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Research Report

The Invisible Wand:: Adaptive Co-management as an Emergent Strategy in Complex Bio-economic Systems

Jack Ruitenbeek
Cynthia Cartier
Copyright Date: Oct. 1, 2001
Pages: 51
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 6-8)

    In 1990, while speeding out of the solar system, the Voyager spacecraft snapped photographs of the planets. From a distance of 3.7 billion miles, the earth appears as a ‘pale blue dot’ on one such photograph. Carl Sagan uses this metaphor in the above excerpt to underscore the insignificance of our home world in relation to the great expanse of space. For the past billion years, our planet has looked like that. For the next billion years, it will quite likely continue to look like that.

    But on the ground changes are apparent. The planet is on fire. Climate change...

  2. (pp. 9-14)

    He local resource user often has the keenest insights into how things work in their local system. Moreover, the insights are often surprising. When further probed on what fish abundance had to do with naked sunbathers, our fisherman friend responded cheerfully, ‘Allah is unhappy that we permit this sunbathing, and he has taken our fish away to punish us.’ In the minds of some of the most important stakeholders, seemingly unconnected factors thus become inextricably related. Such is the nature of complex systems.

    And historically, the nature of scientific discovery is equally complex. During the 19th century, debates raged on...

  3. (pp. 15-17)

    He interesting thing about complex systems is that they produce surprises. Surprises can come in many forms. Post-it notes were invented by surprise. People were surprised when the Berlin Wall fell and German reunification commenced. The emergence of the Internet was, to many, a surprise. In this chapter, we look more closely at the phenomenon of emergence within a complex system. Specifically, we consider whether ACM can be regarded as an emergent strategy. By spending some time on this discussion, we hope to familiarise the reader more with the ways of CS thinking, while also exploring a key aspect of...

  4. (pp. 18-20)

    Economics is indeed the dismal science. Thomas Carlyle, historian and social critic of the 19th century, first made this observation about economics. This statement was made at a time when the great economists Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo were writing about the world’s economic future. Neither painted a bright future for the common worker, observing that world population would grow faster than food production would allow. They both called for restraint in food consumption, but both submitted that it is not in human nature to use self-control in population growth. Destiny controls this growth. Adam Smith, on the other hand,...

  5. (pp. 21-25)

    Why did evolution bother to produce us if zombies would have survived and reproduced just as well? Zombies are physically identical to normal human beings, but completely lack conscious experience. Zombies appear in Hollywood movies and philosophy articles. We all probably think that we know a few, too. The question regarding evolutionary development is one posed by Owen Flanagan and Thomas Polger (1995) in their work on consciousness.10 They argue that one of the most difficult questions facing the definition of consciousness is what function it in fact serves.

    Many authors feel that conscious participation within an ACM process is...

  6. (pp. 26-29)

    Ecologists have taught us the difficulty in moving from a laboratory- or plot-scale experiment to a landscape or ecosystem scale. Complex systems behave in a scale-dependent manner. Their self-organising capacity, the manner in which they generate surprises and respond to shocks, are all attributes we attempt to observe, understand and explain. Models play a critical role in this.

    Social scientists – and economists in particular – have a great fondness for models. With equal ease we happily model entire continental economies or individual households. We model the price of petroleum in 2050, we model the likelihood of someone taking a...

  7. (pp. 30-34)

    We have pointed out at length that some aspects of ACM are emergent. We have also spoken of consciousness, noting that consciousness is itself an emergent property of complex neurological systems. We long for that consciousness to happen at a larger scale, too. We hope for a global awakening – a prise de conscience – around the need for preservation of our planet. We look hard for that collective consciousness in those around us. We search for H. sustinens, but too often we are disappointed and run into zombies.

    Much of the literature on ACM looks at how we can...

  8. (pp. 35-36)

    By the early twentieth century, contemporary science had effectively banished the word ‘purpose’ from its vocabulary (Koestler 1959). Falling stones were no longer trying to find their Aristotelian home or telos. The stars no longer had the purpose of serving as chronometers to profiting man. The tentative Galilean scientific revolution had come its full distance; the space-spirit hierarchy was replaced by the space-time continuum. At one time, this realm of investigation was called the philosophy of nature. Now it is called science.

    But in defining the panarchy, in studying complex systems, and in looking at adaptive co-management we cannot help...

  9. (pp. 37-38)

    Sometimes we make mistakes. That is, after all, the point of experimentation and learning. This also implies, however, that we must be prepared to revisit concepts and ideas and perhaps to discard some of those ideas if they are found to be wanting. Many hold up the idea of adaptive co-management as a panacea, hoping to solve all sorts of problems within forestry, fisheries or other bio-economic systems. While this is an exciting prospect, we must be careful in how we interpret and implement our ideas around ACM.

    In particular, we must acknowledge that sub-subsystems exist within subsystems, which exist...