Complex systems

“Complex systems are composed of a large number of active elements whose rich patterns of interactions produce emergent properties that are not easy to predict by analysing the separate parts of the system.” (Elinor Ostrim 1999).

Further reading here

Socio-ecological systems

C.S (Buzz) Holling pioneered the work that forms the basis of the present day research into socio-ecological systems (SESs), i.e. “linked systems of people and nature”. His initial work on non-linear dynamics in ecosystems led to the seminal 1973 paper “Resilience and stability of ecological systems” Holling was the founder of the Resilience Alliance in 1999, a research collaboration focussing on the dynamics of social-ecological systems.

Further reading here

Ecosystem Services

Excerpt from the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

“Ecosystem services are the benefits peopleobtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food, water, timber, and fiber; regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality; cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits; and supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient cycling. (See Figure A.) The human species, while buffered against environmental changes by culture and technology, is fundamentally dependent on the flow of ecosystem services.”

Systems Thinking

“A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organised in a way that achieves something. If you look at that definition closely for a minute, you can see that a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose.”

Donella Meadows

Systems thinking reflects the fundamental understanding that systems exhibit complex behaviour and feedback, potentially giving rise to counterintuitive outcomes from any specific policy action.

Further reading here

Causal loop diagrams

A causal loop diagram is a graphical depiction of cause and effect that identifies the dependencies and feedback in a system.

For more on causal loop diagrams go here.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) assessed the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and the scientific basis for action needed to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of those systems and their contribution to human well-being.

The MA involved the work of more than 1,360 experts worldwide. Their findings, contained in five technical volumes and six synthesis reports, provide a state-of-the-art scientific appraisal of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems and the services they provide (such as clean water, food, forest products, flood control, and natural resources) and the options to restore, conserve or enhance the sustainable use of ecosystems.

For more on the MA go here.

Ecological Footprint

The ecological footprint is a measure of human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems. It is a standardized measure of demand for natural capital that may be contrasted with the planet’s ecological capacity to regenerate. The ecological footprint concept and calculation method was developed as the PhD dissertation of Mathis Wackernagel, under supervision of William Rees at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

The ecological footprint process is now maintained by the Global Footprint Network, a non-profit organisation.

For more on the ecological footprint go here.

Demographic transition

The demographic transition denotes the change from high to low birth and death rates as nations develop to modern industrialised economies.

For more on the demographic transition go here.

Capital in the Twenty First Century

Piketty has analysed economic data to determine historical levels of wealth (capital) and income across the world, and its trajectory for the 21st Century. He concludes that while the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of economic growth (which largely determines incomes from labour) wealth must concentrate and inequality must rise.

For more on Piketty go here.

Human Development Index

Living standards are measured in a variety of ways but essentially measure the material goods and necessities of life. Living standards are an important but subsidiary component of the broader notion of quality of life or human wellbeing.

A broadly accepted measure of living standards on a country by country basis is the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI) which is derived from income, health and education.

For more on the HDI in general go here, and for specific country information go here.