A meeting in London on the 8th and 9th July (ESPA Complexity Workshop) brought together mathematicians, environmentalists, development experts and computer scientists. They discussed how studies aimed at reducing poverty through improved management of ecosystems could (and should) incorporate ideas from complexity science, like tipping points. My talk " Engaging with complexity science in ecosystem services: what is the value-added of new empirical approaches?" focused on how we have been trying to do this in China. The bleak message is that agricultural intensification over the past 2-3 decades in eastern China has driven some ecosystems to the point of collapse, particularly lakes. In long records it's possible to see the gradual loss of resilience in the environment to withstand the impact of climate, land use changes and urbanisation. There's even evidence that crop yields are declining. It seems the very basis of sustainable agriculture and fisheries is being rapidly eroded. You can see the slides here.
'Perfect storm' describes how several sets of circumstances come together to amplify the effects of any one of them. The original meaning was literally applied to describe how air temperatures, wind direction and moisture levels could come together in just the right ways to create a large storm. But we can apply the term to describe social and environmental conditions in different world regions where - among many factors - population, food demand, crop productivity, water access and climate change might interact to produce food shortages, civil unrest, migration and land grabbing. If these interactions are difficult to understand and the outcomes almost impossible to predict, we have to address a serious question: how do we manage environments where the perfect storm idea might apply?
That's the aim of Eyes on the Storm.
Dearing, J.A., Bullock, S., Costanza, R., Dawson, T.P., Edwards, M.E., Poppy, G.M., Smith, G. 2012. Navigating the Perfect Storm: research strategies for social-ecological systems in a rapidly evolving world. Environmental Management 49 (4), 767-775 DOI: 10.1007/s00267-012-9833-6