PUBLICATION Book chapter

Navigating the dynamics of people-planet relationships: A social-ecological systems perspective

People-planet interactions and interdependencies connect sectors and scales in complex, changing ways; those changes can be incremental or abrupt, expected or surprising. Climate change, rising inequalities, biodiversity loss, food insecurity and other global problems involve interlinked cross-scale systems driven by feedbacks that connect far-flung localities to one another and link local to global, such that actions in one place often impact far distant places or social groups. Experiences from social-ecological systems research holds some lessons and offers some practices for shifting the focus of sustainable development from static outcomes to the dynamic relationships that connect people and planet and drive cross-scale sustainability pathways and outcomes. We explore what social-ecological science offers in terms of new ways to account for the driving force of cross-scale interactions which are neither local nor global, isolated nor additive. Across these lessons and examples, we find that transformations to sustainability require the reconnection, regeneration, and reconfiguration of people-planet relationships. Such reconfigurations will likely emerge from the interactions among a patchwork of geographically distinct, but interacting, pathways of change and will hinge on our ability to acknowledge complexity, change, and the unknowable; to experiment and collect and share information on which experiments work and why; and to hold fast to empathy and caring for ourselves, for other people, other species, and for the planet.

Bennett, E., and Reyers, B. 2022. Navigating the dynamics of people-planet relationships: A social-ecological systems perspective. In: Passarelli, D. and D. Day (eds.). Reimagining the Human-Environment Relationship. UN Universi­ty and UN Environment Programme. Pp. .