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Addressing Pathological Dynamics of Global Environmental Problems

Garry D. Peterson, Reinette Biggs, Anne-Sophie Crépin, and Victor Galaz


Human wellbeing has improved greatly over the past century, but the very processes that have facilitated this rise have created many seemingly intractable global environmental problems that threaten future human well-being. We suggest that the intractability of these problems may arise from various underlying “pathological dynamics” where certain features of social-ecological systems interact with governance and management efforts in a way that consistently leads to management failures. In this paper we propose six archetypical pathological dynamics that underlie major environmental problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Based on insights from a variety of fields we then identify combinations of strategies for addressing each pathological dynamic. We suggest that this framework provides a step toward operationalizing complex systems thinking, and can help develop new ways of understanding and addressing multiple, interconnected global environmental problems.

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