We interpret our political system as a market place in which participants
attempt to maximise their utility (Abel and Langston in prep (PDF
343 KB)). Participants are voters, political
parties, bureaucracies and interest groups, including industries,
firms, the media, and groups of citizens pursuing a particular interest
pastoralists, the tourism industry, and Aboriginal groups
for example. The aim of politicians is to be elected or re-elected.
Political parties offer bundles of policies and institutional changes
in the political market. The design of the bundles is based on the
expected net return to the party in terms of political support.
The bundles are designed to win at least 50% plus one of votes in
50% plus one of electorates. However, political support is not provided
only through votes. Information is a key resource, and party organisations
are needed. Both need funds, which are provided to political parties
by industries that calculate the likely returns in terms of favourable
policies and institutions. The set of existing institutions, such
as laws, established by similar processes in the past, constrain
the behaviour of all current participants in the process. Institutions
and policies emerging from the bargaining process at the national
level distribute benefits and costs within society, and affect the
regional economy, population, and the condition of its land and
Personal construct psychology explains why peoples' perceptions
differ, why perceptions can be difficult to change, and why even
radical changes can occur suddenly. People use experiences to build
constructs which enable them to understand and predict events. People
tend to accept information that confirms their constructs, and shed
the rest. They may change the information to fit the constructs.
The constructs are organised into mental models. The primary function
of a mental model is simplifying complex reality. Simplification
means that human perceptions are inaccurate because elements of
reality are omitted. Because individuals select information and
organise it differently, their mental models differ, and so do their
interpretations of the world.
Constructs are organised hierarchically into systems and sub-systems
within a mental model. Together with the tendency to ignore or modify
challenging information, hierarchy imposes some stability on the
model, for a construct cannot necessarily be changed without changing
other constructs until they are mutually compatible. This stability
means direct experiences are often needed to challenge a person
to change their constructs "telling" is not usually
enough. Our project was therefore designed to provide experiences
through workshops that challenged participants mental models. It
also provided opportunities for participants to learn about each
others' mental models, without necessarily agreeing with each other.
Such understanding is the first step in communication, and perhaps
to negotiation of win-win solutions.
"Development" is the paradigm which has dominated Australian
society since first settlement. It is the use of social and economic
capital to extract value from the natural capital that resides in
ecosystems. By social capital we mean knowledge, memory, skills,
organisations, networks and institutions. Economic capital is the
physical means of production and distribution. Natural capital is
the more-or-less self-maintaining ecosystems that provide humans
with inputs to production, waste absorption and life support services,
stabilising services (e.g. erosion control) and psychological satisfaction.
Some of the value extracted is used to meet current needs, some
is reinvested in social and economic capital for the further extraction
of value from natural capital. Patterns of resource use are set,
and benefits and costs are distributed in society through markets,
policies and institutions (Political
A well-functioning landscape could be used for a broad range of
purposes. As function declines, that range decreases. In a well-functioning
landscape infiltration, runoff and soil erosion are controlled by
vegetation. Soil organic matter contributes to soil structure and
cation exchange capacity. Loss of vegetation can break controls
and seeds, water, nutrients, organic matter and sediments are exported
with run-off and wind. Dysfunctional landscapes typically have significantly
lowered levels of seeds, stored nitrogen and organic carbon in the
topsoil, infiltration rates and herbaceous productivity. Some landscape
types are able to tolerate more stress than others without loss
of function they are more resilient. Loss of function is
not necessarily irreversible vegetation can become re-established,
soil organic matter re-accumulate, and function can thus return.
Landscape function is also affected by the structure of vegetation.
Woody plants protect soil from wind erosion, and cycle nutrients.
In the absence of herbivores and fires, the density of trees and
shrubs at a site is determined primarily by available soil moisture.
Soil moisture depends on rainfall, topography, soil texture and
structure and vegetation cover. Density of woody plants will increase
until equilibrium with soil moisture and occasional fires is reached.
If the landscape is burned when fuel load is high, woody cover will
decline. Burning is currently influenced by legislation, including
liability when fires escape, and pastoralists are reluctant to burn
in New South Wales. Grazing prevents the accumulation of sufficient
fuel to support fires in most years, so shrubs have increased and
continue to do so. Shrubs tend to suppress grass growth, and shrub
encroachment can make pastoralism financially unviable on susceptible
The proposals in this project for conservation of native biodiversity
on public or privately managed land are based on the CAR approach:
comprehensiveness (C) each community type is included in
the conservation set; adequacy (A) species within each community
remain viable and the integrity of ecological processes are maintained;
and representativeness (R) the biological diversity within
each community type is present within the conservation set.
Fundamental to the CAR principle is that some agreed proportion
of each ecological community is managed for conservation of biodiversity
(C). An assumption is that the range of variation in climate, soils
and vegetation within community is a proxy for the variation in
biodiversity as a whole (R).
The size, shape and spatial arrangement of conservation areas within
the conservation set will be critical in achieving the objective
of adequacy (A). Although it has known flaws, the CAR approach,
if well designed and managed, should reduce extinction rates and
help maintain ecosystem functions. It will also diminish the need
for expensive biodiversity surveys.
CAS theory simplifies complexity. While 'everything in a system
is connected to everything else', many connections are weak and
can be ignored. Components and processes are grouped and tightly
linked at particular spatial and social scales in a hierarchy. Behaviour
of a sub-system at one scale is qualitatively different from that
of a sub-system at another scale (e.g. a farm compared with a region).
The sub-systems are nested, finer within broader scale, and there
are some important linkages across scales (e.g. voters influence
policy; policy influences land use).
Some processes in complex systems are non-linear (e.g. major technological
change). Humans continue to face and adapt to non-linear change,
perhaps at an increasing rate as the pace of climatic, ecological
and social change increases, so theories must take account such
changes. In this project we did so using historical and scenario
Complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory treats a human society and
the ecosystems it depends on as an integrated, evolving, self-organising
system. Disturbances select for "fitness" of individuals,
species adapt, and the system reorganises to accommodate the change.
The evolutionary path of the system is the outcome of these adaptations.
Humans do influence the behaviour and evolutionary path of social-ecological
systems, but long term attempts to control them through hierarchical
'command and control' fail because the multiplicity of local processes,
and their ecological and social heterogeneity, are not amenable
to centralised control. Thus social-ecological systems are facing
a future in which powerful climatic and economic drivers are likely
to disturb them with unforeseen consequences for sustainability,
yet top-down directives are ineffective. CAS theory points towards
changes in the decision-making environment of resource users as
a means of achieving a sustainable evolutionary path. In other words,
changes to laws, policies and organisations. It also points towards
the need to increase our capacity to learn from past disturbances
in order to adapt to future change.
Resilience is the ability of a system to undergo disturbances without
loss of its essential functions. A resilient system persists for
a long time despite disturbances. Aboriginal resource use systems
were highly resilient they lasted for at least 60,000 years.
A resilient system may be highly variable, and the variations may
be necessary if its resilience is to be maintained. This is because
resources must be invested to maintain the mechanisms of resilience
(e.g. stored food, financial savings), and in the absence of disturbances
these investments are not made. The need to build resilience guided
our policy workshops.
The following principles were incorporated:
humans are part of nature, adaptive agents in a Complex
Adaptive System not external controllers of a bio-physical
system (Gunderson et al., 1995);
even in the social part of the system "no-one is in charge"
governments do not lead us, they are driven by competing
pressures from voters, interest groups and party funders (Political
institutions (organisations, laws and policies) should be designed
to allow just enough disturbance to maintain resilience; they
should allow just enough external support to prevent a system
crash, but without discouraging internal adaptation;
organisational memory is necessary to guide regions through
recovery following disturbance, just as land managers' memories
guide recovery at local scale;
capacity for learning from past disturbances must be built
and maintained in land managers and in organisations, thus enhancing
the ability to anticipate and adapt to future disturbances;
innovation and diversity should be fostered within societies
and land use to provide a wide range of options when conditions
we should accept a level of redundancy in infrastructure,
technology and institutions if part fails there are backups;
institutions should be designed to suit the variations in
time and space of the resources they are intended to influence.