Liu, Jianguo, Thomas Dietz, et al. “Complexity of Coupled Human and Natural Systems.” Science, vol. 317, no. 5844, Sept. 2007, pp. 1513–16, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1144004.

Abstract: Integrated studies of coupled human and natural systems reveal new and complex patterns and processes not evident when studied by social or natural scientists separately. Synthesis of six case studies from around the world shows that couplings between human and natural systems vary across space, time, and organizational units. They also exhibit nonlinear dynamics with thresholds, reciprocal feedback loops, time lags, resilience, heterogeneity, and surprises. Furthermore, past couplings have legacy effects on present conditions and future possibilities.

通过六个研究案例来说明人类和自然系统是在空间、时间、组织单元等层面上耦合在一起的。这六个案例分别位于:Northern Highland Lake District, US; Central Puget Sound Region, US; Area near Altamira, Brazil; Kristianstads Vattenrike, Sweden; Wolong Nature Reserve, Wolong; Kenyan Highlands, Kenya。

作者概括了Coupled Human and Natural Systems (CHANS)的六大特点(或者说五大特点),见上述摘要中的粗体部分,并通过案例加以说明。

  • 关于feedback loops的举例,相对于复杂的人造系统而言还算比较简单,通常只定性/定量地描述了人和自然之间的单个循环链条。但是案例的简单并不是因为CHANS实际上就比人造系统更加简单——恰恰相反,是因为它太过复杂,使得我们的认知还非常有限,依赖于直观的朴素理解,只能从最粗浅的角度进行简略描述。
  • Threshold是nonlinearity常常会出现的形态,但是并非所有的非线性情形都能找到threshold。并且,文中对threshold的定义是“transition points between alternate states”,而所谓的state本质上是人为划分的东西,所以threshold的存在与否,也可以说是一件比较主观的事情。
  • 关于surprises究竟能不能称之为一种特点,我暂时保留态度。作者自己也承认,这是当“complexity is not understood”的时候才会出现的情况——尽管无知是一种常态——那么surprise本质上就是人的lack of knowledge,而不能被称为CHANS系统的特点。

Liu, Jianguo, Vanessa Hull, et al. “Framing Sustainability in a Telecoupled World.” Ecology and Society, vol. 18, no. 2, 2013, p. art26, https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-05873-180226.

Abstract: Interactions between distant places are increasingly widespread and influential, often leading to unexpected outcomes with profound implications for sustainability. Numerous sustainability studies have been conducted within a particular place with little attention to the impacts of distant interactions on sustainability in multiple places. Although distant forces have been studied, they are usually treated as exogenous variables and feedbacks have rarely been considered. To understand and integrate various distant interactions better, we propose an integrated framework based on telecoupling, an umbrella concept that refers to socioeconomic and environmental interactions over distances. The concept of telecoupling is a logical extension of research on coupled human and natural systems, in which interactions occur within particular geographic locations. The telecoupling framework contains five major interrelated components, i.e., coupled human and natural systems, flows, agents, causes, and effects. We illustrate the framework using two examples of distant interactions associated with trade of agricultural commodities and invasive species, highlight the implications of the framework, and discuss research needs and approaches to move research on telecouplings forward. The framework can help to analyze system components and their interrelationships, identify research gaps, detect hidden costs and untapped benefits, provide a useful means to incorporate feedbacks as well as trade-offs and synergies across multiple systems (sending, receiving, and spillover systems), and improve the understanding of distant interactions and the effectiveness of policies for socioeconomic and environmental sustainability from local to global levels.

Liu, Jianguo. “Leveraging the Metacoupling Framework for Sustainability Science and Global Sustainable Development.” National Science Review, vol. 10, no. 7, May 2023, p. nwad090, https://doi.org/10.1093/nsr/nwad090.

Abstract: Sustainability science seeks to understand human–nature interactions behind sustainability challenges, but has largely been place-based. Traditional sustainability efforts often solved problems in one place at the cost of other places, compromising global sustainability. The metacoupling framework offers a conceptual foundation and a holistic approach to integrating human–nature interactions within a place, as well as between adjacent places and between distant places worldwide. Its applications show broad utilities for advancing sustainability science with profound implications for global sustainable development. They have revealed effects of metacoupling on the performance, synergies, and trade-offs of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across borders and across local to global scales; untangled complex interactions; identified new network attributes; unveiled spatio-temporal dynamics and effects of metacoupling; uncovered invisible feedbacks across metacoupled systems; expanded the nexus approach; detected and integrated hidden phenomena and overlooked issues; re-examined theories such as Tobler’s First Law of Geography; and unfolded transformations among noncoupling, coupling, decoupling, and recoupling. Results from the applications are also helpful to achieve SDGs across space, amplify benefits of ecosystem restoration across boundaries and across scales, augment transboundary management, broaden spatial planning, boost supply chains, empower small agents in the large world, and shift from place-based to flow-based governance. Key topics for future research include cascading effects of an event in one place on other places both nearby and far away. Operationalizing the framework can benefit from further tracing flows across scales and space, uplifting the rigor of causal attribution, enlarging toolboxes, and elevating financial and human resources. Unleashing the full potential of the framework will generate more important scientific discoveries and more effective solutions for global justice and sustainable development.


Ostrom, Elinor. “A Diagnostic Approach for Going beyond Panaceas.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 39, Sept. 2007, pp. 15181–87, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0702288104.

Abstract: The articles in this special feature challenge the presumption that scholars can make simple, predictive models of social– ecological systems (SESs) and deduce universal solutions, panaceas, to problems of overuse or destruction of resources. Moving beyond panaceas to develop cumulative capacities to diagnose the problems and potentialities of linked SESs requires serious study of complex, multivariable, nonlinear, cross-scale, and changing systems. Many variables have been identified by researchers as affecting the patterns of interactions and outcomes observed in empirical studies of SESs. A step toward developing a diagnostic method is taken by organizing these variables in a nested, multitier framework. The framework enables scholars to organize analyses of how attributes of (i) a resource system (e.g., fishery, lake, grazing area), (ii) the resource units generated by that system (e.g., fish, water, fodder), (iii) the users of that system, and (iv) the governance system jointly affect and are indirectly affected by interactions and resulting outcomes achieved at a particular time and place. The framework also enables us to organize how these attributes may affect and be affected by larger socioeconomic, political, and ecological settings in which they are embedded, as well as smaller ones. The framework is intended to be a step toward building a strong interdisciplinary science of complex, multilevel systems that will enable future diagnosticians to match governance arrangements to specific problems embedded in a social– ecological context.

Naidoo, R., et al. “Evaluating the Impacts of Protected Areas on Human Well-Being across the Developing World.” Science Advances, vol. 5, no. 4, Apr. 2019, p. eaav3006, https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aav3006.

Abstract: Protected areas (PAs) are fundamental for biodiversity conservation, yet their impacts on nearby residents are contested. We synthesized environmental and socioeconomic conditions of >87,000 children in >60,000 households situated either near or far from >600 PAs within 34 developing countries. We used quasi-experimental hierarchical regression to isolate the impact of living near a PA on several aspects of human well-being. Households near PAs with tourism also had higher wealth levels (by 17%) and a lower likelihood of poverty (by 16%) than similar households living far from PAs. Children under 5 years old living near multiple-use PAs with tourism also had higher height-for-age scores (by 10%) and were less likely to be stunted (by 13%) than similar children living far from PAs. For the largest and most comprehensive socioeconomic-environmental dataset yet assembled, we found no evidence of negative PA impacts and consistent statistical evidence to suggest PAs can positively affect human well-being.

Question (to be raised in class): How does it testify that the positive effects of preserved areas on human well-being are not merely a selection/filtering mechanism, and that PAs bring net benefit to society?

My guessing: This may be tested by comparing the total social level of well-being before and after a certain preserved area is established (or canceled). But make sure that other potential factors are removed.