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Sustainable Social-Ecological Systems: An Impossibility?

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Ostrom, Elinor
Date: 2007
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/3826
Sector: Theory
Land Tenure & Use
Subject(s): Workshop
social-ecological systems
land degradation
Abstract: "Given rapid changes in large-scale human and biophysical processes 'carbon emissions, population increase and migrations, overharvesting and pollution leading to loss of species' scientists are worried that many of the social-ecological systems existing today may collapse by the end of the 21st century. Is this an exaggerated worry? The thesis I will present is that the negative prognosis will indeed occur in many parts of the world if we do not worry a great deal about these processes and their consequences. More important than simply worrying, however, is the development of a strong diagnostic method for analyzing the diversity of processes and the multiplicity of potential social and biophysical solutions that are needed to cope effectively with these varied processes. Past efforts to impose simple solutions to these complex problems have frequently led to worse outcomes than the problems addressed. Our need today is building a strong interdisciplinary science of complex, multilevel systems that will enable over time a matching of potential solutions to a careful diagnosis of specific problems embedded in a social-ecological context. I will take some small steps toward this goal in my presentation."

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