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General discussion

Up to Session 10 – 11.15.2010 Worked examples of concepts in human-environment systems

General discussion

Posted by wclark at October 08. 2010

Re: General discussion

Posted by wclark at November 14. 2010

Equity and distributive issues:

Concerns with equity and distribution of consumption (and well-being) come up in several of the readings.  These are among the toughest issues in the study of human systems (including but not restricted to CHES), so we will all need to be as clear as possible in discussing them if we are to have any hope of making progress. 

In my understanding of the material we have reviewed from The Book, the conception of well-being set forth there (Ch. 2.1, especially the section labeled '4.5.1', allows for an evaluator of social well-being to have (or not) a preference for equity in the distribution among people of wealth and well being.  In choosing between two social states, we can thus prefer one with lower total wealth (or health, or whatever common denominator we pick) but higher equity in the distribution of that wealth to one with higher total wealth inequitably distributed.  Our problem is thus not with the theory but with the choice of the weighting factor we are willing to give our preference for equity in evaluating outcomes.

Particularly interesting here, in my view, is the deep connection shown in Ch 2.2 (esp. section labeled '5.5') between preferences for intra-generational equity and preferences for inter-generational equity.  The text we reviewed in a previous session reads "If we are adverse to inequality .. we should be adverse to uncertainty in future consumption..."  This is worth pondering.

My effort to sort out what the book has said about equity and distribution does convince me, however, that we haven't pulled our arguments together in a particularly clear or accessible way.  We'll try to do better in the revision.  For those who want to track what we have said so far, I recommend that you search Chapters 2.1 and 2.2 and their appendices for the terms 'inequality' and 'distributive'.

Re: General discussion

Posted by sheilasutton at November 15. 2010

During the Discussion in the Seminar a question came up about why local examples matter...

Simply stated, human well being happens primarily on a local level of lived experiences. 

Re: General discussion

Posted by Agharley at November 17. 2010

I just wanted to make a request for citations for more papers on connectivity questions esspecially from a sustainability perspective. Also does anyone know of a good methodological paper for network analysis in sustainability or development context? I am very interested in the intersection between questions of connectivity and network analysis but am having trouble finding much literature so I thought I would put a plea our to see if I get any bites. 




Re: General discussion

Posted by tschenk at November 17. 2010

Attention to equity in sustainability science:

One issue that came up during monday's discussion is whether or not equity is an integral principle in sustainability science (as opposed to sustainable development, in which it is assumed to be play a more central role). The assertion seemed to be that, as an empirical endeavor, sustainability science should be agnostic on the question of how much equity. Instead equity is one variable that can be more or less heavily weighted, depending on the values of the practitioner building on the foundational 'high science' of sustainability.

I made the argument under 'topic 1' that intragenerational equity is an integral element of 'sustainability' so, as a problem-oriented discipline, I'm not sure how it can be ignored when we are doing the science of it any more than the practice of it. I won't repeat the argument here.

The second thing I would say is that I am not sure that it is so easy to bifurcate the science from the practice. Professor King's work is certainly academic, contributing to the intellectual foundation of the discipline through the generalizable knowledge learned. It is, however, also  very practical and contextually specific. Despite the higher-level pursuit of knowledge, it seems to follow the participatory action research model in which the goal is to solve the problem or improve the situation in partnership with people from across disciplines.




Re: General discussion

Posted by mtorres at November 26. 2010

Importance of case Studies

Dr. Elizabeth King presented a case that clearly illustrates how different methods of characterizing CHES can guide the development of adequate research methods that also can be of importance in evaluations of sustainability.

Sustentability science and its CHES components are part of an academic discipline which is still process of development. Therefore, as in other sciences, it needs to be fed from a “bottom-up” approach with plenty of case studies, which latter can be synthesized in a solid overarching theoretical framework, that might group and relate the components of theory with empirical studies and with the actions that can be conducted from the actors.

We believe that CHES and sustainability science require information derived from case studies to generate an effective theoretical framework which can be incorporated successfully in all aspects of sustainability.



Re: General discussion

Posted by mtorres at November 26. 2010

During and after Dr. King’s presentation, the issue of equity has motivated several comments and observations. Some comments challenged the notion that equity should be considered as a response variable in scientific terms in CHES, and suggested instead that it should be considered instead a goal of development. We have two small comments concerning equity that we discussed, but did not have an opportunity to share during the discussion:


  1. Equity (with other names, such as equitability) is a common state indicator in ecological systems, such as community ecology. As most of us at CIECO come from ecological background, we were surprised that the incorporation of equity in CHES or in sustainability science in general would be controversial.
  2. We were surprised that equity would have an inverse relationship with group stability.  Intuitively, we would think that a social group with very low equity, would be more prone to social revolt and subsequent instability. We believe that there are plenty of historical accounts to support our view.

Re: General discussion

Posted by KBenessaiah at November 28. 2010

     During our class session at ASU, we tried to identify what would be  the attributes of a good study of a coupled human-environment system. The following attributes were determined to be important:


           - Existence of feedbacks across both the biophysical and human subsystems

-         - Adressing scalar issues (time and space). A multiscalar prospective was deemed essential to capture the important feedbacks of the system.

-          - We had a long discussion as to whether we should pay attention to slow variables, as advocated in the resilience literature. We were wondering whether the issue of slow vs. fast variables was not related to uncertainty and knowledge. Basically, we usually pay attention to fast variables but slow variables may be unperceived and thus affect us greatly on the long run. Thus fast variables are related to the idea of thresholds. One key finding from resilience was that change might be required at some scales to avoid collapse or change at another scale, which brings up the issue of  how do you deal with that in systems where people don’t like change.

-         -  The importance of identifying sustainability challenges- often when there are externalities (cross-scale or across jurisdictions). Key challenges include:

o   Complexity: indirect connects, scalar dynamics and externalities lead to difficulties in identifying generalizable lessons or applications (no panaceas)

o Different assessments of what are key questions, for instance Environmental/Development community is interested in who is vulnerable and marginalized as opposed to how is the system overall doing.


-         -  How do we determine the system's boundaries? Is it based on the biophysical? But not all social systems have spatial coherence.Several potential strategies:

o   Start from a bounded problem (systems that have something coherent)

o   Start at global scale- more diffuse.

o   Cross-scale (for instance regional)

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