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Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Lance H. Gunderson and C.S. Holling, editors. (2001, Island Press).

This edited book presents a theory of adaptive change, along with insights and examples of what this looks like in practice and the implications for sustainability. An understanding of systems change is critical to successful responses to climate change, and this book provides important insights on change processes within social-ecological systems. It discusses adaptation, transformation and resilience, emphasizing the critical role that different human views of nature play in approaches to resource management and institutional design. The “panarchy” model of adaptive change is presented in Chapter 2, which highlights hierarchical interactions across scales, emphasizing that resilience of social and ecological systems is not an ideal in itself. Instead, the objective should be to preserve the ability to adapt to change, which includes maintaining the capacity to respond flexibly to uncertainty and surprises. Importantly, Chapter 4 on “Systems of People and Nature” recognizes that human systems are qualitatively different from natural systems; humans and human systems are characterized by consciousness and reflexivity, hence they can respond in deliberate and intentional ways to challenges such as climate change.

“We live on a human dominated planet. Disturbance regimes and ecosystem resilience are altered at a faster rate and at larger scales than previously in human history, and the patterns and processes of self-organization are modified. True uncertainty and surprise will increase. There will be a paradigm shift from approaches emphasizing optimal solution and control over limited temporal and spatial scales toward approaches emphasizing cross-scale interactions and living with true uncertainty and surprise.”  (Yorque et al. 2001, p. 435)

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