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Evolutionary biology for the human age
2019-11-13

What would Charles Darwin have to say about the Anthropocene? Can evolutionary biology help us to come up with better ways to deal with the many challenges of an increasingly human-dominated planet? The answer is yeas, according to a recent study, published in tAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics.

“The increasing intensity of anthropogenic forces in the twenty-first century has widespread implications for attempts to govern both human-dominated ecosystems and the last remaining wild ecosystems,” the author team claim.

In particular, the study by by Peter Søgaard Jørgensen at GEDB and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Beijer director Carl Folke, along with Scott Carroll from University of California, t Davis, focuses on five challenges, which they label: “evolutionary feedbacks”, “maintaining resilience”, “alleviating constraints”, “coevolutionary disruption”, and “biotechnology”.

Time for conscious biosphere stewardship

Concluding that humans are increasingly in direct control of the evolution of species, the authors divide the degree of human influence into three types of evolutionary “anthromes” (human-dominated biomes).

The first type is where humans artificially select the dominant species (e.g. urban parks and agricultural fields), the second is where we select and to varying degrees control the reproduction of large grazing animals (e.g. pasture land), and the third type is where we influence evolution through harvest pressure and selection (e.g. overfished ocean ecosystems). For example, humans select the cattle, sheep, goats and other animals that graze and shape 25–34% of the planet.

"Collectively and individually, Homo sapiens have set in motion a myriad of unplanned evolutionary experiments with large impacts at increasingly global scales." says lead author Peter Søgaard Jørgensen.

It is time to move away from such uncoordinated and unmanaged human-driven evolution, the authors argue. What is needed now is more conscious stewardship of the anthromes and their increasingly human-dominated evolution. There are many areas of governance and policy in which the insights on “anthropogenic evolutionary dynamics” are relevant. Examples identified in the study include, food security, biodiversity conservation, natural resource management, good health for all, and safe biotechnology.

On the subject of food security, the study discusses the rapid evolution of pesticide resistance due to “social transmission of farmer overreliance on pesticides”. With an evolutionary biology approach, on the other hand, resistance to chemical pesticides is to be expected and resistance management planned for from the start. Consequently, the researchers suggest a range of alternative governance strategies, for example the promotion of “Integrated Pest Management” (IPM).

It is an evolutionarily-based strategy based on understanding of pests, their natural enemies and the local agro-ecosystem, which seeks to minimize reliance on pesticides.

Cultural evolution and biotech

Governance in the Anthropocene is not only confronted with complex ecological dynamics. Efforts to inform governance strategies with evolutionary biology must also take into account the cultural evolution of everything from human behaviours and norms, to technologies and institutions, the authors stress.

“Without embracing this social side of the equation, policies will most likely be unsuccessful due to design failure,” they write.

When understood well, on the other hand, social dynamics can be a policy lever for governing evolutionary challenges, such as antibiotic resistance. Evolution of antibiotic resistance, one of the world’s most serious health problems, is itself associated with a lack of understanding of evolutionary biology.

Three priorities that need to be addressed

Similarly, the authors also caution against the combination of limited evolutionary understanding and the rapid development of powerful new biological technologies.

“Evolutionarily informed governance of biotechnology’s rapidly expanding abilities to construct and manipulate living systems is urgently needed, including in the context of genome editing, gene drives, synthetic biology, and experiments with potential serious and widespread consequences.”

Finally, the authors put forward three priorities that need to be addressed to enable decision-making in this complex field. First, developing a coherent theory of evolution in the Anthropocene that really takes humans into account (how we are impacted by, are part of, and drive evolution).

Second, appreciating that any type of evolutionarily informed governance “occurs in contexts of diverse social dynamics that can be used as leverage points for intervention”.

Third, nurturing a culture of transdisciplinary research in evolutionary biology to “help bridge the current policy gap by informing evolutionists about the complex governance context of decision makers and the critical information they need to inform decisions”.

Jørgensen, P.S., Folke, C., Carroll, S.P. 2019. Evolution in the Anthropocene: Informing Governance and Policy. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 2019 50:1

LInk to publication

 

An altered planetary anatomy
2019-11-13

Humans have transformed much of the planet to produce more and more food, fibre and fuel, now we need to radically transform this global production ecosystem. A new article suggests solutions strategies  for improved sustainability: redirection of finance, increased supply chain transparency, and participation of ‘keystone’ multinational corporations.

Farming, forestry and fisheries are changing the anatomy of the biosphere. This makes us all more vulnerable to new types of global risks that will affect the long-term ability to provide food, fibres and fuel to a growing and wealthier human population, according to a new study published in Naure as part of the journal’s 150th anniversary collection.

The article is written by a team of researchers from the Beijer Institute, the GEDB Academy programme and Stockholm resilience Centre together with Beijer Fellow Steve Carpenter from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, USA. It notes that more than 75 per cent of the world’s land area has already been converted into domains like cities, farmland and timber-producing forests. In the oceans, around 90 per cent of fish-stocks are either overexploited or fully exploited while a rapidly growing aquaculture sector is taking up more coastal and offshore space than ever.

“As available productive land and abundant fish stocks become progressively scarce, the potential for further land conversion, land redistribution and exploitation of new wild stocks as options to meet projected global human demand is dwindling”, says lead author Magnus Nyström.

A “simplified” global production ecosystem

Historically, humans have converted forests, lakes and other natural ecosystems into simplified production systems like croplands, forest plantations and fish farms. This has been carried out with a focus on efficiency and the massive use of inputs such as fossil fuels, fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics and technology. In parallel, people, places, cultures and economies have become increasingly intertwined across the world, making production ecosystems globally interconnected through international trade and the global market.

Taken together, these changes are gradually converting the biosphere into a “simplified” global production ecosystem that focuses on a small number of harvestable species. For example, pigs and chickens account for 40% and 34%, respectively, of all the meat production in the world, whereas more than 80% of the global fish and shellfish aquaculture production is sourced from 30 “staple” species. Even seemingly unaffected parts of the biosphere are under human influence.

Increasing vulnerability and interconnected risks

The new global anatomy described above is already changing the global risk pattern. Shocks that were previously occurring locally within one sector are becoming “globally contagious” and more prevalent as sectors are intensified and more intertwined.

The fragile anatomy of the global system for production of biomass is one of the grand challenges facing humanity, the authors conclude. To change course, the researchers suggest three overarching strategies:

Redirecting finance for sustainability, exemplified by actions like divestment from unsustainable palm oil production, the insurance sector refusing to insure fishing vessels involved in illegal fishing, and banks denying loans to clients that do not comply with sustainability standards.

Radical transparency and traceability, governmental policies that ensure that social and environmental criteria are met along whole supply chains. It also requires education and information to consumers in the form of certification, labelling and public campaigns.

Keystone actors as agents of change, the handful of large transnational corporations that currently dominate agriculture, forestry and fisheries. In this context, the study also calls for improved science–business partnerships to complement public policies and governmental regulations. One example is the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS) initiative, in which centre researchers directly engage with ten of the world’s largest seafood companies to influence their 600 subsidiaries with operations in at least 90 different countries.

But the researchers warn that the three strategies will never be successful without profound shifts in worldviews and belief systems.

Link to article

Nyström, J.-B. Jouffray, A. V. Norström, B. Crona, P. Søgaard-Jørgensen, S. R. Carpenter, Ö. Bodin, V. Galaz, C. Folke. 2019. Anatomy and resilience of the global production ecosystem. Nature Volume 575

Earth stewardship – a foundation for sustainability
2019-10-24

In this seminar we will explore ‘Earth Stewardship’, through different perspectives, as a prerequisite for meeting the major environmental and social challenges of our time.

Humanity is at a critical point in its relationship with the Earth, as our actions are rapidly destabilizing our planetary life support system. Progress towards sus­tainability will require deep institutional and structu­ral changes, and fundamental changes in the way we think, act, and relate to the biosphere and each other.

The seminar focuses on the concept of Earth Stewardship, celebrating Volvo Environment Prize Laureate Professor Stuart ‘Terry’ Chapin III’s work. ‘Earth Stewardship’ is a set of guiding principles on ecology and ethics aimed at preserving biodiversity and the planetary life support system by acting re­sponsibly.

Terry Chapin is a world-leading ecologist and one of the world’s most profound thinkers and actors on stewardship of the Earth System. With focus on the global Arctic, his work links ecology and ethics in both theory and practice. His novel concepts publis­hed over the last 30 years have been widely influenti­al in understanding biological diversity which under­pins human well-being

When & Where

Wednesday 6 November 2019, 13:00 – 16:00

Stora Hörsalen, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet Frescativägen 40, Stockholm  

Register to chris@beijer.kva.se by 1 November

Click here for Pdf-invitation and program

Program

13:00-16:00

Welcome address and introduction Dr. Therese Lindahl, the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Triggering transformation to sustainability through stewardship Professor Terry Chapin, University of Alaska

Linking care, knowledge, and agency Dr. Maria Tengö, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Coffee break

Capacities for transforming toward stewardship Dr. Per Olsson, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University

Governing a complex future Professor Carl Folke, Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University.

Panel discussion Moderated by Therese Lindahl

Music by folk music group HärMedJämt

The seminar is jointly hosted by the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Volvo Environment Prize Foundation.

Time for corporate biosphere stewardship?
2019-10-21

recent article in Nature, Ecology and Evolution identifies a handful of transnational corporations that disproportionately influence the planet’s climate and ecosystem. This concentration of power comes with a great deal of responsibility and opportunity. Although voluntary corporate responsibility so far has proven ineffective, market concentration could be turned into a positive force for sustainability, the authors claim, and identify seeds of change that could be scaled up.

Link to article

Tracing back emissions to 100 companies

The author team, lead by Carl Folke, first review some of the evidence behind this statement. For example, they refer to other studies which show that more than 70 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to 100 companies. Similarly, a handful of transnational companies dominate agriculture, forestry and fisheries, which are major drivers of environmental change and biodiversity loss.

Examples include the four companies that control 84% of the agricultural pesticides market, and the five companies which account for 48% of global farmed Atlantic salmon (see infographic).

“Transnational corporations in agriculture, forestry, seafood, cement, minerals, and fossil energy cause environmental impacts and possess the ability to influence critical functions of the planet’s climate and biosphere,” the authors say.

 

 

Roadblocks or role models?

The authors emphasise that, so far, voluntary corporate social and environmental responsibility has been too ineffective. They also dwell on the risk for market concentration and corporate power to act as roadblocks due to prioritising economic profit over non-market values. In addition, some transnational companies have used their power to lobby regulators to weaken environmental and social standards.

“In the face of insufficient environmental agreements and regulations, dominance poses a threat to sustainability. For instance, companies able to set barriers to entry in a sector can stifle sustainable practices and technological innovation in general,” they write.

Consequently, corporate leadership in itself is unlikely to be sufficient, the authors say. The global-scale corporate biosphere stewardship they suggest will only be possible if governments around the world also provide “a regulatory context that safeguards non-market ecological and social values”.

“If combined with effective public policies and improved governmental regulations, actions by transnational corporations, could substantially accelerate sustainability efforts”, says Beijer Institute director Carl Folke

Six positive signs to build upon

So, what needs to happen to ensure that these big corporations live up to their potential as sustainability leaders on a global scale? To answer this question, the authors identify six observed positive signs of change towards ‘Corporate Biosphere Stewardship’, which they believe could and should be scaled up:

1) “Alignment of vision” – new norms are emerging among some of the largest brands, broadening the vision from profit only to responsibility, ethics, and purpose

2) “Mainstreaming sustainability” – in 2017 more than 70% of global companies mentioned the Sustainable Development Goals in their corporate reporting and 27% included them in their business strategy

3) “License to operate” – governments increasingly create legal requirement for large companies to identify and prevent abuses on human rights and the environment along global supply chains

4) “Financing transformations” – major pension funds and other institutional investors are slowly starting to redirect capital away from unsustainable practices and towards biosphere stewardship

5) “Radical transparency” – novel technologies, like smart algorithms that track movement of fishing vessels, are enhancing transparency along transnational corporations’ supply chains

6) “Evidence-based knowledge for action” – science-business collaboration is becoming increasingly common and important to ensure that companies’ sustainability agendas are framed by science rather than the private sector alone.

The foundation for this article was laid at the Beijer Institute's annual Askö meeting 2015.  The Askö meetings are informal workshops for internationally leading ecologists and economists. 

Folke, C., H. Österblom, J.-B. Jouffray, E. Lambin, M. Scheffer, B.I. Crona, M. Nyström, et.al. 2019. Transnational Corporations and the Challenge of Biosphere Stewardship Nature, Ecology and Evolution 3:1396–1403 

 

 

Swedish-US initiative on artificial intelligence and sustainability
2019-10-21

On 15 October 2019 representatives from U.S. and Swedish academia, Swedish government, Google, Ericsson, USAID and UN agencies UNDP and UN Global Pulse, met to explore how applications of artificial intelligence can helpus reach targets related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The event marked the beginning of a new initiative coordinated by the Beijer Institute, Princeton University (Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies), and Stockholm Resilience Centre.

The intensive fires in the Amazon, the rapid melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and continued loss of biodiversity all illustrate that our planet is changing at a dangerous pace. At the same time, we are entering a period of unprecedented technological change.

Artificial intelligence in combination with accelerated progress in sensor technology and robotics, are likely to change the way we all perceive and respond to social and environmental changes. How can we ensure that applications of artificial intelligence help us address these urgent challenges?

“It is becoming increasingly clear that the world not only needs responsible AI, but planetary responsible AI”, said one of the founders of the initiative, Victor Galaz, programme director at Beijer Institute and deputy director at Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Time for a serious discussion

Galaz believes there is a need to have a serious discussion across academia, civil society, policy and business about how AI can help expand our planetary support systems – climate stability, biodiversity, and living oceans. Otherwise, he warns, these technologies may well lead to accelerated climate and ecological disruption.

“In a world as complex and interconnected as ours, the black box of AI represents a governance challenge. How can we make use of the opportunities provided by AI, while also making sure that we have the constraints and control needed? The potential for applications of AI for agricultural production are tremendous, but we need to make sure these do not create new unexpected risks”, said Miguel Centeno, professor at Princeton University and vice-dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

"Sweden is at the forefront of research and development in artificial intelligence, but it is only through strong partnerships between business, academia and government that we can unleash AI's full potential and realize the social and economic benefits we hope to achieve", concluded Annika Rembe, Consul General of Sweden in New York.

Click here for more information about the collaboration

New framework to incorporate nature's impact on mental health into city plans
2019-09-05

Getting some fresh air surrounded by greenery can do more than just clearing your head, it might just keep you sane. A number of scientific studies have shown that nature experiences may benefit people’s psychological well-being and cognitive function. But it has been difficult to find ways to quantify these benefits in a useful manner.

Now, an international research team, consisting of more than 20 leading experts from the natural, social and health sciences, has created a framework for how city planners around the world can start to quantify and account for the mental health benefits of nature and incorporate those into urban planning decisions. The study is published in Science Advances and co-authored by Carl Folke and Therese Lindahl (also affiliated with Stockholm Resilience Centre).

Link to article

Why city people need nature

The article provides a summary of evidence that demonstrates the positive correlation between mental health benefits and nature experiences. For instance, studies have shown how spending time in nature, either individually, or in groups, enhances the performance of cognitive functions, memory and attention while also offering other psychological benefits such as increased social activity and feeling a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life. On similar lines, many studies have shown that nature experiences have helped reduce risk factors and disease burden for some types of mental illnesses such as depression.

Sadly, there is also a growing amount of evidence that modern lifestyles have led people to spend less time in nature especially as more humans now live in cities where the opportunities for experiencing nature are limited. This makes it more important for city planners to know the value of benefits nature offers; this is why the authors feel quantifying such benefits might aid effective decision-making when it comes to urban planning and design.

 “Many governments already consider benefits that nature provide in cities with regard to other aspects of human health. For example, trees are planted in cities to improve air quality or reduce urban heat island effects, and parks are built in specific neighbourhoods to encourage physical activity. But these actions typically do not factor in the mental health benefits that trees or a restored park might provide,” says Carl Folke,Beijer Institute director and Science director for Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC).

Four steps for informed decisions

The framework includes four steps for planners to consider: elements of nature included in a project, say at a school or across the whole city; the amount of contact people will have with nature; how people interact with nature; and how people may benefit from those interactions, based on the latest scientific evidence.

The researchers hope this tool will be especially useful in considering the possible mental health repercussions of adding — or taking away — nature in underserved communities.

The authors conclude by highlighting that although there appear to be multiple limitations when trying to quantify psychological well-being, these are new and important research frontiers experts can explore.

Therese Lindahl (also affiliated with SRC) explains: “Given rising mental health burdens and the costs they impose on society, despite the limitations, the framework is a useful tool to know what kind of green infrastructures can best serve city residents.”

Read more

Bratman, G.N., Anderson, C.B., Berman, M..G., Cochran, B. et.al. 2019. Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective. Science Advances 24 Jul 2019: Vol. 5, no. 7, eaax0903. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0903

 

Exhibition: Welcome to the Biosphere
2019-09-02

Beijer Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) researchers contribute to biosphere exhibition at Stockholm interior design store Svenskt Tenn.

The exhibition, called Welcome to the Biosphere, is a collection of artistic interpretations of issues regarding our relationship to the Biosphere, the thin layer around the Earth where we live, which supports human existence. It deals with the complex relationship between climate change, norms, ethics and economics. All of this is interpreted and visualised by artists Lars Arrhenius and Eric Ericson in collaboration with Svenskt Tenn’s curator, Karin Södergren.

Several researchers from the Beijer Institute and SRC provided the artists with scientific input and knowledge support.

Svenskt Tenn is owned by the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation and through the foundation the store’s entire profit is given to research, education and cultural projects . The Beijer Institute is one The Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation's main recipients.

The exhibition opened at 23 August and will be shown until 27 October 2019.

See and read more of the exhibition here

 

 

In memory of “Buzz” Holling 1930-2019
2019-08-28

“Buzz” Holling, the father of resilience research and long time colleague and friend of the Beijer Institute, passed away on 16 August 2019, aged 88

Pioneers break new grounds and leave an empty space when they move on. Crawford Stanley”Buzz”  Holling is considered the father of resilience research and a pivotal figure in the development of the Beijer Institute, the Resilience Alliance and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

He was a pioneer in efforts to understand complex systems, inspired by thinkers emerging at that time. Holling strongly emphasized that understanding, not knowledge in a narrow sense, is navigating the dynamic, connected, and evolving challenges of our rich, unequal, and beautiful world. His encouragement of creative, fun, experimental research that bridges science, practice and art which has inspired the research culture at the Beijer Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Photo: Simon Fraser University Public Affairs and Media Relations

From insects to adaptive management

Buzz Holling was born in 1930, and grew up in the forests of Northern Ontario where he developed a deep interest in the living world. An early interest in forest insects lead him to study insects, first at the University of Toronto and then the University of British Colombia. During his PhD (1957) he developed the first mathematical theory of predation. These concepts are now widely used to analyze predator-prey interactions.

In the sixties and seventies Holling extended his work using systems to understand diverse types of interactions among people and nature. He began to collaborate with experts outside of universities and research labs to understand land development, forest management, and pest management. It was from these experiences that Holling first began to formulate his ideas about resilience. This work continued in Vienna where Holling, first visited and then became director of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). There, he led and managed interdisciplinary teams that developed learning based approaches to understand interactions between people and nature.

Holling highlighted the importance of considering surprise, system reorganization, and learning when trying to understand social-ecological dynamics. These efforts lead to new dynamic ideas about the dynamic nature of resilience and the co-development of Adaptive Environmental Management and Assessment, a learning based approach to the management of complex environmental problems.

The origin of social-ecological systems thinking

In the 1990s, Holling moved from the University of British Colombia to the University of Florida in the United States. This marked the beginning of a long-term collaboration with Stockholm based researchers, initially through the Beijier Institute and then with researchers at Stockholm University.

In the 1990s these collaborations were organized into the MacArthur Foundation funded Resilience Network. The success of that project lead Holling to initiate the Resilience Alliance in 1999. The Resilience Alliance was established as an international partnership of interdisciplinary researchers focused on understanding transformations in human and natural systems.

The researchers behind the partnership published a number of influential papers and books in the 2000s, exploring the dynamics of resilience and transformation as well as the concept of social-ecological systems.

Holling trained many scientists that went on to make major impacts in behavioural ecology, forest management, fisheries, ecology, and sustainability science. He was passionate about developing cross-disciplinary, international networks among younger scientists, and made sure that this was a central and continuing part of resilience science activities.

His contributions to the board of the Beijer Institute in Sweden and Santa Fe Institute in the USA, advanced complexity science and suitability research.

A true scientific giant

Buzz Holling received many honours for his contribution to science and society. He received the Mercer Award and the Eminent Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, as well as a foreign Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He received the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, and he became an Officer of the Order of Canada "for his pioneering contributions to the field of ecology, notably for his work on ecosystem dynamics, resilience theory and ecological economics".

He was awarded the Volvo Environmental Prize in 2008 that stated Holling was “one of the most creative and influential ecologists of our times".

Buzz Holling leaves behind his beloved family consisting of his wife Ilse, and his three children Jamie, Nancy and Chris, as well as four grandchildren.

He will be greatly missed by many dear friends and colleagues at the Beijer Institute and around the world. Buzz Holling was a true scientific giant. His fundamental contributions to our understanding of the world will continue to deeply influence and inspire us, and his warmth and curiosity will continue to inspire our research culture as we strive to create a world in which people and nature can thrive together.

 

 

What a difference a label makes
2019-08-09

ASC certified fish farms appear to perform better environmentally than non-certified, but further stringency in standards are needed to fully tackle the challenges with aquaculture. This is shown in a recent study published in Marine Policy.

Salmon industry faces common problems

In the light of overfished oceans and conventional land food systems that use too much water and nutrient resources, farmed fish can be a promising alternative. Aquaculture has grown exponentially and salmon is one of the most economically valuable farmed species.

Today, 90 percent of global salmon production is farmed compared to the 1970s when salmon was a wild capture industry only. But the booming fish farming industry has caused a range of social and environmental problems. Private certification initiatives try to tackle these challenges and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is one of the most well-known.

The authors, Beijer reserchers Malin Jonell and Max Troell, also affiliated with Stockholm Resilience Centre together with former Beijer staff Ola Luthman from Södertörn University in Sweden asked: what does the ASC standard add to conventional governance policies and to what sustainability dimensions does it contribute most?

Scanning available literature, the researchers identified specific challenges facing salmon aquaculture: feed, interaction with wildlife, fish health, and farm waste.

Read more

ASC is better but not good enough

National efforts to mitigate the bad and realize the good with aquaculture has been criticised for being too slack. As mentioned previously, private certification initiatives try to fill the gaps and the ASC has to date certified over 320 salmon farms.

The researchers compared the ASC production standards with the national regulations of the four largest salmon producing countries: Norway, Chile, Scotland (UK), and British Colombia (Canada). Across all four categories of challenges, the researchers found the ASC standards to be more stringent than the national regulations.

The biggest difference was found in Chile while the Norwegian regulations were close to the ASC level. The most important contributions of ASC certification proved to be (1) an allowed maximum of escaped fish per production cycle, (2) a requirement to the extent possible use certified sustainable-sourced fish meal and oil, (3) the prohibition to use critical antibiotics, and (4) tougher requirements on monitoring of waste levels.

Room for improvement

The ASC should not, however, be thought of as the panacea that will ‘fix’ fish farming. The authors point out that the standards perform comparatively better in sharpening the environmental performance of fish farms but there is still room for improvement.

The ASC still allows the use of non-certified fish ingredients in feed and recent changes in the standards provide additional leeway for producers to use terrestrial feed that is not sustainably sourced. The standard is, however, under development. The open characteristics of sea-based net pens used for salmon farming constitutes the basis for problems with escapes, waste, and the spread of disease and chemical compounds.

Link to publication

Reference:Luthman, O., M. Jonell, and M. Troell. Governing the salmon farming industry: comparison between national regulations and the ASC salmon standard. 2019. Marine Policy 106: 103534.

 

 

Adding realism to risks
2019-08-08

Climate change increases the risk of catastrophic regime shifts in ecosystems. Such large, abrupt and persistent changes tend to have substantial impacts on nature's production of services. But how do we best assess the risk of them to happen? Are the standard economic models of catastrophic risks realistic enough? Can they handle delayed impacts?

To answer these questions  an article in The Scandinavian Jounal of Economics introduces “inertia risk”, a new way to model catastrophic risk, which the authors show is more appropriate for many real-world situations where the impacts of a risky event can occur long after the event itself.

The article is written by Beijer Institute deputy director  Anne-Sophie Crépin, (also affiliated with Stockholm Resilience Centre), together with Eric Nævdal, Senior Research Fellow at The Frisch Center in Oslo, Norway.

Link to open access article

With inertia risk, the authors introduce a more realistic probability model of how economic activity affects the likelihood of catastrophes. The decisions you face in any given circumstance can be limited by the decisions you made in the past and there are delays between cause and effect. By incorporating these aspects, their model includes more of the complexities and uncertainties that real natural and social systems tend to display.

Decision makers’ role

Crépin and Nævdal illustrate their approach with a model of climate change , in which changes in temperature cause the accumulation of environmental stress which may trigger catastrophes even after temperature has been stabilized. The model gives guidance to decision makers’ on how they should respond to the risk of a catastrophe occurring.

“Such risk structures are particularly relevant when studying problems of pollution release and resource exploitation, where human activities, besides producing welfare, may also affect the risk of the system making a critical transition to an alternate regime,” they write.

While Crépin and Nævdal focus on climate change in the new article, they also underline that the model they use could be applied to many different pollution problems with a risk of regime shift. For example, it could be used to analyse the impacts of carbon dioxide on ocean acidification, emission of gases affecting the ozone layer or the effect of nutrient pollution on a lake.

More time to react

However, the authors also acknowledge that there are problems for which it is less appropriate and discuss in detail to what extent the approach can be generalised. For example the limitations of their approach when it comes to really complicated resource management problems with many interacting factors that influence the risk of regime shifts to happen, but also suggest ways to solve this.

Nonetheless, by introducing inertia risk in their model Crépin and Nævdal add a more realistic and precautionary approach to analysing climate-related risks. Hence, managers who include this kind of an approach in their work might avoid taking more risk than necessary. It can also give them more time to react before a catastrophe occurs and even enable them to avert it.

Read more

Reference: Crépin, A-S., Nævdal, E. 2019. Inertia Risk: Improving Economic Models of Catastrophes. The Scandinavian Journal of Economics doi: 10.1111/sjoe.12381

New partnership with Sweden’s Artificial Intelligence innovation network
2019-06-19

The Beijer Institute , along with Stockholm Resilience Centre, has become a partner of AI Innovation of Sweden. Founded in February 2019, AI Innovation of Sweden is a national initiative designed to “serve as an engine in the Swedish AI ecosystem”. Based in Gothenburg, the initiative will provide resources, knowledge and data to accelerate applied AI research and innovation. It will link businesses to academia and the public sector.

“These technologies are phenomenally powerful. They will increasingly shape our world – and our planet. It is really important that artificial intelligence is cognizant of the state of the planet,” says Victor Galaz, programme director for the programme “Governance, Technology and Complexity”, and deputy director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC).

“This means those developing the algorithms should be aware of this new power and responsibility,” he added. “The Beijer Institute together with SRC, is ramping up its research in how innovative technology like AI might both support and undermine transformations to sustainability.”

AI Innovation of Sweden’s objectives include accelerating applied AI research and innovation through collaboration and cross-industry sharing, developing methods and infrastructure for managing and using large quantities of data with strong focus on security, i.e. doing this in a controlled and reliable way and promoting responsible use of AI and the development of unbiased tools.

The purpose of the new partnership (effective as of June 11th) is to explore the broad biosphere sustainability dimensions of the rapid progress and applications of artificial intelligence in society. By linking to leading AI thinkers and doers in Sweden, the Beijer Institute together with SRC, aims to develop a new research agenda and collaborations in this rapidly developing issue.

“We are delighted to be able to continue to develop the thinking and science formulated by us in 2015 in the “Biosphere Code” . Such principles for the deployment of new forms of artificial intelligence are becoming increasingly important as these technologies evolve.”

 

Dancing on the vulcano
2019-05-07

Humanity is at a crossroads. We need to understand the underlying drivers of human behaviour to avoid collapse of the biosphere and our global civilization

Radical recent developments such as Brexit, the rise of extreme nationalism in Europe, polarizing leaders, the Arab Spring, and fundamentalist movements are indications of societal discontent with the status quo. Other societal phenomena such as gender fluidity, veganism, and bartering are also associated with a perceived need to change. Such a broad set of developments may be interpreted in the light of new insights from theory of complex systems about what happens as resilience of the current pathway (societal organization as we know it) decreases.

In an article in Ecology&Society, Beijer Director Carl Folke, together with Beijer Fellows Stephen Carpenter, Marten Scheffer and Frances Westley reflect on global changes that may contribute to social destabilization, such as rising wealth concentration and environmental degradation. They continue by asking how people’s responses may be understood from a social-psychological perspective, such as the need for group identity and managing their fear of death.

Read the article

We better start doing it right

Alluding to a 70’s rock song by Genesis. “Dancing on a Volcano”, the researchers compare the lyrics to the current state of the world, where humans increasingly shape the Earth and risk pushing the planet’s climate and ecosystems over the edge. In this current human-dominated era, called the Anthropocene, variability in the political, cultural, and economic spheres seems to have increased.

“As fluctuations grow and instabilities appear there are increasing possibilities for major systemic transformations, not all of which are desirable,” the authors write.

Looking back or forward?

Many now hope that social experimentation and innovation can change the world fast enough to increase the possibilities for a sustainable future but at the same time others seem to seek an escape from the mounting complexity of our time into the felt certainty of the past.

“In a phase of turbulent experimentation, there are dangers and opportunity. Dangers include looking to the past to solve novel future problems or embracing a shiny new idea before it is tested adequately in safe-fail experiments,” they add.

Not the end of the world

The team also identify a number of trends that are forward-looking, like the “Green New Deal” in the U.S., carbon-neutral movements around the world, and various social movements. These trends range from changes in individual behaviour to broad international social movements, and as the researchers conclude, we need more of this kind of forward-looking social experimentation. For this to happen, humanity needs to avoid a kind of collective gut reaction that is common when threats to our life and way of life feel very real. In such times, we have a tendency as humans to shut down our capacities for exploration, resorting to “group thinking,” whether reactionary or escapist. This can provide an illusory sense of safety and protection, but will be a bad strategy in the long run when dancing on the edge of the metaphorical global volcano which the researchers depict.

“The plateau of change and uncertainty is not the end of the world as we know it, it is the beginning of shared work toward a better planet than we now have. Progress toward a better planet begins with open conversation about how we will share the planet with each other and all of life on earth,” they conclude.

Carpenter, S. R., C. Folke, M. Scheffer, and F. R. Westley. 2019. Dancing on the volcano: social exploration in times of discontent. Ecology and Society 24(1):23.
https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-10839-240123

If a city is resilient, is it also sustainable?
2019-04-23

Use of concepts like sustainability, resilience and transformation has skyrocketed in recent years, not least in when it comes to urban development, but discussions are plagued by confusion and vagueness on what the concepts mean. The big question is this: is a resilient city a sustainable one?

A study published in Nature Sustainability, led by Thomas Elmqvist, Stockholm Resilience Centre and with Beijer Institute director Carl Folke in the writing team, presents a new framework to resolve this.

Related but not identical concepts

The crux of the issue is that urban resilience and urban sustainability, though related, mean different things, yet the concepts are often positively correlated. The authors point out that cities have proven to be remarkably resilient complex systems, many cities have existed for thousands of years and have grown stronger even after major turmoil. . However, almost no city is truly sustainable – it’s resource use, including energy use, is extremely damaging to the long-term regenerative capacity of the Earth system to remain in a relatively stable state.

“In the next decade, $95 trillion dollars will be spent on new infrastructure to support an expanding urban development. Understanding trade-offs and synergies between resilience and sustainability is key in turning the largest and fastest infrastructure investment in the history of this planet into an opportunity”, says co-author Timon McPhearson, The New School University, New York.

Strengthen a specific pathway

Sustainable cities often focus on designing for maximum efficiency, the researchers argue in the paper. This ignores a key characteristic of resilient systems: redundancy, and this ignorance may lead to increased vulnerability.

For example, high-density housing is very efficient, but if a natural disaster strikes more people can be harmed. Or, take a city’s transport system and road network. Designing for efficiency can lead to gridlock if just one or two junctions or roads are blocked. Designing for resilience is less efficient but the system still functions after a shock.

The paper offers a view on how the three concepts  relate to each other in a way that could support policy and practice and also be suitable for addressing new and pressing challenges. With this view, any given city will have many different ways it could develop in future from “business as usual” to radical transformations and resilience is understood as the capacity to adhere to, or simply strengthen, a specific pathway. For example, resilience must be reduced to allow for breaking free from lock-ins of undesired resilience such as urban poverty, while in other situations, strengthening (social) innovations to take hold of desired resilience.

Read more

Link to article

Reference: Elmqvist, T., E. Andersson, N. Frantzeskaki, T. McPhearson. P. Olsson, O.Gaffney, K. Takeuchi and C. Folke..2019. Sustainability and resilience for transformation in the urban century. Nature Sustainability  2: 267–273

 

Framework for equitable mariculture development in the Western Indian Ocean
2019-04-23

Mariculture, a type of aquaculture where marine organisms are cultivated in open ocean or brackish waters, is thought to contribute to “blue growth” for the sustainable development of island and coastal states in the West Indian Ocean. Small-scale community-based mariculture projects have increasingly gained popularity and attention from governments, the private sector, social entrepreneurs, as well as conservation and development agencies.

While mariculture has had a positive impact when it comes to supporting local livelihoods, many questions still remain when it comes to its development impact and scalability. A new report outlines a diagnostic framework that is designed to assist decision-making for assessment and planning around sustainable and equitable mariculture.

”This report draws on lessons from decades of mariculture initiatives to support and guide an industry with practice that better aligns with national stakeholder aspirations for equitable growth and the Sustainable Development Goals”, says Beijer Institute researcher Max Troell, also affiliated with Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Download report here

The diagnostic framework

To help decide if a potential mariculture operation would be equitable and sustainable, the authors developed a diagnostic framework that outlines aspirational outcomes – a benchmark of what each mariculture initiative should aim to achieve.

The framework is broken down into six outcomes:

1. Space – mariculture area will be located maintains environment and supports livelihoods

2. Habitats – use coastal habitats that support ecosystem services

3. Biosecurity – functional integrity of ecosystem is not compromised

4. Incomes and livelihoods – livelihood opportunities and benefits for community residents

5. Economic growth – financially viable and promotes socially responsible national growth

6. Gender and youth – equitable access to opportunities and benefits

Under each outcome there is a diagnostic question, and criteria to answer that question, which tests if a potential mariculture operation would be able to achieve the outcome. If the answer is no, then the framework also provides guidance on what actions should be taken to achieve the outcome.

While this tool can help decide if mariculture is the right option in that area, Troell warns that it is not failsafe. “It is important to note that this diagnostic framework will not solve all the potential problems or capture all the opportunities that may come with mariculture development, but it will help guide and structure how to carry out assessments of such activities.”


Reference: Eriksson H., Troell M., Brugere C., Chadag M., Phillips M., and Andrew, N. 2018. A diagnostic framework for equitable mariculture development in the Western Indian Ocean. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research: Canberra, ACT. 36 pp.

 

Seminar video: Water as the bloodstream of the Biosphere
2019-04-10

On this year’s World Water Day 22 March and celebrating the 200th Stockholm Seminar, three generations of water resilience researchers shared their research and reflections on the multiple ways that freshwater sustain the biosphere and human development. the seminar was held at the Royal Swedish Academyof Sciences.

See seminar video here

Water is essential for life on Earth and the prosperity of human civilization. As it flows through rivers and streams, rests in lakes and oceans, circulate through the roots and leaves of plants and falls as rain or snow, water serves as the bloodstream of the biosphere.

If the pressure on the water cycle at local, regional or the global scale becomes too great it can lead to unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes. In recent years the functions and importance of “green” water, the soil moisture from precipitation, used by plants via transpiration, is becoming increasingly understood. And studies how the water “bloodstream” is globally connected, shows that local land-uses changes can be connected to rainfall modifications in faraway areas.

This included the Blue Planet Prize 2018 awardee Prof. Malin Falkenmark’s lifework of articulating water’s fundamental role for Earth’s life support system, innovating the understanding of water scarcity, and propelling the recognition of green water as a valuable and manageable resource; centre director Dr. Line Gordon’s decade long research unravelling the critical roles of “invisible” water for social-ecological resilience; and Dr. Lan Wang-Erlandsson’s account of the newest advancements towards a revised freshwater planetary boundary that acknowledges all facets of water for supporting a stable and habitable Earth.

Programme details

13.00
Welcome

By Carl Folke Folke, Director of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and Science Director Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University

13.15
Water - Bloodstream of the Biosphere

Malin Falkenmark, professor Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and SIWI, Awardee of the Blue Planet Prize 2018

14.00 Music
Echo, written and performed by Rosa Kvartetten: Daina Mateikaite (violin); Brita Pettersson(violin); Anna Manell (viola) and Jessie Langhard (cello)

14.10 Coffee break

14.40
The role of invisible water in sustaining ecosystem resilience and human development

Line Gordon, director and associate professor, Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.

Towards a new water planetary boundary for Earth resilience

Lan Wang-Erlandsson, PhD, Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.

15.20 Questions/discussion

Moderator: Louise Hård af Segerstad

The Stockholm Seminars cover a broad range of sustainability science perspectives with a focus on the dynamics and stewardship of social-ecological systems.

The seminars are held at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and organised by the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Albaeco, Future Earth and Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Since its start in 2000 more than 200 of the world’s leading scientists and experts have taken part in this seminar series, including Nobel Laureates.

The Stockholm Seminars are open and free of charge.

 

 

 

Design students visualise our dependency on nature’s services
2019-03-26

In the exhibition In My Backyard at the design store Svenskt Tenn in Stockholm, students in Visual Communication at Beckmans School of Design interpret the research carried out by the Beijer Institute on ecosystem services and their crucial role for sustainable social development.

Research more easily accessible through visual communication

A common aim for the students was to create a broader understanding of ecosystem services and why they are key both for own well-being and the planet's.

"By providing new entrypoints to current research, visual communication can create an understanding of complex issues and create empathy and commitment in a way that for instance news stories cannot convey. In this course, the students have transformed complex information into independent artistic projects that can make all of us reflect on our dependence on nature", says João Doria, associate professor at the Visual Communication program.

The exhibition shows 16 works that is rooted in the Beijer Institute's research on ecosystem services, a concept that includes all the positive things that nature provides us with and that make visible that nature's services cannot be taken for granted. The focus was on ecosystem services in cities. Nature's diversity of ecosystems and organisms is a prerequisite for our well-being, both at the individual and at society level. The Beijer Institute's research shows, among other things, why green areas, trees and wetlands are cost-effective investments in sustainable urban development, but also what happens if these are neglected.

 An updated herbarium, a tree golf course and a digital ecosystem

Researchers from the Beijer Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre gave introductory lectures and provided background readings and tuition to the students throughout a five week course. The result is 16 very diverse artistic interpretations.

"Meeting and discussing with these young, talented and engaged students was truly inspiring", says Åsa Gren one of the researchers. "It provided me with surprisingly novel lenses for viewing my research. The students’ ability to grasp complex scientific issues and turn them into engaging, thought provoking and fun art was astonishing."

Among the works is an audiovisual herbarium where rustling and whispers from flowers can create pleasure and calm for stressed city dwellers lacking access to green spaces. Another student has explored whether the peace that nature gives can be replaced by a digital park that can be experienced through the phone? Design icon Josef Frank's colorful, nature pattern has inspired a pattern that visualizes how Swedish nature may appear in the wake of increased global warming. And one student has invented tree golf - a combined forest walk and tree inventory where a round consists of 18 hole trees where the tape measure is the club and the perimeter circumference beaten.

Read more about the individual works here (in Swedish) 

The exhibition is a joint project by the Beijer Institute, Beckmans College of Design and the Swedish design store Svenskt Tenn in Stockholm, where the exhibition is shown until 29 January. Via the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation, Svenskt Tenn’s profit support research at the Beijer Institute. 

 The exhibition is open until 7 April at Svenskt Tenn, Strandvägen 2, Stockholm

Launch of the EAT Lancet report on Food, Planet and Health
2019-01-16

The report Our Food in The Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems, brings together more than 30 world-leading scientists from across the globe to reach a scientific consensus that defines a healthy and sustainable diet.

Download the report

The Commission is delivering the first full scientific review of what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food system, and which actions can support and speed up food system transformation. The results will be presented in The Lancet in mid-January 2019, and the report is co-authored by Beijer Institute researchers Therese Lindahl and Max Troell. Read more about the report here.

Friday, January 18, the Eat Lancet Report will be launched for a Swedish audience in an event organised by Stockholm Resilience Center in collaboration with the Beijer Institute and the Global Economic Dynamics and Biosphere programme at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and EAT.
The launch, which is mainly in Swedish, is recorded and can be seen here. For program see below.

The EAT Lancet report report is the first of its kind that quantifies, at a global level, how large a conversion is needed for the food system to be both good for human health and sustainable for the planet.

The report deals with a variety of topics, such as health, diet, climate, environment, fishing and agriculture. Here are some important conclusions:

• Providing a growing population of 10 billion in 2050 with food that is both healthy and sustainable requires that we change our diet, improve food production and reduce food waste. Achieving the report's scientifically based goals for a healthy diet within the limits of the planet will require significant changes, but is within reach.

• The dietary advice presented in the report include about 35% of calories from whole grains and root vegetables, protein mainly from plants - but also about 14 g of red meat per day and 500 g per day of vegetables and fruit. For each of these components there is great flexibility, depending on the availability of food and cultural and personal preferences.

• Making this major transition will require decreasing the consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar by about 50%, while more than doubling the consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes.

• Such a global diet change can lead to major health benefits, potentially averting 10.9-11.6 million premature deaths annually, according to the report.

Download the report


Time and place for Swedish Launch
Fredag 18 januari 2019, 09:15-12:00
Beijersalen, Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien
Program
09:15 Introduktion
Line Gordon, Executive Director Stockholm Resilience Centre vid Stockholms universitet, medförfattare till EAT Lancet rapporten och Gunhild Stordalen, Founder och Executive Chair, EAT.
09:30 Presentation av rapporten “Our Food In The Anthropocene: The EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems”
Johan Rockström, Commission Co-Chair för EAT Lancet rapporten, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research och Brent Loken, Director of Science Translation EAT, Stockholm Resilience Centre, medförfattare till EAT Lancet rapporten (in English)
10:10 Kaffepaus
10:30 Perspektiv
Health benefits. Marco Springmann, Oxford universitet, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, medförfattare till EAT Lancet rapporten (in English)
Klimatgränsen i relation till kött. Elin Röös, Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet, Institutionen för energi och teknik
Betydelsen av en blå transformation för att stanna inom planetens gränser. Max Troell, Beijerinstitutet för Ekologisk Ekonomi vid Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien, medförfattare till EAT-Lancet rapporten
Regional analysis – the EAT-Lancet report in the Nordic context. Amanda Wood, Stockholm Resilience Centre, medförfattare till EAT-Lancet rapporten (in English)
Forskning för transformation. Beatrice Crona, Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien, Stockholm Resilience Centre vid Stockholms universitet, medförfattare till EAT Lancet rapporten; och Line Gordon
11:20 Frågor
12:00 Avslutning

Solutions that provide synergies
2019-01-11

Environmental Policy Instruments must be used to deal with global environmental problems
Global environmental problems can be addressed by means of policy instruments such as carbon dioxide taxes, building and technology standards and support for new technology, but the issues are complex and several environmental problems must be addressed simultaneously in order to achieve optimal effect. Therefore, different research areas must work together to find solutions. This is evident from an article published in the journal Nature Sustainability, co-authored by several Beijer Institute researchers and Fellows.

Recognise the need for new economic policies
The major environmental problems are global, long-term and uncertain. They are also interconnected with each other and must therefore be analyzed together in order to find solutions that provide synergies and in order to avoid “solutions” that solve one problem but worsen others.

“It is not sustainable if you aggravate problems related to loss of biodiversity or the vital cycles for water or nutrients when you are trying to solve, for example, the climate problem, perhaps through a poorly conceived forest policy,” says Thomas Sterner, professor of environmental economics at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and lead author of the article.

“Science is clear that we are at risk of destabilising the entire planet. The grand challenge is to recognise the need for new economic policies when faced with risks of irreversible changes at the global scale that would determine the future of all generations of humans on Earth,” says Johan Rockström, Professor of Environmental Sciences at Stockholm University and Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. He is one of the co-authors of the study.

“Biologists, physicists and other natural scientists see and analyze the changes, and are usually the ones who write about planetary boundaries and the Anthropocene. Social scientists are experts on how society and the economy work, and both skills are indispensable when analyzing social causes and proposing solutions that are effective and politically feasible. Therefore, collaboration between economists, social scientists and natural scientists is urgently needed to discuss solutions,” says Sterner.

Greenhouse gases must imply a significant cost.

The Earth is in the "Anthropocene" – an era when many crucial variables for the planet are controlled by man, and our activities and consumption patterns risk exceeding the planetary boundaries. This leads to changed climate, acidification of the oceans, loss of biodiversity and many other global environmental problems.Finding effective solutions is of course important, but the income distributional effects of policy measures and their perceived fairness are vital determinants of the political feasibility and thus also aspects that must be considered very carefully when policy instruments are selected and designed.

“The Anthropocene is a whole new era in human and planetary development. It is extremely important to adjust policy instruments and combine them in new ways. They must be adapted to phenomena that are becoming increasingly common now, for example the risk of collapse of certain natural resources, so-called "tipping points", or that human activities may have delayed influence on the environment,” says Anne-Sophie Crépin at the Beijer Institute and one of the co-authors of the article.

“The aim of our research is to contribute to a better policy throughout the world to deal with the major environmental problems. A first step could be a global agreement that all emissions of greenhouse gases must imply a significant cost for the persons or companies causing the emissions,” says Sterner.

About the article
In December 2017, Thomas Sterner gathered 25 international environmental researchers at the Gothenburg School of Economics for the workshop "Policies for Planetary Boundaries". Two key participants were Johan Rockström and Will Steffen, both attached to the Stockholm Resilience Center and lead authors of several major articles on Planetary Boundaries. The questions the researchers posed were "what economic and political measures do we need to cope with the global environmental challenges?" and "what can natural scientists learn from economists and vice versa?". The result was the article "Policy design for the Anthropocene" [link] which has now been published in Nature Sustainability.

Reference: Sterner, T., Barbier, E.B., Bateman, I., et. al. 2019. Policy design for the Anthropocene. Nature Sustainability volume 2, pages14–21

Human-Machine-Ecology: A Workshop on the Emerging Risks, Opportunities, and Governance of Artificial Intelligence
2019-01-09

The Beijer Institute, its partner Stockholm Resilience Centre, and the PIIRS GRS Research group at Princeton University have teamed up to organize a seminar and workshop 11-12 january 2019 at Princeton University,to adress growing concerns in the world of artificial intelligence. The central focus will be on the way emerging AI-systems shape the way we perceive and respond to environmental change, and how it could fundamentally alter the ways in which humans modify ecosystems around the world and impact human wellbeing. With the goal of fostering fruitful discussion and eventually a published work, this multidisciplinary workshop will bring together scholars from computer sciences, ecology, political science (amongst others), and actors from the IT-sector where these systems are currently being developed and tested on the ground. This is an initiative within the recently founded Beijer Institute research programme Complexity, Technology and Governance, led by Victor Galaz.

Background

It is becoming increasingly clear that rapid advances in algorithmic systems associated with artificial intelligence (such as machine learning, intelligent infrastructure, the Internet of Things) are likely to pose difficult challenges to governance and policy in multiple sectors such as medicine, finance, policing, urban planning, transport, and energy systems. In practically all modern domains, such technologies increasingly serve to impose order, hierarchize needs, allocate resources, and impact the distribution of wealth and opportunity. Algorithmic systems presently interact so closely with human decisions and behavior that these systems now influence many aspects of modern life in almost invisible ways. Questions such as who is policed, where it is lit, how much funding a community receives, and how jobs are allocated, are all becoming subject to the hidden hand of algorithms. Yet, much like Goethe’s (and Disney’s) sorcerer's apprentice, we may not be able to control or even understand the tools that shape our contemporary life. We may not even know the location or extent of failures caused by AI until damage has cascaded into catastrophe.

One often ignored fact is that algorithmic systems of different degrees of sophistication are already important today in the environmental and ecological domain. This includes social media mediated filtering of environmental information online, environmental monitoring systems, climate change modeling, energy distribution, and urban and landscape planning, just to mention a few. Advanced algorithmic systems and robotics are also making rapid progress in the agricultural sector, for example through “precision agriculture” investments in Europe and in Asia, and in technologies for marine exploration and exploitation. It would be a mistake to assume that these applications will remain flawless in an environment of rapidly changing ecological circumstances.

This means that not only our monitoring of the present, but also our forecasting of the future is controlled by mechanisms whose collective behavior we do not understand. The possibility of a disastrous accident in agriculture is a critical issue in a world where we remain “three meals away from chaos.” Moreover, as we come to depend on constant monitoring of the environment and subsequent policy choices, the very means by which we make the world legible need to be better understood.

Preliminary list of Participants:

Miguel Centeno, PIIRS GSR (Workshop Co-Organizer)
Victor Galaz, SRC (Workshop Co-Organizer)
Brian Arthur, Santa Fe Institute
Chloé Bakalar, Princeton CITP
Solon Barocas, Cornell Information Science
Seth Baum, Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
Irina Brass, University College London
Sarah Brayne, UTAustin Sociology
Joanna Bryson, University of Bath CS
Darryl Farber, Penn State Engineering Design
Ed Felten, Princeton CS
Danit Gal, Keio University
David Garcia, CSH Vienna
Brian King, CGIAR
Paul Larcey, Cambridge University
Karen Levy, Cornell Information Science
Arvind Narayanan, Princeton CS
Jen Rexford, Princeton CS
Jonathan Tannen, Facebook Research
Michael Veale, University College London
Ben Zevenbergen, Princeton & Oxford Internet Institute

 

Contagious collapses
2019-01-08

New study reveals hidden links and potential domino effects between tipping points in climate, ecosystems and societies

Sometimes ecosystems change in so dramatic and substantial ways that they cross a “tipping point”. Scientists call such largely irreversible changes “regime shifts”. One example is how a rainforest can shift abruptly to dry savannah due to the combined effect of deforestation and climate change.

Now a group of researchers from Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Beijer Institute has teamed up with Beijer Fellow and Princeton University ecologist Simon Levin to study how such regime shifts can be better managed and prepared for. Their results, published in Science, suggest that more attention should be paid to how regime shifts are connected and how those connections could be managed.

"Regime shifts pose challenges to ecological management and governance because they are difficult to predict and reverse and substantially alter the availability of benefits that people receive from nature," explains Juan Rocha lead author of the new study.

The group of researchers, has specifically studied the potential for some regime shifts to trigger or increase the risk of other regime shifts occurring, so called “cascading” regime shifts. One such example is the connection between Arctic ice sheets and boreal forests, which amplifies each other. When the ice sheets melt, the reflection of the sun’s heat diminishes so the temperature of the planet rises. This increases the risks of forest fires, which discharge carbon into the air that adds to the greenhouse effect, melting more ice.

Hundreds of case studies

The study is based on a systematic network analysis of more than 300 case studies and 30 types of regime shifts, which have previously been collected in the Regime Shifts Database.

The researchers divided the regime shifts into two different types of cascading effects “domino effects” and “hidden feedbacks”. The first type is rather straight forward and occurs when one regime shift gives rise to subsequent regime shifts in a nearby or distant ecosystem, whereas the other “hidden” type is the result of two-way interactions that cannot be identified by studying one regime shift at the time.

When regime shifts are interconnected over large distances, whoever makes decisions on management is not necessarily the one that has to deal with the impacts. This is for example the case for mechanisms that connect far away ecosystems through climate change, fire, nutrient inputs, or trade.

Moisture recycling is another interesting example. It is both a key underlying factor for the regime shift from rainforest to savannah in the Amazon, but also has the potential to cascade far beyond the forest that depend on moisture recycling as an important water source. In this way, changes in moisture recycling can affect mountain forests in the Andes, nutrient cycling in the ocean by affecting sea surface temperature, and therefore regime shifts in marine food webs.

Avoiding regime shifts

For managers it is of key importance to avoid regime shifts as they can have substantial impacts on human economies and societies and are often difficult and costly to reverse. Developing early warning signals that also take coupled regime shifts into account is therefore urgently required.

Another important aspect put forward in the new study is the need to identify common drivers for several different regime shifts. This could result in management strategies that target specific “bundles of drivers”, increasing the chances to avoid several regime shifts simultaneously.

Read more

Reference: Rocha, JC, Peterson, G, Bodin, Ö, and Levin, S. 2018. Cascading regime shifts within and across scales. Science 362 (6421), 1379-1383. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat7850

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