Posts Tagged ‘Vulnerability’

Vulnerability, resilience and sustainability

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

In an interesting review paper published in Global Environmental Change, Billie L. Turner outlines the separate trajectories of vulnerability and resilience research and argues that both could “join forces” and contribute to the wider goals of sustainability science. One of his main claims is that this can be done if both fields of enquiry explicitly address trade-offs in ecosystem services.

According to Billie Turner, vulnerability has mainly focused on the effects of abrupt, external changes, on human societies and communities. In doing so, it has generated a strong literature on human adaptation and adaptive capacity (one of the three pillars of vulnerability with exposure and sensitivity). Multiple ecosystem services, and their inherent trade-offs, are however rarely addressed.

On the contrary, while they also investigate the capacity of socio-ecological systems to self-organize and to learn and adapt, most studies of resilience have focused more strongly on the response of ecosystem-level properties to external shocks. In doing so, trade-offs between multiple ecosystem processes and functions are investigated but rarely linked to human well-fare (security, health, material well-being, social relations etc.).

Billie Turner tells us that because decision making actually compares alternatives in terms of human well-fare (in a broad sense), the multiple pathways between it and ecosystem properties – which operate at multiple spatial scales and with multiple underlying values – must be investigated. Trade-off analysis enables us to track such pathways.

Within sustainability science and assisted by researchers working at the interface of research-application and open to multiple explanatory perspectives, efforts have begun that point to improved integration of vulnerability and resilience research.

He concludes that both vulnerability and resilience research would usefully contribute to furthering our understanding of trade-offs between multiple ecosystem services in a manner conductive to decision-making and sustainability.

I’ll never use anything but New Mexico piñon in my candy!

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

David D. Breshears, Laura López-Hoffman and Lisa J. Graumlich published an interesting paper in the journal AMBIO on adaptation to sudden ecosystem crashes that strongly affect the delivery of ecosystem services.

They argue that climate change might lead to increasingly frequent events of sudden, large and patchy ecosystem crashes were ecosystems undergo important changes in their structure and functioning. Because the particular timing, location and intensity of ecosystem crashes are generally unpredictable, and that ecosystems can rarely be made resistant to crashes (by definition), stakeholders will have to adapt to the consequences of ecosystem crashe if, when and where they occur.

The authors explore how a recent drought-induced tree die-off of piñon – juniper woodlands across the SW United States has altered the capacity of these woodlands to support human well-being. They relate scientific studies of drought impacts on the ecology of these woodlands and accounts in the media of how stakeholders are being impacted and are responding to these impacts.

The authors suggest that increasing stakeholder resilience to sudden losses of ecosystem services varies according to how strictly the particular ecosystem services are tied to particular location. They introduce the concept of “portability” to describe the degree to which an ecosystem service is tied to a particular location.

It is crucial to understand how dependency on certain types of ecosystem services may shape stakeholder flexibility in choice of location and in turn their adaptive capacity

As an example, piñon nuts are a portable service (with some limits) while the view from someone’s home is not – but this also depends on how flexible people are in terms of home location. Ecosystem service portability must be analyzed in conjunction with stakeholder or beneficiary’s mobility: i.e. how location-flexible rather than location-centric they are.

A famed Albuquerque candy makers says ‘‘I’ll never use anything but New Mexico piñon in my candy. I won’t go to the Chinese pine nut or the Nevada pine nut because it isn’t right. That would be like selling Native American jewelry that was made in Hong Kong”

The paper introduces two concepts – ecosystem service portability and stakeholder flexibility – that are interesting to consider in analyses of vulnerability to climate change in general, and of adaptation options to specific changes in ecosystem properties in particular. Stakeholder flexibility must of course be investigated in conjunction with ecosystem service substitutability: can a cactus replace your beloved piñon in your backyard?