2011/03/13 08:15 Pamela Matson, "The 'Call to Arms" for a Transition to Sustainability", Resilience 2011, Arizona State University

Resilience 2011 --  Resilience, Innovation and Sustainability:  Navigating the Complexities of Global Change -- Second International Science and Policy Conference -- March 11-16, 2011

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, by David Ing.

Pamela Matson, Stanford U. School of Earth Sciences and The Woods Institute for the Environment


  • Nitrogen
  • Land-coast sea interface
  • Dean of school of earth sciences at Stanford
[Pamela Matson]

Grew up in global environment change, land

  • In the 1990s, shifted towards meeting the needs of people

NRC 1999, Our Common Journey: 

  • Sustainability as meeting the needs of people today and in the future
  • Sustaining the life support systems of the planet

Social needs aren't being met

  • Things are getting better
  • More education
  • Less child mortality
  • Longer lives
  • Still a billlion people undernourished
  • That's today, and will have to meet needs in the future

Life support systems are being degraded

  • Atmosphere
  • Oceans
  • Loss of biological diversity
  • Degradation of ecosystem services

Two parts of the goals are in conflict, so are degrading the life support system

  • Need to change the relationship between needs and life support system ... in a transition to sustainability

What will it take, and how can dispersed research communities contribute?

  • New knowledge, tools and approaches -- what researchers love
  • Linking knowledge to action
  • Educating leaders and the public

Have learned a lot on Global Change Science

  • Progress on understanding
  • How much of understanding is useful to change?  Directed to change, or just about how the world works?

Have demonstrated going beyond just research:  Earth Systems Science Partnership

  • Global change communities got together, with human well-being
  • But this is just a tiny fraction of the whole

Recently, seeing a call to arms, to reorient research, to address the needs of decision-makers grappling with global change

ICSU Visioning Process 2009:  Policy forum:  Eart System Science for Global Susunability:  Grand Challenges (Reid)

Request by U.S. Congress

  • Can't think about climate change and global environmental change
  • Need to focus efforts on responses, adaptation strategies

RD4SD Extercise:  Gearing European research towards sustainability

  • Changing research context, shifting policies for fundings, and changing metrics

RESCUE foresight initiative:  Responses to Environmental and Societal Challenges for our Unstable Earth

Simon Levin and Bill Clark, at request of National Science Foundation:

  • Towards a Science of Sustainability
  • Harvard

New section of PNAS on sustainability science, focused on production and research of knowledge

  • Demand, and increased research
  • Exponential increase in publications, Betancourt et. al in review
  • Community coalesced by beginnings of 2000

Modified from Stokes 1997

  • Use-inspired fundamental research
  • Leading to basic research
  • Linked to applied research

In the academic world, what do we need?

  • Funding:  federal, small/venture funding for faculty working interdisciplinary
  • Institutional structures

Bigger challenge: linking knowledge to action

  • Not doing as well

Earth System Science Partnership, reviewed by ICSU-IGFA 2008

  • Good stuff, but not being linked to people who could use it

Pipleine model of knowledge and technology transfer rarely works

  • Wrong question
  • Missed some critical piece of information
  • Assuming a user community that doesn't exist

A vignette: learning from the Yaqui Valley in Mexico

  • 20 year project with Roz Naylor, and Ivan Ortiz-Monasterio
  • 250,000 hectares of irrigated wheat
  • Fed by reservoirs, all water diverted
  • On the edge of Gulf of California
  • Birthplace of the Green Revolution, where breeds of wheat found
  • Centre for International Wheat Research
  • Farmers have been successful in increasing yields
  • Access to new and improve varieties, with all of the water and fertilizers they want

Have done studies, some comparative with other places in the world

Are there ways to do agriculture here that are win/win (agroeconomic)?

  • In the 1950s, not all of land was getting fertilizer
  • By 1981, all land fertilized, at a rate that was just right
  • Then although yields haven't increased, fertilizer use has increased
  • See leaching, into irrigation, resulting in algae blooms that go across to Baha California
  • Some fundamental learning about nitrogen cycling, and global environmental change

Combining these with economics

  • Matson (1998):  concluded could change fertilizer management easily, reducing use, applying after planting, could reduce nitrogen loss, saving 12%-17% of pretax profits

Does knowing this result in action?

  • Thought would get action by working with farmers
  • In 2002, saw even more increases in use of fertilizer

Thought had universities linking with producers with innovative farmers

  • In 2003-2004, understood more actors
  • Secretary of Heath and Secretary of Natural Resources should have been involved
  • Credit unions were involved:  membership organizations providing advice, seeds and inputs into markets, and lending credit -- telling the farmers to apply as much fertilizers as they could, because they're risk-averse associated with climate year to year, differences in management (while also making money)

Ivan began a project to give farmers real-time information on fertilizer, so they would know how much to add

  • Both farmers and credit union
  • Matched with them on funding to increase use

Now, fertilizer use is down

  • Working to use elsewhere, e.g. Turkey

Need to understand the knowledge system, and it continues to evolve

Comparative analysis on knowledge systems for sustainability development

  • Can't treat as a pipeline
  • Need boundary organization across research and individuals, and multiple boundary-spanners

In academia, are terrible at linking knowledge to action, don't have support systems to do this

  • At Stanford, have uncommon dialogues with corporate, NGOs
  • Would like to understand institutions where people can come together
  • Almost never get funding to bring people together, not part of long term strategy

Educating leaders and the public

  • What is education?  What should we be teaching, with explosions of new knowledge?  How we teach people to think?
  • Not just adding more courses
  • Creating new programs, multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary, students who have been out working for 5 to 10 years

Substantial needs for sharing across disciplines and programs