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ENVS504: Society, Economy, and the Environment

Unit 1: Introduction to Complex Systems Theory   Many of the crises and catastrophes that human societies have faced have seemed catastrophic, because humans typically assume that systems are simple and change in gradual, linear ways.  Instead, most systems are actually complex, and nonlinear relationships and changes are far more common.  Many scientific disciplines now use complex systems theory to better understand dynamic systems (those that undergo change constantly).  Complex systems theory, or the study of systems that are characterized by nonlinear changes over time, has been especially important to the study of coupled society-environment systems.  This theory has provided a foundation for the resilience concept for ecosystems and the development, maturity, collapse, and reorganization of coupled society-environment systems.

This unit will provide you with a basic background in complex systems theory, including definitions for common terminology, descriptions of the underlying system behaviors, and how this approach allows for system prediction and measurement, including the measurement of risk of catastrophe or collapse.

Unit 1 Time Advisory
This unit should take approximately 8.5 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 1.1: 3.75 hours

☐    Subunit 1.2: 3.75 hours

☐    Subunit 1.3: 1 hour

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to: - Define and discuss terminology such as: attractor, chaos, catastrophe, complex, feedback, hysteresis, nonlinear, resilience, self-organization, systems, teleconnection, threshold, and tipping point. - Differentiate between simple and complex systems and relationships. - Identify behaviors of social, economic, and environmental systems that can be classified as complex in every day familiar systems. - Describe one or more indicators or metrics that could be used to measure a system’s resilience to a disturbance. - Explain Panarchy theory, and draw a panarchy path that an environmental or social system might follow. 

1.1 Complex Systems Theory   1.1.1 Complex Systems   - Reading: The Novel Research Institute: “Complex Systems Theory: Complexity, Emergent Systems, and Complex Biological Systems” Link: The Novel Research Institute:  “Complex Systems Theory: Complexity, Emergent Systems, and Complex Biological Systems” (PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read pages 2-11
and 19-23 for an introduction to definitions, terms, and categories
of complex systems.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 1
hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

1.1.2 Self-Organization, Feedbacks, and Attractors   - Reading: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: DJT Sumpter’s “The Principles of Collective Animal Behavior” Link: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: DJT Sumpter’s “The Principles of Collective Animal Behavior” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and either read this
paper.  You can download the full text as PDF or HTML on the right
side of the page.  Sumpter defines self-organization and explains
the development of self-organization theory.  He then describes
self-organized behavior in many different animal and human systems
that are driven by individual behavior.  He also explains the
importance of collective behavior, and the influence of complexity
on self-organization at both the individual and collective scale.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 1
hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Evelyn Fox Keller’s “Organisms, Machines, and Thunderstorms: A History of Self-Organization, Part Two. Complexity, Emergence, and Stable Attractors” Link: Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Evelyn Fox Keller’s “Organisms, Machines, and Thunderstorms: A History of Self-Organization, Part Two. Complexity, Emergence, and Stable Attractors” (PDF)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and select the “Downloadable Full Text” link at the bottom of the webpage to access the PDF.  You may skim the historical material up to the “Reflections” section on page 22.  From the “Reflections” section onward, please read carefully and take notes.  Here, Keller describes how self-organization theory has been used in modern times to identify feedbacks and attractors in a variety of natural and human systems.

    Reading this article should take approximately 1 hour.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.1.3 Catastrophe Theory and Thresholds   - Reading: Ecology and Society: David Briske et al.’s “Catastrophic Thresholds: A Synthesis of Concepts, Perspectives, and Applications” Link: Ecology and Society: David Briske et al.’s “Catastrophic Thresholds: A Synthesis of Concepts, Perspectives, and Applications” (HTML or PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this paper. 
You can click on the “Go to the PDF version of this article” link to
access the PDF.  This paper describes how ecosystems cross
thresholds (often interpreted by observers as catastrophes) into new
regimes.  Understanding this behavior and learning how to identify
thresholds can help improve ecosystem management.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 45
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

1.2 Resilience   1.2.1 Definition and Models   - Lecture: University of Oxford: Carl Folke’s “Environmental Governance and Resilience: Resilience and Social-Ecological Systems” Link: University of Oxford: Carl Folke’s “Environmental Governance and Resilience: Resilience and Social-Ecological Systems”  (MP3)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and either play the
file in your browser or download it.  Carl Folke is a very prolific
researcher in the area of resilience.  In this talk, he provides an
excellent background of resilience and how it can be applied to
manage linked human-environment systems more sustainably.  

 Listening to this lecture and taking notes should take
approximately 1 hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Lecture: Delft University: Mark de Bruijne’s “What Exactly Is Resilience? Exploring the Concept and Its Use for Agent Based Modeling” Link: Delft University: Mark de Bruijne’s “What Exactly Is Resilience? Exploring the Concept and Its Use for Agent Based Modeling” (Silverlight)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and watch this lecture about the meaning of resilience, how it compares to robustness (another word commonly used to describe systems), and how resilience can be modeled using simulations generated by agent-based models.

    Watching this lecture and taking notes should take approximately 1 hour.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.2 Measures and Indicators   - Reading: Ecology and Society: Joshua Cabell and Myles Oelofse’s “An Indicator Framework for Assessing Agroecosystem Resilience” Link: Ecology and Society: Joshua Cabell and Myles Oelofse’s “An Indicator Framework for Assessing Agroecosystem Resilience” (HTML or PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this paper. 
You can also click on the “PDF Version” link on the right side to
access a PDF version.  Cabell and Oelofse outline how resilience
might be measured for a coupled human-environment system such as an
agricultural system.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 45
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

1.2.3 Example: Case Study   - Reading: Ecology and Society: JoséGonzález et al.’s “Rethinking the Galapagos Islands as a Complex Social-Ecological System: Implications for Conservation and Management” Link: Ecology and Society: JoséGonzález et al.’s “Rethinking the Galapagos Islands as a Complex Social-Ecological System: Implications for Conservation and Management” (HTML or PDF)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this paper. 
You can click on the “PDF Version” link on the top to access a PDF
version.  González et al. describe the impact that tourism and other
industries have had on the ecosystems on the Galapagos as well as
how the degraded systems feed back to concomitantly reduce the
resilience of the human communities on the islands.  The authors
argue that using a perspective based on resilience will help manage
the islands more sustainably.  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 1
hour.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.

1.3 Panarchy Theory   - Reading: The Worldwatch Institute: Thomas Homer-Dixon’s “Our Panarchic Future” Link: The Worldwatch Institute: Thomas Homer-Dixon’s “Our Panarchic Future” (HTML)

 Instructions: Please click on the above link and read about the
history of the Panarchy Theory and its application to current human
societies.  You can find “Figure 8” on Resilience Alliance’s
[“Panarchy”](http://www.resalliance.org/index.php/panarchy) webpage
(HTML).  

 Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 15
minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Ecology and Society: Nicholas Gotts’s “Resilience, Panarchy, and World-Systems Analysis” Link: Ecology and Society: Nicholas Gotts’s “Resilience, Panarchy, and World-Systems Analysis” (HTML or PDF)

    Instructions: Please click on the above link and read this paper.  You can click on the top link to access a PDF version.  Gotts uses panarchy theory to describe social and political cycles that occur at the global scale.  He also discusses some of the shortcomings of this approach.

    Reading this article and taking notes should take approximately 45 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.