Resilience and the golden goose-icide

Don’t over-exploit limited and slow-growing natural resources. Or There Will Be Trouble… (our fairy tales used to tell us this).

Here’s a quote from William Gibson’s speculative fiction novel “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” In the passage below the existence of State-sanctioned ‘autonomous zones’ for the purpose of ‘normalisation’ and tourism-enhancement is being discussed.

…Harwood blinks. ‘It’s what we do now instead of bohemias,” he says.
“Instead of what?”
“Bohemias. Alternative subcultures. They were a crucial aspect of industrial civilization in the two previous centuries. They were where industrial civilization went to dream. A sort of unconcious R&D, exploring alternate societal strategies. Each one would have a dress code, characteristic forms of artistic expression, a substance or substances of choice, and a set of sexual values at odds with those of the culture at large. And they did, frequently, have locales with which they became associated. But they became extinct.”
“Extinct?”
“We started picking them before they could ripen. A certain crucial growing period was lost, as marketing evolved and the mechanisms of recommodification became quicker, more rapacious. Authentic subcultures required backwaters, and time, and there are no more backwaters. They went the way of Geography in general. Autonomous zones do offer a certain insulation from the monoculture, but they seem not to lend themselves to re-commodification, not in the same way. We don’t know why exactly.”‘

If you want the whole scientifical approach, read this below (and then go and have a good lie down).

The two kinds of sustainability are in sharp contrast. The maximum sustainable yield focuses on the resource-as-commodity, with a prescription of the ways in which it can be efficiently utilized. The time horizon of sustainability is ‘in perpetuity’ as far as the ecologist is concerned; but commodities obey the laws of the market and there is no guarantee that the law of the market favours conservation. Clark (1973; 1976) has shown why a slowly reproducing living resource will be treated by the market like a non-renewable resource ( because the exploiter will make more money depleting the resource quickly and re-investing elsewhere) and why long-term ecological values cannot be protected by the market (because future value of any resource will be discounted to nearly zero in 15-20 years from the point of view of the economic decision maker).
In practice, the history of living resource use in the Industrial era is characterised by a general pattern of sequential exploitation of stocks, from the more accessible to increasingly less accessible areas, and from the most marketable to the less and less marketable species (Berkes, 1989). This pattern is made possible in part by the development of transportation networks and markets, and is subsidized by the use of auxiliary energies, such as fossil fuels (Odum, 1971; Hall, Cleveland and Kaufmann, 1986). Sustained yields have often been, in effect, the first phase of exploitation of a single species and of geographic frontiers. The reality of the market place is that discounting of resource values rewards ‘frontier economics’ behaviour; under certain conditions, it is economically optimal for the exploiter to drive the stock to extinction and move on.
By contrast, the second kind of sustainability, i.e. sustainable development, does not discount the future, and embodies three imperatives: (1) the environmental imperative of living within ecological means; (2) the economic imperative of meeting basic material needs; and (3) the social imperative of meeting basic social needs and cultural sustainability. Thus, sustainable development is concerned with much more than single stocks. It tries to cover the broad range of environmental concerns as well as economic and social concerns.
Page 348-9 of Science, sustainability and resource management
C.S. Holling, Fikret Berkes and Carl Folke

in Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience
Eds Berkes, F and Folk, C
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1998

Thanks to Leavergirl and Antonio Dias for their helpful comments on the first draft of this post.

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About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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