can we bring about a future transition to sustainability, meeting the needs of a much larger but stabilizing human population while sustaining the life support systems of the planet? This session addresses these and related questions. We begin with a review of the three major global transitions in human-environment relationships that have occurred since the appearance of Homo sapiens, setting the stage for understanding the broad character of human-environment relationships. We then summarize trends in population, human well-being and consumption during the latest and most important phase which started with the industrial revolution and continues today. This is followed by an overview of the implications of the recent expansion of demand for environmental services for stocks of natural capital. Finally, we look ahead to the prospects for completing transitions to sustainability.
Session 4 – 10.4.2010 The human-environment system: A conceptual framework (Speaker: B.L. Turner II)
The concept of coupled human-environment systems (also termed social-ecological systems, coupled human and natural systems, and coupled human-biophysical systems) recognizes that the social, economic, and cultural well-being of people depends not only on their relations with other people, but with the physical and biological environment as well.
Session 5 – 10.11.2010 The environmental services that flow from natural capital (Speaker: Steve Carpenter)
This session addresses the variety and inter-relationships of services derived from natural capital, and examines the structure, processes, and dynamics that control the provision of these services.
Session 6 – 10.18.2010 Divergent vs. convergent development models (Speaker: Ivette Perfecto)
The provision of environmental services from landscapes necessarily encompasses trade-offs, poignantly exemplified by the food crisis. Agricultural production for human wellbeing, on the one-hand, may come at the expense of protection of biodiversity, on the other. This session explores alternative models for agricultural production and biodiversity conservation, harnessing ecological principles of patch dynamics and metacommunity theory. The DIVERGENT MODEL is characterized by intensive agriculture in some areas and conservation in others. This is presented by Perfecto and Vandermeer as LANDSPARING/AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION model. The CONVERGENT MODEL is characterized by spatial coincidence of agriculture and conservation. This is presented by Perfecto and Vandermeer as the AGROECOLOGICAL MATRIX MODEL.
Session 7– 10.25.2010 Human well-being, natural capital and sustainable development (Speaker: Stephen Polasky)
Session 8– 11.01.2010 Emergent properties of coupled human-environment systems (Speaker: B.L. Turner II)
Session 9– 11.08.2010 Institutions for managing human-environment systems (Speaker: Elinor Ostrom)
This session provides an opportunity to explore the institutions -- the rules, norms, incentive structures, expectations, etc. -- by which people seek to govern or manage human-environment systems for sustainability. The authors of the book are grappling with several tensions here, as will be apparent in the readings. One of these concerns assumptions about the goals of human actors (hedonistic, communitarian, idealistic, etc.). Another concerns the place of rationality -- however broadly defined -- in individual and social decision making. Still another concerns the role of the state and its relation to other actors in the governance of human-environment systems. Finally, we are struggling to integrate our views on management problems that arise in the context of highly asymmetric externalities (eg. I release pollutants that hurt you much more than me) and those those that arise in the context of more symmetrical resource commons (we are both grazing the same pasture). Because our guest speaker, Elinor Ostrom, has been a leader in the study of institutions for the governance of resource commons, I suggest that we focus our discussions in the seminar session itself on that dimension of institutions, and reserve our reflections on cases of asymmetric pollution mostly for the web site. (Bill Clark)
Session 10– 11.15.2010 Worked examples of concepts in human-environment systems
Session 11– 11.22.2010 Linking Knowledge with Action for Sustainability (Speaker: Bill Clark)
The need for action agendas promoting sustainable development to mobilize appropriate science and technology has long been recognized. With few exceptions, however, the world still lacks dedicated, problem-driven R&D systems for sustainability comparable to those that exist for defense, energy, or health. The substantial 'local' knowledge so often relevant to sustainability is even less well mobilized. And too often the real needs of decision makers are not the needs that researchers assume them to have. Altogether, the potential contribution of knowledge to action in pursuit of sustainability is seldom realized. Fortunately, there are exceptions. This section will explore what has been learned about the nature of systems that are relatively effective in linking knowledge with action for sustainability.
Session 12– 11.29.2010 Metrics for sustainable development (Speaker: Steve Polasky)
In this session we will discuss the issue of measuring whether society is on a sustainable development path. The notion of inclusive wealth as laid out by Dasgupta in various chapters and Arrow et al. (2004, 2010) provides an elegant and succinct definition of what it means to be sustainable. But can inclusive wealth be measured? We will discuss how to measure inclusive wealth and the problems with actually trying to do so. We will also discuss whether there are other useful approaches to measuring sustainability. Important topics that come up with measurement are issues of how to measure welfare changes, aggregation (can multiple of different aspects of sustainability be combined into a single measure), uncertainty (how do we measure the present value of the flow of future services given an uncertain future), and equity (does sustainable development mean that aggregate welfare is non-declining. or that everyone has non-declining welfare, or that all people achieve a certain standard or living?).
Session 13– 12.06.2010 Core questions of sustainability science (Speaker: Bill Clark)
This session will focus on identifying and discussing candidate "core questions" of sustainability science. Our goal with "core questions" is to highlight topics ripe for research that would promote fundamental, generalizable understanding of social-environmental systems with special attention to the subset of that understanding relevant to sustainability. We distinguish such "core questions" from the "grand challenges" (such as those identified by the Gates Foundation for global health) for which we seek to mobilize knowledge in ways that directly improve technologies or policies and ultimately outcomes that directly advance sustainability in particular contexts the world.