Applied Ecology/Case Studies
Educating through case studies
It is practically impossible to think about a single habitat that has not been modified by human culture, either by the deliberate dismantling of its food chains or by pollution at a distance. Even landscapes that from a far vantage point appear to be free of human interference, will probably be found , on closer inspection, to be the product of human activity of one kind or another. However, there is no doubting the power of landscapes as educational entry points to case histories of applied ecology. The study of disease transmission begins with a view of the dense network of duck farms scattered across drained marshes of South East Asia where people, domestic livestock and migratory birds live cheek by jowl; a wetland engineering project catches the eye of the speeding motorist passing by a linear stretch of reedbed devised to clean up the motorway runoff; an effort to breed and reintroduce rare species begins with a shot of cattle grazing on former rainforest. The point is that learning about applying ecological principles to repair or redress our ecological predicament is best done by studying real outcomes of conservation management in actual units of human occupation, whether they be farms, towns or the ‘nature sites’ we conceptualise from rare patches of geology and vegetation. Another important reason for educating through case histories is that environmental projects do not fall neatly into one or other of the nine sections of applied ecology, which have been summarised in the other modules. Case histories will therefore be presented in this module. They will have been chosen because they provide a cross-module perspective according to the practical ways in which the environment and its resources are utilised in the light of the human dimensions of global change. This means selecting exemplars that illustrate the establishment of new contractual relationships between human society and the environment that will not just be economically and ecologically sustainable, but morally sustainable as well.
The areas from which these examples should be drawn were broadly defined in the 1988 Tokyo International Symposium on the Human Dimensions of Global Change Programme as:
- Nature conservation:
To improve the scientific understanding and increase awareness of the complex dynamics governing human interactions with ecosystems.
- Community development:
To identify social strategies to prevent or mitigate undersirable impacts of global change or to adapt to changes that are already unavoidable.
- Ecological economics:
To explore new tools that can provide a replacement for GNP as a measure of human progress.
To assess attempts to restructure industries in developed countries in relation to the inevitablity of rapid industrial development elsewhere.
Three useful definitions of nature conservation strategies are:
- The management of human and natural resources to provide maximum benefits over a sustained period of time. In farming, conservation entails matching cropping patterns and the productive potential and physical limitations of agricultural lands to ensure long-term sustainability of profitable production. Conservation practices focus on conserving soil, water, energy, and biological resources. Contour farming, no-till farming, and integrated pest management are typical examples of conservation practices aimed at minimising loss of biodiversity whilst maintaining crop production.
- Preserving and renewing natural resources. The use, protection, and improvement of natural resources according to principles that will ensure their highest economic or social benefits.
- The protection of an area, or particular element within an area, accepting the dynamic nature of the environment and therefore allowing change.
At a practical level, the European Union is taking three routes to stop biodiversity decline by 2010. These are:
- to increase the connectivity between nature and nature areas in Europe
- to increase the interest and involvement of people in Europe with nature
- to improve the implementation of European policies for nature, and to link policies to practice, and practice to policies
Populations of species can only survive if they have large enough habitats and/or enough possibilities to interact with other populations. Due to fragmentation of their habitats as a result of changes in land use, many species in Europe have disappeared or may disappear in the near future. Good landscape connectivity will give species a better chance of survival. Due to the impact of climate change on vegetation and habitats in Europe, species are slowly but surely moving northwards. In order to accommodate for these changing environments, it is necessary that species are able to adapt. Insurmountable barriers may result in a further decline of populations. Therefore a fully functional European Ecological Network with proper connections between nature areas is needed in the near future.
Land use in Europe is changing. Important developments are intensification of agriculture in some parts of Europe, and massive abandonment of agricultural land in other parts. The extension of road and rail infrastructure in vulnerable regions in Europe, urban sprawl and increased tourist infrastructure are other developments impacting on the connectivity of nature.
Besides the threats posed by climate change and development in land use, there are also various promising opportunities. Taking advantage of these opportunities will not only benefit nature conservation, but also other sectors of society.
Connecting people and nature
In nature conservation the role of people often receives less attention than the intrinsic value of nature and biodiversity. However, nature conservation is per definition a human activity. The support, awareness and involvement of the public and stakeholders are vital in order to be able to reach the conservation targets. The decline of nature can only be stopped when the interaction between people involved in nature conservation and land use sectors is intensified, and common ground is found.
Civic opposition to the implementation of Natura 2000, has already resulted in a greater interest by the European Commission and EU member states in communicating this issue. On the Pan-European level, the PEBLDS Council (Pan-European Biological Diversity and Landscape Strategy) has adopted a European action plan for public participation and awareness for nature in Europe. At the conference more opportunities to increase the interest and involvement of people with nature will be discussed.
Connecting nature operations with policies
Organisations that manage nature areas and National Parks have a lot of experience in connecting practice to nature conservation targets, while involving people. Other organisations have more experience in influencing policy.
Europe’s nature would benefit greatly if the site management organisations were more policy orientated and if the policy-influencing organisations were more involved in the implementation of the policies.
The conference may create new alliances that assist in linking policies to practice, and practice to policies and stimulate co-operation between these organisations.
A community’s complex of economic relations are basic to all social life: notably, the ways in which people interact with the natural world, especially through using natural resources. Society emerges out of the natural world and is sustained by it, yet most people are now alienated from elemental natural relations. The origins of alienation lie in pre-capitalist societies with their monarchical, agrarian and craft hierarchies that gave way to the social divisions and economics of mass production. We now live with its consequences of global consumerism present in every niche of social life. If we go further back in social evolution from the 18th century, human social behaviour is seen as a continuation of the evolution of the rest of nature. The big question of ‘sustainability’ is whether our social nature can adapt to the fact that no other society can ever reach the level of the North American way of life, because our planet will not survive the necessary sevenfold increase in the day to day use of materials and energy by the rest of the world.
Changes are therefore necessary in a social-ecological future organised for sustainability, at an environmental level, a personal level, and a communal level. Appropriate institutional frameworks and an ethical vision are necessary. According to Peter Staudenmaier we must turn our attention to the social structures that might make free nature and a free society more likely. Instead of handing over decision-making power to experts, professionals, representatives, or bureaucrats, social ecology he foresees all people participating directly in the self-management of their communal affairs. This has to take place as an historical process in which communities move smoothly from their past to the present. Local history in this context is a stabilising force for future change. Murry Bookchin expressed it this way:
“We are thus in a position either to follow a path toward a grim “end of history,” in which a banal succession of vacuous events replaces genuine progress, or to move on to a path toward the true making of history, in which humanity genuinely progresses toward a rational world. We are in a position to choose between an ignominious finale, possibly including the catastrophic nuclear oblivion of history itself, and history’s rational fulfillment in a free, materially abundant society in an aesthetically crafted environment”.
Since they are based on tapping the capital of natural resources, human economies are parts of larger natural ecosystems and develop with these systems. In our utilisation nature, ecosystems provide materials and energy to maintain relations between human economies and the supply materials and energy for the production of goods and services. The economic process is a circular flow of money between families and companies. Families spend money on goods produced by companies and companies spend money to buy inputs for production, such as materials, energy, land, labour and capital. These inputs are owned by households, either directly or indirectly because they are vested in the State. This model, which was first used as the basis for economic theory by Adam Smith in the 1770s, concentrates on the total volume of the circular flow generated by demand and supply, which is described as the gross national product (GNP). GNP is the primary focus of the economic policies of nations. It is assumed that when GNP grows, human wellbeing increases; year on year growth of GNP is what keeps a democratic government in power through increases in jobs, wages and goods. The economic cycle is isolated from the environment because it is designed to continue regardless of changes in the environment.
For two centuries after Smith published his book ‘The Wealth of Nations’ the environment was simply an inexhaustible supply of raw materials and an infinite sink for wastes. In Smith’s model there are no ties between economics and environment. When sources of inputs are exhausted, others are discovered or new inputs are invented. In the 1970s it suddenly dawned on people that the production of wealth on the Smith model can only be sustained when economies are small in relation to the environment available for human growth and settlement. Flows of wastes from human production systems now rival the flows through some natural systems and many of the impacts are irreversible or are only remedied over a very long time. In this situation, reliance on the GDP as a major tool of economics is an obstacle because it just measures production for any purpose resulting from any activity. A nation encouraged to maximise GNP may do so by choosing to exhaust its natural resource capital, such as felling all its forests.
The simplest way of organising an economics that involves putting the enironment into accounting is:
- Measure the value of services provided by the economy and the environment
- Measure the specific costs of environmental deterioration due to depletion and pollution
- Keep track of environmental capital such as clean water and ecosystems
These measuements would enable the correction of GNP by subtracting from it depletion of natural capital. It would also be possible to balance theextraa benefits of increased consumption against the extra environmental costs.
If cattle gain 50 kg per hectare per year, and are slaughtered after eight years, and half the weight is non-meat (skin, bones, etc.), then each cow produces 200 kg, or 1,600 hamburgers.
It takes one hectare of cleared tropical moist forest, turned to pasture, to feed that one cow and to produce the 1,600 hamburgers. Because the land is fertile for grazing for only a few years, this is a one-shot deal, and an expensive one. After ten years—a generous estimate of the life of the soil—the return on the land from the hamburgers it produces will have been $3 US per hectare per year.
The cumulative effect of this hamburger consumption is equivalent to millions of years of evolution, and to thousands of species.
Conversion of all of Amazonia—4 million square kilometres— to cattle pasture would produce one month of hamburger for the world's population and no more—since the soil would be depleted and the forest irreversibly lost.
Adapted from J. O. Browder: The Social Costs of Rain Forest Destruction: The Hamburger Debate. InterClencia, Caracas, 1988
In 2003 the Environmental Policy and Global Change section of the German Political Science Association (DVPW) and its partners organised a conference in Berlin on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change. It addressed the theme “Governance for Industrial Transformation”. Its three major divisions set out why we need to change the orientation of industry, the causes of the mismatch between industry and its sources of materials and energy and the core challenges for practical solutions. The structure of the conference sets out the strategic questions, which have to be answered by establishing operational systems.
The Need for Industrial Transformation
Current patterns in the production and consumption of goods, energy and services fail to meet basic requirements of environmental sustainability in both industrialised and developing countries. The use of natural resources and the utilisation of the environment as a sink for emissions exceed tolerable rates, and most producers and consumers are still able to externalise costs caused by their emissions or by the extraction of materials at the expense of future generations or of other world regions. Although some indicators point to an increasing decoupling of economic growth from environmental degeneration, most observers agree that this is not sufficient for sustainable economic and environmental conditions. A more comprehensive industrial transformation towards sustainability is hence needed, in particular in the richer countries of the North. But what forms of governance are likely to pave the way for such transformation?
Problem perceptions and policy approaches: Market versus State Failure
Some scholars view market failure as the chief cause of the problem. They see the state as the appropriate actor with sufficient capacity and legitimacy to correct these failures. Others argue, however, that in addition to market failures, the limited capacities of governments to intervene in market activities are part of the problem. They claim that ‘state failure’ results from conflicting policy objectives for governments to protect the environment and to further economic growth and employment at the same time. In addition, governments often lack the necessary information and knowledge required for the effective and efficient correction of market failures. Governmental regulations therefore at best support the ecological modernisation of economies by redirecting modernisation processes towards environmentally sounder technologies. Ecological modernisation alone, however, will not overcome structural rigidities, and in many cases, its achievements are compensated, and often overcompensated, by economic growth.
The conclusions based on this state failure diagnosis vary considerably. Some scholars stress the need to better involve other stakeholders to compensate insufficient state capacities. Others hope that in the long run, autonomous trends of technical modernisation will automatically reduce emissions. A third group of studies stresses the deficits of traditional command and control but also simple incentive based policies. More complex strategies, often in an evolutionary spirit, such as strategic niche management, transition management, or recently “time strategies” and other types of innovation policies and ‘ecological industrial policy’ which build on and aptly use and modulate ongoing innovation dynamics and rely more on the interaction of political and broader societal forces, have been advocated for. Yet it is open if these strategies are likely to bring about the necessary changes.
The Core Challenges
Given this dilemma of simultaneous market and state failure, the 2003 Berlin Conference aimed to bring together new and innovative research in this field — in particular with an empirical emphasis — that indicates possible pathways for the successful governance of industrial transformation processes. The papers addressed one or several of the following issues:
- Case studies that draw on historical experiences with the management of industrial transformation and the stimulation of ecologically friendly innovations and markets: What were the driving forces — autonomous market mechanisms, state regulation, or a combination of both? What conclusions can be drawn regarding the dynamic nature of economic and political development, in particular with a view of economic globalisation and a possible retreat of the capacity of states to act?
- What methods are available to forecast future patterns of production in order to devise and implement appropriate policies as early as possible? Which indicators are necessary and available for the application of foresight methods?
- What should be the scope of industrial transformation? Are efficiency improvements as a result of modernisation processes a sufficient condition for industrial transformation? Are markets or governments the proper institutions to cope with this requirement? Or are the options for change limited for example by deeply rooted cultural norms, consumer (and voter) preferences or the infrastructure. Which policies are likely to address these issues successfully?
- New Generation of Strategies and Instruments
- In how far are evolutionary strategies such as strategic niche management, transition management or time strategies likely to bring about the necessary changes? Are the so-called 3rd generation instruments that build on collaboration and information — such as the eco-management and audit scheme, sustainability reporting of companies or voluntary agreements — likely to contribute to the required changes, and under which institutional settings, incentive structures and actor constellations is this the case?
- Multi-actor and multi-level Governance
- What institutions, actors, strategies, instruments are most likely to bring forward substantial changes in the relationships between societies and the natural environment? Which governance structures are promising to provide a sustainable use of regional and local resources? Are dialogues between industry and environmentalist NGOs an effective and legitimate instrument to regulate a globalising industry? Which other actors (e.g. financing services, consultants or trade unions) are able to intervene successfully in favour of, or as an impediment to, an industrial transition? What role can international organisations play in this respect? How can the different levels from global to regional be co-ordinated?