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Supply side sustainability summary-upward a-v1.02
 

Supply side sustainability summary-upward a-v1.02

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A summary of the excellent works of Allan, Tainter and Hoekstra on Thermodynamics, Sociology, Sustainability, Ecology and Management! ...

A summary of the excellent works of Allan, Tainter and Hoekstra on Thermodynamics, Sociology, Sustainability, Ecology and Management!

I note SlideShare doesn’t do a very good job of the PowerPoint animations which makes some of the slides more comprehendible - so suggest you download it. Also allows you to see the speakers notes on many of the slides.

Allen, T. F. H., Tainter, J. A., & Hoekstra, T. W. (1999). Supply-side sustainability. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 16(5), 403.

Allen, T. F. H. (2003). In Hoekstra T. W., Tainter J. A. (Eds.), Supply-side sustainability. New York: Columbia University Press.

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  • Interestingly reviews were critical… either: This set of ideas isn’t new Reviewers disciplinary silo’d perspective “prevented” them from seeing it Authors do a bad job of explaining their ideas Reviews of the 2003 book (see bibliography) derived from the paper: Review 1 – Wali, K.M. (2004), Book Reviews, Landscape Ecology 19, pp705-707 Review 2 - Czech, B. (2004), Book Reviews, Ecology 85 (4), pp1168-1169 If this set of ideas isn’t new… who else is talking about them? Where is the academic conversation. P393 for Analogy that applied ecologists are managers, just as engineers are the
  • The Laws of Thermo-dynamics apply to the semi-open system of planet earth leads to the… Mostly open as far as energy is concerned; mostly closed as far as matter is concerned Creation energy gradients… At all scales In all ecosystems From all possible observer perspectives That drive the generative processes from which emerge energy dissipative structures and organizations of increasing levels of complicatedness and complexity… Generative process: Driven by steepness of the slope (steeper the slope the more energy available to create more complicated and/or complex emergent far from equilibrium structures and organizations to dissipate the available energy) Bounded by initial conditions and laws of physics, chemistry, biology, sociology (!) i.e. possible set of energy dissipative structures not infinite i.e. emergent structures and organizations are path dependent (you can never rewind the clock) Energy in social systems can be “represented” by socially constructed systems of power, money, etc. Which are subject to evaluative processes that determine the fitness of those structures and organizations within their containing environment… Physical evaluated based on… interplay of laws of physics over time (we typically call these “events”) Chemical evaluated based on…interplay of laws of chemistry over time (we typically call these “chemical reactions”) Biological evaluated based on… fit to ecological niche (we typically call this “evolution” – “survival of the fittest”) Social evaluated based on… “costs” vs. “benefits” to societies members That the systems† these processes create lead, over time, in all environments*, to the elaboration of: Structure i.e. increased complicatedness until no available energy Organization i.e. increased complexity creating “higher levels” based on increased net energy dissipation New organization can also elaborate over time… and invites an observer to refocus on the higher levels Structures at lower levels can also continue to elaborate… but are now subject to the constraints imposed by the higher level organization And hence the behaviours we can choose to observe, at any level of discreteness, emerge from this system of processes operating at all levels of scale in all domains of bio-physical and socially constructed “reality”
  • Note: Human behaviour has always had an impact on the eco-systems in which we lived (as does the behaviour of all organisms). Example of human impact at the bio-sphere scale is given by Allen, et. al. as follows: there is a detectable level of lead in arctic ice created by Romans extensive smelting of lead for pipes, flashing, paint etc.. Since our behaviour makes a difference whether we like it or note, given path dependency it is foolish to think some how we can choose to “let nature run its course” and that this will lead to sustainability; The very fact we are purposeful makes this impossible – our choices do make a difference – the only question is whether we will make choices which increase or decreate the likely level of sustainability and whether we have the knowledge to know the difference. Since the choices we make depend on our purposes (which in turn are based on our values) our only choice to survive (and hopefully flourish) is to choose values* that are aligned with the systemic context of our eco-system (the biosphere) and to design our future based on this knowledge. I believe the following values based definition of sustainability would be a good starting point for such sustainable world view value system: “ Sustainability is the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on this planet forever” Ehrenfeld, J. (2008). Sustainability by design: a subversive strategy for transforming our consumer culture . New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • There reason there are only three avenues for action: The context the authors provide is at the biosphere system level; this states the primary constraint on the sustainability level of elaboration is based on the laws of thermodynamics – e.g. energy available to do work This has the dramatic side effect of significantly simplifying the number of choices managers have to make – hence simplifying sustainability down to these “simple” choices (which are of course not exclusive) Is this also a major contribution of Allen, Tainter and Hoekstra’s work? Only three avenues for action (and combinations) 1. aka The ecological economics “de-growth” idea; the “back to the land” movement; Historical example: Byzantine and its decision to distribute the army by giving soldiers land in return for their sons service in the army they by maximizing using of existing solar energy 2. aka The ecological modernists who expect technology to be able to continuously and forever supply ever more energy to support higher and higher levels of complicatedness and complexity; Historical example: Europe’s discovery and use of fossil fuels at the start of the industrial revolution 3. this middle way? i.e. Ensure the design of all structures and organizations is based on the minimum number of transactions to solve problem at hence from the inbound solar energy (p163/4); No historical precident for this approach
  • Manage for productive systems rather than for their outputs Fish over time not fish now Maximum life-time revenue from a customer not maximum revenue now Manage systems by managing their contexts Limit the energy required for management by limiting interventions within existing systems; rather focus efforts on identifying the context of a system (its constraints) and then manage those constraints. This has the dramatic side effect of significantly simplifying the number of choices managers have to make – since any system will have a finite number of constraints which are all knowable (compare this to the ability for us to understand how systems outcomes emerge, which is required for us to intervene within systems with any level of certainty of outcome) Identify what dysfunctional systems lack and supply only that Building on point 2 Deploy ecological processes to subsidize management efforts rather than conversely The most wide-spread conversion of solar energy into work is the bio-physical world Any technology humans might invent will never cost effectively compete Hence for sustainable societies we need to leverage ecological processes rather than control them E.g. its easier to use bio-diversity of rice plants (leverage of existing ecological process) to control pests rather than using pesticides (control) Understand the problem of diminishing returns to problem solving Think very carefully before choosing to increase structure (and hence complication and hence cost); You can’t go back!
  • One of the other fascinating things about these author’s approach to sustainability is their choice to define sustainability reflexively, as a series of paradoxes; I’m finding this approach very helpful in my own thinking. 1. “Human sustainability does not refer to an absolute condition of the biophysical world. Challenges to sustainability emerge from changing human values, dynamic environments, and the interaction between them. Sustainability is, and will always be, a moving target. Sustainability is in part a matter of continually adjusting to changing circumstances, which we do through our problem solving institutions”… “thus a primary characteristic of a sustainable society is that it will have sustainable institutions of problem solving” (p381) 2. The realist position on sustainability is not explicit enough because they claim the need to consider all “infinity of details in reality” in policy and management. This appears to support a pragmatic philosophical stance which would be “explicit and flexible” providing an “explicit definition and purpose” but “flexible / deliberate in choice of execution”. (p167-8) 4. “What if renaissance Britons had practiced sustainable forestry and so didn’t need to use coal, perfect the steam engine, or build canals and railways?” … ‘Without the early need to develop systems to (extract), distribute and use coal, how would the pattern of industrialism have differed in time, place or form? Perhaps (late 19 th century) Western Europe would have been like pre-Revolutionary Russia, a land of wood-dependent, under-producing peasants (with plenty of time spent not fulfilling basic needs, but with a lower level of ‘development’).” … “Scarcity (e.g. of energy due to exhaustion of forests) spurs innovation (e.g. of coal extraction, transport, use) … and hence to what we commonly call progress. Conversely, to use live sustainably and preclude the inventive to innovate may be to forego potentially desirable futures. Surely few Western European’s today would prefer that their ancestors had practices sustainable forestry if that would mean that their economic (social, health) status would be no higher than that of the average Russian.” (p81) See choices for managers on slide 8 “Only three avenues for action” for examples of perspectives
  • 5. “European history is enigmatic. Europe developed political and economic systems that are the envy of the world but whose sustainability has been questioned. At the same time it gave us systems of problem solving that allow us to become the first people in history to comprehend what makes a society sustainable. Our urgent need is to produce that knowledge more rapidly than the growth of unsustainable complexity” (p161) “ Lack of sustainable problem solving abilities may be the mother of all problems” (p162)* * See Homer-Dixon, T. F. (2001). The ingenuity gap : can we solve the problems of the future? . Toronto: Vintage Canada.

Supply side sustainability summary-upward a-v1.02 Supply side sustainability summary-upward a-v1.02 Presentation Transcript

  • Supply Side Sustainability An Overview of the works of Allen, Tainter and Hoekstra* Nov 21, 2011 Antony Upward* see Bibliography for full citation 1ES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423
  • What’s New Here?• A first attempt to provide a complete descriptive, explanatory and (to some extent) predictive framework for society which is premised our understanding of the natural sciences based on systems and complexity thinking – i.e. it’s a forward looking “systems age” view not a backward looking “machine age” view‡ – Compare this to much social science in which ideas that may be incongruent or incompatible with the natural sciences are proposed all the time*• Attempt to promote the view that – Applied Ecologists are Managers – (Compare to applied Physicists / Chemists / Biologists are Engineers)• I find this attempt at “completeness” intellectually very seductive * Perhaps this is simply due to lack of knowledge where propositions of social sciences are never tested against natural science laws: this position is advanced in Barkow, J. H. (2006). Introduction. In J. H. Barkow (Ed.), Missing the revolution: Darwinism for social scientists (pp. 3-59). New York: Oxford University Press. ‡ See lecture by noted systems thinker Russell Ackoff which explains these terms: http://www.organizationaldynamics.upenn.edu/ackoffvideos view “Navy-tape-01.mp4” ES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 2
  • A Fundamentally Inter-disciplinary Perspective• Multi-disciplinary team of authors have been working together for an extended period• Knowledge / experience covers the following disciplines: – Biologist – Ecologist – Sociologist / Historian• Result: – Authors consistently attempt to recognize and overcome the constraints / boundaries / biases of their disciplinary backgrounds – Sociological explanations and theorizing is compatible with known laws of natural scienceES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 3
  • Summary of their Theory• A systems based theory for all the biophysical and social phenomena we might observe – Its big!The bio-physical and the social independently and together are far-from-equilibrium complex systems driven by generative processes based on available energy and constrained by numerous evaluative processes… lets unpack this…ES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 4
  • Theory DetailThe earth is a semi-open system…1. To which…the Laws of Thermo-dynamics apply2. Hence…energy gradients exist between the earth and space3. These drive the generative processes from which emerge energy dissipative structures and organizations of increasing levels of complicatedness and complexity…4. Which are subject to evaluative processes that determine the fitness of those structures and organizations within their containing environment…5. That with sufficient energy the systems† these processes create, lead, over time, in all environments*, to the elaboration of structure and organization6. Hence all bio-physical and socially constructed states and behaviours that we can choose to observe, at any level of discreteness and scale, emerge from this system of processes† i.e. these are SOHO systems, after Kay. J. 2000. "Ecosystems as Self-organizing Holarchic Open Systems (SOHOs): Narratives andthe Second Law of Thermodynamics" in Sven Erik Jorgensen, Felix Muller (eds), Handbook of Ecosystems Theories andManagement, CRC Press - Lewis Publishers. pp 135–160* As in the FES definition of this term – environment as context for everything and anything: Morley, D. (1997, 2010). Thinking,Learning and Acting Environmentally. Unpublished manuscript presented by the author in ES/ENVS5100 in Fall 2010.ES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 5
  • Examples1. Society (including culture) is an 3. Together the dualist view of inevitable emergent property of the thermodynamics and evolution biophysical given sufficient energy is gives an explanatory framework for available human “development” – i.e The emergence of culture is just the continuation of evolution – e.g. Bio-physical distribution of plants and animals suitable for domestication affected patterns of global social development† (i.e. increase effectiveness of energy capture)2. But its not a one way street: society impacts on the bio-physical (i.e. increase efficiency of energy capture) – e.g. Changes in bacteria as we use antibiotics – e.g. Changes in climate as we use stored solar energy (fossil fuels)† See these works evidence to support this claim: Diamond, J. M.(1999). Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies. NewYork: W.W. Norton & Co. and Diamond, J. M. (2005). Collapse:how societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Penguin. ES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 6
  • Provides context for human choices andbehaviours which might lead to sustainability• Humans, as an integral part of all eco-systems, are intimately and increasingly involved in both the generative and evaluative processes from which eco-system states and behaviours emerge – Our “purposeful” nature means our behaviour impacts both: • The initial conditions of the generative process and • The outcomes the evaluative process – As our social structures and organizations have become more elaborate the scale of our impact grows • The scale of the machine age’s use of stored solar energy is the driver for the material change in our impact• Therefore…how we implicitly or explicitly prioritize and choose to solve problems (aka “management”) makes a difference • BTW: it always has! – Our chosen purposes (aka “management objectives”) are driven by our individual and collective values• Result: We are the first generation of human managers to both sufficiently understand our context and to have the systems based scientific, social and historical knowledge to attempt to be proactively sustainable through our ability to: – Systemic problem solving – Predict the (previously unforeseen) consequences of our solutions – Monitor the impact on eco-systems of the actions we takeES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 7
  • Only 5 Problem Solving Approaches are Available to Managers 1. Accept and pay costs 2. Shift or defer costs 3. Find subsidies to pay costs 4. Reconnect costs and benefits 5. Don’t solve the problem* From Tainter’s 2010 presentation at International Conference on Sustainability (see ~minute 7 of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhTKirUZiWQ) based on his 1998 book Tainter, J. A. (1988). The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge, United Kingdom,Cambridge University Press. ES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 8
  • Implications…for Achieving Sustainability… It is Very “Simple”! • When members of a society believe social costs exceed benefits, societies collapse – Management that leads only to increased structure / complication will create this condition… – But “inventing complicated solutions is easy, inventing simplicity is hard” (p359) • Therefore to sustain a society and avoid collapse requires ability to – Recognize in our value systems the short and long term implications of the laws of thermodynamics* and the importance of eco-systems – Understand the eco-systems† upon whose outputs society depends – Problem-solve with the primary objective of eco-systems productivity • Context provided by the authors leave only three “simple” avenues (and combinations) available for management action (p391): 1. Simplify to level commensurate with available energy 2. Find more energy to subsidize increasing elaboration 3. Use energy supplies as efficiently and effectively as possible * Allen, Tainter and Hoekstra’s work tends to focus on the “in the moment” impact of these laws; for a treatment of the longer term impacts see this 1975 paper by Ecological Economist Nicolas Georgescu-Roegen: Energy and Economic Myths. Southern Economic Journal, 41(3), pp. 347-381. † Ecosystems include by definition a “systems age” approach requiring analysis and synthesis in observation, prediction and problem solving and the inclusion of the bio-physical, including humans and hence human society, within the problem space ES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 9
  • Recommendations for Managers to Increase Likelihood of SustainabilityWithin three avenues for action always choose to:1. Manage for productive systems rather than for their outputs2. Manage systems by managing their contexts3. Identify what dysfunctional systems lack and supply only that4. Deploy ecological processes to subsidize management efforts rather than conversely5. Understand the problem of diminishing returns to problem solvingES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 10
  • Sustainability as Reflexive* Process(aka as a Continuously Unfolding Series of Paradoxes)1. Sustainability is : • An active condition requiring choice, not a passive consequence of doing less (p12) • “The interplay between a continuously evolving state of nature and a continuously changing state of mind”, not “a (static) ecological condition” (p23, P381 – see notes) • Only assessable historically (p199)2. The definition of sustainability must come from the values of the observer, it can’t come from the “material world”; sustainability is not a “natural law” (p167) • “The things we want to sustain have only the values we assign to them, which are (hence) transient, variable and mutable” (p25) • “What we might choose to attempt to sustain are (thermodynamically) unlikely configuration’ (i.e. far from equilibrium states) and hence there will always be a cost of critical inputs that hold the systems dynamically away from the (thermodynamically) dead state” (p335) Only we can judge whether the cost of those inputs is warranted.3. Any definition of sustainability needs to answer “of what, for whom, for how long and at what cost” (p26) • Sustainability is the process which “maintains or fosters the system contexts that produce the goods, services and amenities that people need or value at an acceptable cost” (p26)4. “Unsustainable practices can sometimes improve people’s well-being. (see notes for example)” • “This is part of the dilemma of sustainability. Intelligent and well-meaning people can review indicators of sustainable and reach quite opposite conclusions about our future. Moreover, they could all be correct.” (p81) * Loosely based on ideas from Beck, U., Bonss, W., & Lau, C. (2003). The Theory of Reflexive Modernization. Theory, Culture & Society, 20(2), 1-33. doi:10.1177/0263276403020002001 ES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 11
  • Sustainability as Reflexive* Process(aka as a Continuously Unfolding Series of Paradoxes)5. “Our urgent need is to produce knowledge (of what constitutes sustainability) more rapidly than the growth of unsustainable complexity” (p161)6. “To be sustainable is clearly a delicate business. Furthermore, although none of the elements of sustainability (monitoring, predicting and problem solving) can be left out, even undertaking them all does not guarantee success” (p161)7. “While social justice is part of sustainability, and that democratic systems appear to be the best way of achieving that, it is irresponsible to allow populist demands to destroy the means of production (i.e. the eco-systems within the biosphere)” (p413) • Cost of additional complexity in solutions (e.g. as a result of increased public participation required by democratic processes) may not lead to solutions which are better enough to justify the incremental costs (p162)5. Definition of sustainability of a community depends of discreteness of observation (p275-276) • If community is between organism and landscape then “the difficulty (in defining the community) is in the deep intangibility of community structure and the richness of the dynamics associated with that structure” • If community is between population and biome then the difficulty in defining the community is in resolving the tension between the environmentally deterministic biome and the bio-feedback processes which define population * Loosely based on ideas from Beck, U., Bonss, W., & Lau, C. (2003). The Theory of Reflexive Modernization. Theory, Culture & Society, 20(2), 1-33. doi:10.1177/0263276403020002001 ES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 12
  • Bibliography• Allen, T. F. H., Tainter, J. A., & Hoekstra, T. W. (1999). Supply-side sustainability. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 16(5), 403.• Allen, T. F. H. (2003). In Hoekstra T. W., Tainter J. A. (Eds.), Supply-side sustainability. New York: Columbia University Press.ES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 13
  • Implications for Observation, Hence for Prediction and Problem SolvingIt is critical to understand the impact of observers choice of:• Type of discreetness of observation – aka determining significance of foreground vs. background (p168) – Compare: • Organism, Landscape, Population, Biome: all exist in the bio-physcial world at multiple scales as defined by the observer • Community: exists the bio-physical world at intersections of organism, landscape, population and biome selected by the observer (p278) • Biosphere: only exists in the bio-physical world at one scale • Eco-system: Intangible, “bounded by the spatiotemporal extent of the cyclical pathways of materials that flow around them” (p323) and hence can only be represented as models• Scale of observation – Scope / extent – upside – Fineness of distinction / grain – downside• Example: – As humans some types of discreteness and scales of observation are easier for us comprehend – e.g. landscape at the scale we can walk through • This reality will bias what we come to know, how we come to know it, and hence our ability to predict and problem solveES / ENVS4523 Systems Thinking Discussion Group, Antony Upward #211135423 14