Heather Hanlin wrote the following summary of our class discussion on Feb 17th:
We discussed two different papers: “Coupled Human and Natural Systems,” by Jianguo Liu et al (2007), and “The Effects of Human Socioeconomic Status and Cultural Characteristics on Urban Patterns of Biodiversity” by Ann Kinzig et al (2005). The “Coupled Human and Natural Systems,” are referred to as CHANS. CHANS are ways to incorporate humans and the natural environment interactions, so that social-ecological and human interactions and their effects can be better understood and used to predict future effects. These results can be applied to such topics as government and environmental policy. The paper was very information intensive and had a lot of jargon, which made it a bit difficult to grasp the paper in it’s entirety, but the topic is of great importance and much can be gained from integrating all the areas covered including: the organizational, spatial, and temporal couplings of CHANS; their direct and indirect interactions, from local to global scales, and from simple to complex patterns and processes.
Historically they have been viewed at a more local scale, but now trying to integrate more of all the levels, from local, regional, continental, to global. There are three types of CHAN couplings: organizational, spatial, and temporal. Within the organizational couplings there are reciprocal effects, for example a power plant does not always just deplete the surrounding environment but there can be a lush preserve right alongside it, and feedbacks. There are indirect effects within organizational couplings, for example in making plastics the energy required to produce them and dispose of them, as their production requires petroleum. The emergent properties of organizational couplings are the results from the interactions, and not the products of pure nature or pure social aspects. The vulnerability of the organizational couplings, are its ability to deal with changes. The threshold of organizational couplings are how much change they can handle until they can no longer return to their original state, and their resilience is how well they can recover from the damage caused by the change (back to point A).
There are three levels of spatial couplings. The first looks across spatial scales, for example world trade. The second looks beyond boundaries, which includes what is shipped out of the area from which the products originated. For example, most American companies claim to recycle and properly dispose of electronics such as computers, but on many occasions we ship these products to other countries for them to sort out. In a sort of out of sight, out of mind mentality. These companies use other countries lax environmental laws to get around our more rigid, slightly more environmentally friendly ones and to save money. This is still polluting the planet, but we pay less attention when it is in out own back yard. The third looks at heterogeneity.
Temporal couplings have several aspects, which include: 1) a massive increase in the human impacts on the natural systems, 2) rising natural impacts on humans, 3) legacy effects, for example our stopping of naturally burning forest fires, 4) time lags, for example the CFC’s used in aerosol cans, 5) increasing scale and pace, meaning the exponential increase of the number of people in the world and the advancement of transportation technology has allowed people to go across the globe in a matter of hours, and 6) escalating indirect effects, for example invasive species brought around the globe by people.
All of the implications from the conducted studies point toward a need for change in policy. They stated that a change in view from “humans conquer nature” to “humans co-evolve with nature” is required. Our own class could not agree on where we fall within this wide spectrum. Not a whole lot of policy in the government reflects a view of “humans co-evolving with nature.” The general public needs a paradigm shift in order to change their views. We need to view the economy as a steady state, instead of needing constant growth. Our current economic system expects to see growth every year, and if we viewed it as a fluctuating system we may actually view our limited resources as what they are, limited resources. We are headed in the right direction but we need to change our view of scale and look at not only the local but integrate the localàstateà countryàglobal interactions as well.
The localization of policy design is important to CHANS, and they need to be looked at in a very context specific manner. We need to address the details of the system, and not just the overall system. We need to think in terms of an abstract local area, and not just a geographically local area. Management systems need to be dynamic, and appropriately adapted to the details of the system. We need to understand the system in order to be able to push the system in a particular direction, and shape its future. If we looked at the infrastructure as fluctuating and not static, the interactions within the system, and how will small scale decisions affect the larger scales we would realize how much there is to be aware and conscience of.
Some of the necessary approaches discussed were: 1) maintaining margins of safety for uncertainty, for example people that live on the coast, 2) factoring in insurance as a hedge against disaster, and 3) ensuring adaptive mechanisms. The challenges and opportunities included linking coupled human and natural systems across scales, utilizing more integrated tools, comparative studies and portfolios are needed, collaborations among all fields of relevant coupled natural systems, for example more interdisciplinary studies in academic institutions, and getting beyond the “Ivory Tower,” so that whatever the outcome the applications must be practical. CHANS are rapidly changing, and you need to know more on the multiple scales.
The second paper: “The Effects of Human and Socioeconomic Status and Cultural Characteristics on Urban Patterns of Biodiversity,” discussed how species richness in urban areas is also affected by socioeconomic and cultural factors, and additional incorporation of these factors could improve current urban species richness predictors. Humans are increasingly altering the landscape, and cities are one example of how we modify the surface of the earth. Most people living in urban areas will only experience the natural world by what is in their city environment. Cities can host quite a wide variety of species, and we need to better understand the interactions that involve our socioeconomic and cultural influences on these interactions. The traditional paradigm uses a “gradient approach,” which searches for regular patterns of biodiversity relative to gradients of land use, distance form the urban center, or human population density. They looked at urban patterns of diversity across a gradient. The scale is important, for species, location, etc. since the definition of urban vs. rural varies. They tested this theory in Phoenix, Arizona by using avian and plant diversity within neighborhood parks and residential areas. They did find that by including the socioeconomic and cultural variables does add information for determining species richness in an urban setting. Of course not all patterns of urban biodiversity are affected equally, and they spilt these up into bottom-up and top-down influences. They separated the patterns into four categories: 1) perennial plant diversity in parks is affected by top-down processes, 2) perennial plant diversity in neighborhoods is affected by bottom-down processes, 3) bird diversity in parks is affected by more top-down than bottom-up processes, and 4) bird diversity in neighborhoods is affected by more bottom-up than top-down processes (since birds are mobile avian diversity is more complex). They predicted that the more bottom-up influences would be affected by the socioeconomic and cultural influences, and as predicted they found plant diversity in neighborhoods were most affected, plant diversity in parks was least affected, and avian diversity in neighborhoods and parks was intermediately affected. They did find that by including the socioeconomic status the sensitivity of determining biodiversity increased, and that integrating this information into the traditional methods only improves their predictive ability.
Income captures a lot of socioeconomic variables, which is why the median income was used. This has strong inference for environmental justice issues, since top-down government choices for city planning in parks may be biased by the socioeconomic status of the surrounding community. There may be more plant diversity in higher socioeconomic communities, as indicated by a study conducted in Brazil. If most people living in cities experience nature by what is in their urban setting, and there is less diversity in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood that implies that they are experiencing an environmental injustice. People in these areas may be less concerned about environmental issues regarding topics they themselves are not experiencing. If they are experiencing a very limited view of the world, an attitude change will be much harder since it is outside their area of influence and they aren’t being exposed to the natural environment. Birds can also be indicators for environmental health status as well. There is definitely a need for more studies of urban ecological relationships, especially since the global population is increasing the most in urban areas.
Liu, J., Dietz, T., Carpenter, S., Folke, C., Alberti, M., Redman, C., Schneider, S., Ostrom, E., Pell, A., Lubchenco, J., Taylor, W., Ouyang, Z., Deadman, P., Kratz, T., & Provencher, W. (2007). Coupled Human and Natural Systems AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, 36 (8), 639-649 DOI: 10.1579/0044-7447(2007)36[639:CHANS]2.0.CO;2
Kinzig, A.P., Warren, P., Martin, C., Hope, D. and Katti, M. (2005). The Effects of Human Socioeconomic Status and Cultural Characteristics on Urban Patterns of Biodiversity Ecology and Society, 10 (1)23. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol10/iss1/art23/