Trees

Funding for three new research projects
2018-12-06

The Beijer Institute has recently been granted funding for three projects by from the Swedish Research Council for sustainable development, Formas, and more specifically, Beijer researcher Caroline Schill who is project leader for all three projects.

Understanding a new reality for small-scale fisheries

Caroline Schill and Therese Lindahl, together with colleagues Nanda Wijermans and Maja Schlüter at Stockholm Resilience Centre has received a grant for a project that will identify critical multi-level processes for sustainable small-scale fisheries. These fisheries are often referred to as traditional, artisanal, low-tech, labour intensive, low capital operations that contribute about 50% to the global fish catch and jobs for millions of people. They are vulnerable to climate change effects, e.g. changes in abundance, variability and predictability of fish stocks.

The ability of fishers to deal with this new situation will crucially depend on the capacity of fishers to adapt individually and collectively, which in turn is affected by how fishers perceive this new situation individually and collectively.

However, little is known about the interplay between cooperation and sustainable resource use in this new situation. To study these interactions holistically, the research team will use agent-based modelling to represent, simulate and analyse the role and effect of individual and situational heterogeneity on multiple levels.

The new normal in the Arctic

Together with Simon West at the Resilience Centre, Caroline Schill also recieved funding for a project called 'Living with the 'new normal': exploring human responses to abrupt environmental change in the Arctic using behavioural and interpretive social science'.

The project brings together behavioural and interpretive social science to explore, together with Alaskan Inuit communities, their responses to a changing Arctic. Schill and West will first use participatory photography to enable participants to identify the environmental changes that matter most to them.

"Building on that knowledge, we will design behavioural economic experiments to study the effects of different scenarios of change on actual behaviour. Through this approach, we aim to empower communities to reflect, share experiences and devise strategies to live with change and uncertainty," they explain.

Also involved in this project is Tracie Curry, University of Alaska Fairbanks, like Caroline Schill a member of the second Beijer Young Scholars group.

Inequality of the Biosphere

This second Beijer Young Scholars group was given a SEK 2 million planning grant, to continue their exploratoion of the linkages between social inequality and changes in the environment, read more here. Starting in December 2018It will allow them in the upcoming 12 months to work towards a long-term research agenda around trade-offs, synergies and interactions between the SDGs Reduced Inequalities, Zero Hunger, Climate Action, and Life Below Water and on Land (SDGs 10, 2, 13, 14, and 15). In particular, with the help of a set of pre-studies (building on some of the pathways discovered in the paper) and stakeholder workshops, the group will characterise synergies and trade-offs and identify research questions to inform a large future research proposal. 

Moreover, Beijer Institute partners Stockholm Resilience Centre and Global Economic and Dynamics and the Biosphere (GEDB), at the same time received several major research grants, read more about the projects here.

The economics of resilience
2018-12-06

The economics of resilience has been studied for the past few decades. Now, a review paper co-authored by Beijer researchers Li Chuan-Zhong (professor at Uppsala university), Anne-Sophie Crépin and Carl Folke, offers a summary of this body of work.

More specifically, the paper, published in the International Review of Environmental Resource Economics, looks at resilience and economic models, theories, and cases, with special reference to social-ecological systems and regime shifts, the latter referring to large, abrupt, persistent changes to a system.

Crépin explains, “We address the basic sciences of regime shifts and resilience in different settings linked to empirical cases, and review the related economic models. In particular, we discuss models to assess market outcomes when thresholds exist and are known and particular characteristics of such systems when they are optimally managed.”

Models of interest

The paper starts off with a review of three categories of economic models related to resilience thinking.

The first category reviewed were deterministic models of central and cooperative decisions. Deterministic models do not account for any randomness in the system, and will always produce the same output if initiating from the same starting point. In economics and resilience literature, these models focused on optimization. An example is whether it would be better for a community to have a clear lake providing more fisheries amenities by restricting agricultural activities on the shore or promote agriculture but accept that the lake would undergo a regime shift.

The second category focused on situations with multiple independent resource users. In such situation each resource user faces strategic uncertainty because they do not know what other users will do. This could either lead to more or less exploitation depending on users’ strategies.

The third type of models was stochastic, or models that account for random variability in the resource itself. The authors say that while these types of models have been used in economics and resilience literature as in reality, end results are often unpredictable no matter how much information is known at the start.

In the review, the authors highlight that, “economic theory has substantially advanced the deterministic and stochastic models of regime shifts linked to resilience.” For example, fishers can influence the risk of a regime shift by acting precautionary. Such behavior could hinder the system from undergoing a shift to a permanently much lower capacity to grow a fish stock. However, model recommendations about whether or not to act precautionary seem extremely sensitive to the assumptions made and more research is needed on that topic.

However, Carl Folke notes that urgent unsolved problems remain. “These involve situations when crossing thresholds imply life-threatening situations at the global scale. In particular, the great acceleration and the risks this has brought for the global environmental security should be better studied.”

Valuing resilience

The review also demonstrates three different aspects of resilience in different systems.

First, biodiversity has been demonstrated to play a role in ecosystem resilience. As Crépin elaborates, “In the environmental and resource economics literature several approaches have been used to measure and value biodiversity.”

From rainfall models to measuring biodiversity levels, biodiversity has been shown to be valuable when it comes to ecosystem resilience.

Second, resilience is known to act as insurance against a shock, such as a natural disaster or civil upheaving, in the economics-resilience literature. However, this was not always the case.

As Folke explains, “Although resilience services and their value as insurance are known to be positively correlated, the exact relationship between them remained less obvious in the earlier literature.”

Finally, the authors reviewed resilience as a “stock.” What the authors mean by this is that resilience is the characteristic of a system to withstand change, such as a regime shift. However, across economic- resilience literature, although resilience has become a popular concept in the literature, few attempts have been made for quantitative measurement.

Putting it into practice

Finally, the authors examine how all of this knowledge generated is applicable in real world. Specifically, they turn to resilience assessments, and how these have informed the management of resilience and sustainability analyses.

While the authors draw a number of links between resilience and economic theory, as well as highlight a number of cases with this focus, they argue that links between these two fields have not been systematically established.

As Crépin explains, “There is substantial potential for economic theory to learn from resilience thinking and vice versa. For example, there is substantial potential for economic theory to provide novel insights to resilience thinking by focusing on the impacts of individual incentives, collective action, and economic policies in a more applied resilience context. This in turn can help resilience thinking better understand how economic processes work in a resilience context.”

Furthermore, Crépin adds, “Advances in resilience measurement and valuation studies, could be useful for improved cost–benefit analysis, dynamic welfare analysis, and practical policymaking.”

In other words, advancements in economics-resilience literature could help us improve policy tools. It could also help us improve our understanding of how resilience can help us in the real world overall.

Li, C.Z., Crépin, A.S. and Folke, C., 2018. The Economics of Resilience. International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics, 11(4), pp.309-353.

 

Connecting the dots between social inequalities and environmental change
2018-11-22

Rising inequalities and accelerating environmental change are two of the most significant challenges of the twenty-first century. But how are they linked? 
 
A new study in the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources presents a literature review of the linkages between social inequality and changes in the environment. It is an outcome of the Beijer Young Scholars programme which consists of a interdisciplinary group of 19 early career scholars from around the world, including researchers at the Beijer Institute and its partner Stockholm Resilience Centre.
 
 
Their study shows that most research is one-directional, i.e. focusing on the specific effects of a social inequality on the environment, and fails to take into account a more complex understanding of how inequality and the biosphere interact with each other. 
 
"Previous analyses have mainly focused on economic inequality and its effect on a specific environmental variable such as resource degradation or pollution, often using national-level data," explains lead author Maike Hamann, University of Minnesota.
 
“However, inequality is much more than financial differences between the rich and the poor, it includes the whole spectrum of society, highlighting differences between individuals or groups of people in relation to gender,  or ethnicity for instance”, says co-author Caroline Schill, the Beijer Institute. “Moreover, this study also looks at the way drastic and gradual changes in the environment affect inequality in different ways”, she adds.
 
Interactions between inequality and the biosphere in social-ecological systems.
The biosphere is naturally unequal. Not all places on Earth are equally endowed with access to energy resources, freshwater reserves or appropriate conditions for large-scale agricultural production. That has led to an inequality of opportunities for societal development and economic expansion in different parts of the globe. However, natural disasters such as storms, floods, droughts and epidemics tend to hit low-income communities the hardest, wherever they are, as exemplified by the hurricane Katrina 2005 and the 2014-15 West Africa Ebola epidemic. 
 
More gradual environmental change can also have a strong impact. Take fisheries, for example. Many of the world’s least developed countries that are most vulnerable to impacts of climate change are also heavily reliant on seafood and marine resources. In these countries, climate change is likely to reinforce economic hardship and hamper development and poverty alleviation. It may also exacerbate inequalities on a local level.
 
How inequality affects the environment
The authors of the study argue that “subjective inequality”, an individual’s perception of existing inequalities and beliefs about what is just and fair, can be a significant driver for how someone behaves towards the environment. For example, perceptions of inequality, fairness and even jealousy have played an important role in the success or failure of marine protected areas. If people feel they have been treated unfair in getting access to a marine protected area, jealousy may lead some to encroach or even sabotage it, even if they were positive to creating it in the first place.
 
In many parts of the world, aspirations to achieve a higher living standard and status lead to behavioural changes, such as an increase in meat consumption. This, in turn, has significant impacts on land use and the conversion of natural habitat to pastures for livestock.
 
Collaboration and collective action are one of the ways in which shared natural resources can be sustainably managed. But if there is inequality within the group that is managing a shared resource, this may lead to an erosion of trust, less cooperation, and the unsustainable use of the resource.
 
Finally, market concentration can cause inequality which could benefit or harm a natural resource. The global seafood industry, where a small number of actors has a disproportionally strong influence on the management of the resources, is a fitting example. 
 
New funding for more research
With their study, the authors show that environmental change and inequality must be looked at in more depth.
 
Together with her co-authors, Caroline Schill calls for more research into these feedbacks, calling their work a “first step toward a more systemic, cross-scale and multidimensional understanding” of the interactions between inequality and the environment.
 
And to the great delight of the BYS group and the Beijer Institute, they have been awarded a SEK 2 million planning grant from the Swedish Research Council for sustainable development (Formas). With this grant they will be able to continue and deepen their fruitful inter-disciplinary collaborations with a specific focus on inequality and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Starting already in December 2018, it will allow them in the upcoming 12 months to work towards a long-term research agenda around trade-offs, synergies and interactions between the SDGs Reduced Inequalities, Zero Hunger, Climate Action, and Life Below Water and on Land (SDGs 10, 2, 13, 14, and 15). In particular, with the help of a set of pre-studies (building on some of the pathways discovered in the paper) and stakeholder workshops, the group will characterise synergies and trade-offs and identify research questions to inform a large future research proposal. 
 
The Beijer Young Scholars
The interdisciplinary group of authors is the second generation in the Beijer Young Scholars programme (BYS), established with the aim of creating an international network of young researchers and stimulating the emergence of new research pathways and modes of cooperation across disciplines to address global challenges. 
 
Throughout the three years of support from the Beijer Institute, the 19 PhD candidates and early career researchers in the BYS group embarked on an exploration of the potential links between inequality and the biosphere, in a series of three workshops held at the Academy and in the Stockholm Archipelago. Together they also organised a session at the Resilience 2017 conference in Stockholm, and the discussions with the audience were very valuable to the development of the study.
 
Conducting collaborative, integrative and interdisciplinary research is a time-consuming endeavor that is not always well recognized in the academic incentives system, but is crucial to advance science into deeper research questions. One important aim of the BYS programme is to facilitate and provide the space for such research.
 
 “Having the privilege to be part of the BYS program has been an inspiring and transformative experience, to not only broaden my research horizontally towards becoming an interdisciplinary scientist, but also distil deeper understanding of how different fields such as ecology, economics, geography, and political sciences are inherently connected. It has also reinforced my aspirations for continuing interdisciplinary collaborations that are essential for addressing contemporary wicked social environmental problems”, said Jiangxiao Qiu, University of Florida, after the workshop in June 2018. 
 
 
  
 

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Smart Groth, a popular concept for sustainable cities lacks scientific proof
2018-10-18

The Smart Growth concept has been hailed as a way to turn our increasingly urbanized planet into a compact, walkable and bicycle friendly one, where urban sprawl is halted because old land is used for new constructions. The concept is frequently endorsed by national and local policy makers. However, conclusive proof of its ability to deliver environmental benefits is lacking.
 
In a study published in the journal Ambio, Beijer Institute researchers Åsa Gren and Johan Colding, also affiliated with Stockholm Resilience Centre, and colleagues take a closer look at the Smart Growth concept and whether it delivers what it promises. The short answer is no.
 
Studies lack a broader perspective
In their review, the team, including colleagues from Chalmers University and Gävle University in Sweden, analysed the scientific literature on the concept and found that a surprisingly limited number of studies have actually examined the environmental rationales behind Smart Growth. In fact, 34 percent of the studies even presented negative consequences of applying a Smart Growth strategy, particularly for biodiversity.
 
The studies that do show positive outcomes are focusing on a limited number of environmental parameters, such as reduced C02 emissions due to less private transportation. However, even these studies lack a broader perspective, failing to take into account important aspects such as leisure travel, which lead author Åsa Gren and her colleagues warn could turn out to be a game changer.
 
“This leaves us as uninformed as before even about the environmental gains that a compact city structure offers in order to reduce CO2 emissions,” Gren explains.
 
There was also confusion about what Smart Growth actually stands for.
 
“We found that there is no generally agreed upon definition of Smart Growth, rather a broad number of description exists, varying around certain themes”, says Åsa Gren.
 
Their study reveals a variety of inconsistencies in how things are defined and measured. One example is population density, which describes how many people that live within an area. However, although appearing straight forward, this can be, and indeed is, measured in multiple ways in different studies, making comparisons very difficult.
 
Not debunking Smart Growth
Amid rapid urbanization, Gren and her colleagues are not arguing against the Smart Growth concept per se, but the authors consider it an “unfortunate time in history” that strong scientific knowledge and consensus is still lacking about the concept, considering the amount of cities being built. More research is needed, they argue.
 
Based on their review, the authors push for a research which includes three important issues:
Research must, to a greater degree, apply systems thinking in its understanding of urban processes
Making cities more resilient against for instance climate change effects must be a priority
Research must be founded in more advanced knowledge and consistent use of geospatial analysis
 
“The aim here is not to debunk Smart Growth but to argue for the need to set research on sustainable urban planning on firmer grounds,” co-author Johan Colding explains.
 
Gren, Å., Colding, J., Berghauser-Pont, M., Marcus, L. 2018. How smart is smart growth? Examining the environmental validation behind city compaction. Ambio DOI 10.1007/s13280-018-1087-y
 

How smart are smart cities?
2018-10-15

The Smart City is by far the fastest growing concept in the current urban sustainability literature and has been embraced by many politicians and city planners as a way forward for creating more sustainable cities. It comprises an urban development approach for integrating information and communication (ICT) technology and the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) technology to digitally connect a city’s infrastructure and services, in order to better manage and control them.  This can include collecting data from citizens, monitoring and managing traffic and transportation systems, power plants and water supply networks, and using information systems in remotely diagnosing patients for medical treatment. The idea is that by enhancing the quality, performance and interactivity of urban services, resource consumption and costs can be reduced.
 
Concerns for resilience and security
In two articles published during the year, Beijer Institute researcher and programme director Johan Colding and colleagues assess the Smart City concept from a social-ecological resilience perspective.
 
In the first article, in Journal of Cleaner Production, the authors identify critical gaps in the thriving literature on Smart Cities and point out that these deserve greater attention. They argue that the literature on Smart Cities needs to better address issues of resilience and cyber security, including how Smart City solutions may affect the autonomy of urban governance, personal integrity and infrastructures that provide inhabitants with basic needs, such as food, energy and water.
 
As Johan Colding explains: 
“We are already seeing vast internet- and computer technology problems related to hacking, sabotage and terrorism that could harm large-scale critical infrastructure, such as electricity, hospitals and other basic services. However, the issue of security is largely absent from the literature.”
 
Connecting technologies – disconnecting to nature?
Another issue that deserves greater attention, according to the study, is how Smart City developments may change human-nature interactions, for instance whether they hinder or support children’s learning and psychological connection with nature. 
 
“Smart City policies may unintentionally further disconnect citizens from nature experiences. Hence, we argue that it is critical to move from a solely sociotechnological focus of the Smart City framework to a more biosociotechnical focus, integrating ecology and including the role of ecosystem services as technologies and promoting reconnection to the biosphere”, emphasises Johan Colding.
 
Enerqy effiency
In a second article, in Environment and Planning B, the authors call for a greater societal debate on smart cities, raising the question of whether, if carried too far, digitalisation could result in diminishing return on energy savings and create unmanageably complex cities. They predict that, as more people and things are connected by IoT, the complexity of urban systems will increase over time and they point out that throughout the history of human civilisation, increasing complexity has led to growth in energy consumption.
Finally, in a forthcoming article Johan Colding and colleagues elaborate on the role different kinds of disturbance play in the context of Smart City development. They indicate some critical features that developers and planners need to consider carefully and propose a set of policy recommendations for ensuring more resilient development of city digitalisation.
References:
Colding, J. and S. Barthel. 2017. An urban ecology critique on the “Smart City” model. Journal of Cleaner Production 164:95-101.
Colding, J., M. Colding and S. Barthel. 2018. The smart city model: A new panacea for urban sustainability or unmanageable complexity? Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science. First online. 10.1177/2399808318763164.
Colding, J., M. Colding and S. Barthel. In preparation. The Smart City as an ecosystem: applying resilience thinking on the digital city.
 
 

Healthy fish, healthy people – reducing antimicrobial use in aquaculture
2018-10-15

Global seafood provides almost 20% of all animal protein in diets and aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector worldwide. The intensification of fish and shrimp farming systems has been accompanied by increased use of antimicrobials (AMs), which are hazardous to both human health and the industry itself. In an attempt to reverse this trend, a study by Beijer Institute scientists, which is reported in Sustainability Science, identifies some key drivers behind the overuse in different sectors and regions, and suggests ways to reduce it. The good news is there is much room for improvement.
 
“One of the findings, which was most surprising, is that much of the overuse is due to pure lack of knowledge”, says lead author Patrik Henriksson. “This means there are multiple measures for reducing AM use that can be applied at different levels of the value chain.”
 
The dangers of overuse
Successful treatment with AMs constitutes the foundation of modern medicine and the spread of AMR bacteria has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the major threats to the human population in the twenty-first century. Today, the amount of AMs used for animals is much higher compared than that used to treat humans and even involves some AMs that are deemed critically important in human medicine.
 
While AM use in aquaculture is lower than that in meat production on land, in light of the expected rapid future growth in aquaculture (doubling by 2030), it is critical to come to terms with overuse. 
 
Underlying factors and regional measures
The study provides a systematic overview of reasons behind usage. In particular, six drivers are identified as key: vulnerability to bacterial disease (which varies between species and regions), easy access to AMs, poor disease diagnostic capacity, AMR (caused by overuse, triggering even more use), poor food safety regulations in target markets, and lack of certification.
 
Building knowledge around these can enable local governments to reduce AM use through farmer training, spatial planning, assistance with disease identification and stricter regulations, the study concludes.
 
“There is a lot to be gained from training farmers in correct diagnosis of disease, how to use AMs and the consequences of overuse”, Patrik Henriksson explains, “not to mention training in better hygiene and other measures to prevent pathogens entering farms or hatcheries in the first place, thereby reducing the risk of disease outbreak”. He points outs that the aquaculture industry largely consists of small-scale, sometimes uneducated, farmers who often overuse AMs in their production. 
 
National and international action also needed
Moreover, national governments and international organisations could assist by producing disease-free fish seed and vaccines, enforcing rigid monitoring of the quantity and quality of antimicrobials used by farmers, and minimising antimicrobial residues in farmed species and in the environment. 
 
“Lack of regulations in many low- and middle-income countries, or inadequate enforcement of existing regulations, has incentivised restrictions on AM residues in seafood imported to high income countries”, says study co-author Max Troell. While this is an important mechanism to limit AM use, it only applies to internationally traded products and leaves production aimed for domestic consumption largely unregulated. The authors conclude that a better solution would be to limit access to AMs nationally, for example by banning specifically harmful AMs or requiring veterinary certificates for every purchase, measures that have proved successful in higher-income countries. 
 
While the focus of the study was on the aquaculture industry, the authors acknowledge the importance of a “One Health” perspective to find global solutions – which means that all sectors using AMs need to work together.
 
Henriksson, P.J.G., A. Rico, M. Troell, D.H. Klinger, A.H. Buschmann, S. Saksida, M.V. Chadag and W. Zhang. 2018. Unpacking factors influencing antimicrobial use in global aquaculture and their implication for management: A review from a systems perspective. Sustainability Science 13(4):1105-1120.

 

Feeding 10 billion people by 2050 within planetary limits may be achievable
2018-10-10

A global shift towards healthy and more plant-based diets, halving food loss and waste, and improving farming practices and technologies are required to feed 10 billion people sustainably by 2050, a new study finds. Adopting these options reduces the risk of crossing global environmental limits related to climate change, the use of agricultural land, the extraction of freshwater resources, and the pollution of ecosystems through overapplication of fertilizers, according to the researchers.

The study, published in the journal Nature, and co-authored by Beijer Institute researcher Max Troell, is the first to quantify how food production and consumption affects the planetary boundaries that describe a safe operating space for humanity beyond which Earth’s vital systems could become unstable.

“No single solution is enough to avoid crossing planetary boundaries. But when the solutions are implemented together, our research indicates that it may be possible to feed the growing population sustainably,” says Dr Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food and the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, who led the study.

“Without concerted action, we found that the environmental impacts of the food system could increase by 50-90% by 2050 as a result of population growth and the rise of diets high in fats, sugars and meat. In that case, all planetary boundaries related to food production would be surpassed, some of them by more than twofold.”

The study, funded by EAT as part of the EAT-Lancet Commission for Food, Planet and Health and by Wellcome’s “Our Planet, Our Health” partnership on Livestock Environment and People, combined detailed environmental accounts with a model of the global food system that tracks the production and consumption of food across the world. With this model, the researchers analysed several options that could keep the food system within environmental limits. They found:

  • Climate change cannot be sufficiently mitigated without dietary changes towards more plant-based diets. Adopting more plant-based “flexitarian” diets globally could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than half, and also reduce other environmental impacts, such as fertilizer application and the use of cropland and freshwater, by a tenth to a quarter.
  • In addition to dietary changes, improving management practices and technologies in agriculture is required to limit pressures on agricultural land, freshwater extraction, and fertilizer use. Increasing agricultural yields from existing cropland, balancing application and recycling of fertilizers, and improving water management, could, along with other measures, reduce those impacts by around half.
  • Finally, halving food loss and waste is needed for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Halving food loss and waste could, if globally achieved, reduce environmental impacts by up to a sixth (16%).

“Many of the solutions we analysed are being implemented in some parts of the world, but it will need strong global co-ordination and rapid upscale to make their effects felt,” says Springmann.

“Improving farming technologies and management practices will require increasing investment in research and public infrastructure, the right incentive schemes for farmers, including support mechanisms to adopt best available practices, and better regulation, for example of fertilizer use and water quality,” says Line Gordon, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and an author on the report.

Fabrice de Clerck, director of science at EAT says, “Tackling food loss and waste will require measures across the entire food chain, from storage, and transport, over food packaging and labelling to changes in legislation and business behaviour that promote zero-waste supply chains.”

“When it comes to diets, comprehensive policy and business approaches are essential to make dietary changes towards healthy and more plant-based diets possible and attractive for a large number of people.” adds Springmann.

Aquaculture can be a part of this transformation, according to Max Troell: “Farmed seafood, both in the sea and on land, can play a bigger role in the future. But there is a need to include differences between sea food products in the models, related to health and environmental impacts.”

Reference: Springmann, M., M. Clark, D. Mason-D’Croz, K. Wiebe, B. L. Bodirsky, L. Lassaletta, W. de Vries, S. J. Vermeulen, M. Herrero, K.M. Carlson, M. Jonell, M. Troell, F. DeClerck, L. J. Gordon, R. Zurayk, P. Scarborough, M. Rayner, B. Loken, J. Fanzo, H. C. J. Godfray, D. Tilman, J. Rockström and W. Willett. 2018. Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature 562:519-525. 

W. Brian Arthur new senior research fellow
2018-08-20

The Beijer Institute is delighted to welcome Professor W. Brian Arthur to Stockholm in the Autumn 2018 as a senior research fellow within the new research programme Complexity, Technology and Governance.
 
W. Brian Arthur will be affiliated to the Beijer Institute as part of the Institute's ambition to advance its research in complexity economics, as well as help the institute develop a new research stream that focuses on exploríng the challenges and opportunities created by rapid technological change, especially artificial intelligence, to the biosphere and the economy as a whole.
 
W. Brian Arthur is a leading economist and complexity thinker. In the 1980s he led the group at the Santa Fe Institute that developed an alternative, non-equilibrium approach to economics, now called "complexity economics." 
 
His 2009 book The Nature of Technology “invites comparisons with work by Thomas Kuhn and Joseph Schumpeter” according to the journal Science
 
Arthur is a member of the Founders Society of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) and served on its Science Board for 18 years and its Board of Trustees for 10 years, and he is currently External Professor at SFI. Brian Arthur held the Morrison Chair of Economics and Population Studies at Stanford from 1983 to 1996. Among his honors are the International Schumpeter Prize in Economics, the (inaugural) Lagrange Prize in Complexity Science (considered complexity science’s “Nobel Prize”); and honorary doctorates from the National University of Ireland, and the University of Lancaster.
 

Planet at risk of heading towards "Hothouse Earth" state
2018-08-13

Keeping global warming to within 1.5-2°C may be more difficult than previously assessed. An international team of scientists, including Beijer Institute director Carl Folke, has published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) showing that even if the carbon emission reductions called for in the Paris Agreement are met, there is a risk of Earth entering what the scientists call “Hothouse Earth” conditions.
 
A “Hothouse Earth” climate will in the long term stabilize at a global average of 4-5°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures with sea level 10-60 m higher than today, the paper says. The authors conclude it is now urgent to greatly accelerate the transition towards an emission-free world economy.
 
"Human emissions of greenhouse gas are not the sole determinant of temperature on Earth. Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2°C may trigger other Earth system processes, often called “feedbacks”, that can drive further warming - even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases," says lead author and Beijer Fellow Will Steffen from the Australian National University and Stockholm Resilience Centre. "Avoiding this scenario requires a redirection of human actions from exploitation to stewardship of the Earth system.”
 
Currently, global average temperatures are just over 1°C above pre-industrial and rising at 0.17°C per decade.
 
 
Places on Earth will become uninhabitable
The authors of the study consider ten natural feedback processes, some of which are “tipping elements” that lead to abrupt change if a critical threshold is crossed. These feedbacks could turn from being a “friend” that stores carbon to a “foe” that emits it uncontrollably in a warmer world. These feedbacks are: permafrost thaw, loss of methane hydrates from the ocean floor, weakening land and ocean carbon sinks, increasing bacterial respiration in the oceans, Amazon rainforest dieback, boreal forest dieback, reduction of northern hemisphere snow cover, loss of Arctic summer sea ice, and reduction of Antarctic sea ice and polar ice sheets.
 
"These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominoes. Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth towards another. It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over. Places on Earth will become uninhabitable if “Hothouse Earth” becomes the reality," warns co-author Johan Rockström, former executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and incoming co-director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
 
According to the article, it is uncertain whether the climate system can be safely 'parked' near 2°C above preindustrial levels, as the Paris Agreement envisages. Or if it will, once pushed so far, slip down the slope towards a hothouse planet. Research must assess this risk as soon as possible, the authors argue.
 
Cutting greenhouse gases is not enough
Maximizing the chances of avoiding a “Hothouse Earth” requires not only reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions but also enhancement and/or creation of new biological carbon stores, for example, through improved forest, agricultural and soil management; biodiversity conservation; and technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground, the paper says.
 
Critically, the study emphasizes that these measures must be underpinned by fundamental societal changes that are required to maintain a “Stabilized Earth” where temperatures are ~2°C warmer that the pre-industrial.
 
"We humans are now impacting the dynamics of the Earth system not only locally and regionally but also at the global level. Such impacts can be shifted into active, conscious stewardship of our relationship with the biosphere and help stabilise the Earth in conditions conducive for a sustainable societal development. This study identifies some of the levers in this direction," concludes co-author, Carl Folke.

Read more

Citation: Steffen, W., Rockström, J., Richardson, K., Lenton, T.M., Folke, C., Liverman, D., Summerhayes, C.P., Barnosky, A.D, Cornell, S.E., Crucifix, M., Donges, J.F., Fetzer, I., Lade, S.J., Scheffer, M., Winkelmann, R., and Schellnhuber, H.J. (2018) Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1810141115

Media contacts
Stockholm Resilience Centre
Owen Gaffney
Owen.gaffney@su.se
Phone: +46 (0) 734604833

 
 

 

Nudging the neighbourhood
2018-05-08

New study shows that insights from psychology and behavioural economics can help households improve their food waste habits.
 
Out of all the food produced in the world approximately one third is lost or wasted which stand for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, consume a quarter of all water used by agriculture and generate more than $900 billion in economic losses globally every year. In a study recently published in Frontiers in Psycholgy, Beijer Institute researcher Therese Lindahl together with her former master student at Stockholm Resilience Centre Noah Linder and Sara Borgström from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, showed that an information campaign guided by insights from psychology and behavioural economics could help promote the recycling of food waste.
 
Cities stand for a disproportionally large share of global resource use, so trying to make its inhabitants act more environmentally friendly needs to be top priority both for policy and research, the authors argue:
 
“In cities, small scale changes can reach many people and therefore have large aggregated effects. These are environments in which interventions using psychological insights could prove to be especially effective to promote pro-environmental behaviour.”
 
Combining new methods
However, just providing information is seldom enough to make people change behaviour, so the researchers decided to see if theories from environmental psychology and behavioural economics could be effective in promoting recycling of food waste in an urban area. The experiment took place in Hökarängen, a suburb of Stockholm. 
 
Mainly guided by insights from nudging and community-based social marketing, they designed an information leaflet which explained the benefits of separating food waste from normal garbage. The leaflet, which was accompanied by two recycling bags, used descriptive norms urging residents to “join your neighbours, recycle your food waste!” rather than focusing on saving the environment or the saving money. The researchers also included phrases that the residents could relate to in a concrete way: “If all households in Hökarängen would sort their food waste it would be enough biofuel to support 15 garbage trucks for a year.”
 
Visible effect
To test the efficiency of the leaflet, a so called treatment group of 264 households received the leaflets while 210 households in a control group did not receive them. Measurements in how much food waste was collected took place over the following eight months after they were sent out and this was compared to how much had been collected the previous year.
 
The result was a statistically significant increase in food waste recycled in the group receiving the leaflets compared to the control group, both in the short- and the long term. Before the intervention the average amount of collected food waste in the treatment group was 19 kg more per station (9 in total) than the control group, while after the intervention it increased to almost 32 kg more. Although the immediate positive effect of the leaflet seems to have attenuated over time, there was still a significant difference between the two household groups, even 8 months after the leaflet was distributed.
 
Therese Lindahl and her colleagues believe that insights from this study can be used to guide development of similar pro-environmental behaviour interventions for other urban areas in Sweden and abroad, improving chances of reaching environmental policy goals.
 
 
Linder, N., Lindahl, T., Borgström, S. 2018. Using Behavioural Insights to Promote Food Waste Recycling in Urban Households—Evidence From a Longitudinal Field Experiment. Front. Psychol., Vol. 9. DOI: doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00352