are exploring nature’s masterpieces … and then copying these designs and manufacturing processes to solve our own problems” (2). What is so revolutionary about this learning-from-nature movement? After all, there is a long and colorful history of
Sanne van der Hout and Martin Drenthen
Edward J. Woodhouse
Was the Hurricane Katrina disaster an aberration, or did it emerge from decision-making processes similar to those governing other public outcomes? Is it more reasonable to expect post-disaster analyses to lead to systematic learning and improved policy, or not to change very much? Most generally, what can be learned about appropriate expertise and usable knowledge from the Katrina experience? I argue that many of the same processes and institutions are at work to create vulnerable populations, design the built environment carelessly with respect to public values, place barriers in the way of preventive action, and make it difficult for experts to contribute to improved outcomes. No doubt there will be some hurricane-specific learning in Katrina's wake, such as more houses on stilts, but political influentials are unlikely to revamp the systemic norms, practices, and institutions that helped shape the disaster. Implications are discussed for interdisciplinary, problem-focused research and community service by scientists, engineers, and other experts.
Between the Unseen, the Seen, and the Unforeseen
Yunita T. Winarto, Sue Walker, and Rhino Ariefiansyah
Various studies reveal the paradox of farmers’ local knowledge. Farmers are equipped with traditional cosmology and detailed empirical knowledge of their agricultural habitats. However, these same knowledge frameworks seem to contribute to entrapping farmers in a mind-set that prevents them from understanding the diverse unintended consequences of changes in their environment. To avoid this, we utilize the learning arena of science field shops (SFSs) to help farmers better understand the relationships at work from the “clouds to the roots and in between”, and to address ongoing changes and vulnerabilities in the environment. This article seeks to explain the changes that occurred to farmers following the learning they acquired from SFSs and its impact on their anticipation and decision making.
This article suggests that our current (fearful) preoccupation with climate change emerges from two paradoxical desires: the desire to recover some mythical benign stable state for the world's climate and the desire to assert ourselves over the world's climate by engineering our way to achieve this outcome. But by seeing climate either as something to be idealized or as something to master, we fail to see what is happening to the world's climate. It is being reinvented as a novel entity, now co-produced between human and nonhuman actors. Rather than resist and lament the results of this new creative force, we must learn to live with them.
This article presents a long-term study of German waste management policies and technologies as they developed during the second half of the twentieth century. The postwar "waste avalanche" called for quick and crude political decisions. Unexpected environmental side effects prompted new governance and leads through six different stages of policies based on scientific models and advanced technologies—all of them controversial. The case exemplifies a typical condition of a knowledge society. Politics demands a reliable knowledge base for rational decision making. Science, however, supplies open-ended research and increases uncertainties. Turning the dilemma into an operational perspective, I suggest speaking of processes of real-world experimentation with waste. The transformation of waste from something to be ignored and disregarded into an epistemic object of concern is bound to experimenting with existing and newly designed waste sites as well as with socio-technical management systems. The study focuses on the development in Germany. Its general features, however, are characteristic for comparable industrial societies.
This contribution revisits the dictum "history is the teacher of life" (historia magistra vitae) and shows that modern knowledge-societies are beginning to use their growing information about natural and human history to address present-day problems. Starting with Leopold von Ranke's refusal to investigate history for the benefit of learning from it, the essay cites two contemporary attempts at extracting useful knowledge from history: "real-world experiments" and "natural experiments." Wolfgang Krohn developed the former with collaborators in Bielefeld and Jared Diamond features the latter.
Peter Del Tredici
Urban habitats are characterized by high levels of disturbance, impervious paving, and heat retention. These factors, acting in concert, alter soil, water, and air conditions in ways that promote the growth of stress-tolerant, early-successional vegetation on abandoned or unmaintained land. In most urban areas, a cosmopolitan array of spontaneous plants provide important ecological services that, in light of projected climate change impacts, are likely to become more significant in the future. Learning how to manage spontaneous urban vegetation to increase its ecological and social values may be a more sustainable strategy than attempting to restore historical ecosystems that flourished before the city existed.
This article assesses the cornucopian theory of the mastery of plastic nature. Serious deficiencies are found, especially the theory's complacent faith in economic rationality and its underestimation of nature's capacity for unexpected emergent disturbances. Conclusions about the real state of the world and realistic expectations for the future must take into account not only present trends, but also the findings of research into disasters and societies that have collapsed. Learning from the analysis of such discontinuities and breaking points will help to avoid simplistic presumptions of safety based on extrapolating time-series trends of present well-being in wealthy societies into the distant future. It is precisely disaster research and studies of collapsed societies that can teach us about failures of foresight concerning nature's dynamics, about the material consequences of such errors, about the uncertainties involved in foreseeing nature's emergent dynamics, and about social barriers to learning from the prompts of nature. Although apologetics for business-as-usual, full-steam-ahead practices that masquerade as realism should be rejected, a deeper realism that has learned to expect the unexpected from nature is necessary. Such a critical realist perspective for investigating prompts from nature has been elaborated in this article.
Charles Herrick and Joanna Pratt
There is great interest within the water sector regarding the prospect of sustainable operations. Water utilities tend to be conservative entities characterized by organizational inertia, making achievement of sustainable operations a challenge of cultural transformation. We suggest that the construct of "wicked" problems provides a useful heuristic for leaders and other champions attempting to transform water utility culture to achieve sustainable operations. We observe that the cultural transformation toward sustainable water operations seems to be facilitated through the exercise of particular leadership traits, including the ability to craft and communicate a sustainability narrative, willingness and ability to diffuse authority, and an adaptive or learning-oriented outlook. Based on literature review and case research with US water utilities, we identify factors that can act either to enable or constrain efforts to transform utility culture so as to be more amenable to sustainable operations. We explain how each of these factors pertains to the circumstances of water utilities and provide a matrix with which utility leaders and sustainability champions can enact a plan of organizational transformation. We conclude by outlining research topics that flow from our arguments and observations.
. Learning within Social Movements and Ecological Habitus The specific tensions referred to above in relation to Bourdieu’s habitus—the rapid alteration of habitus and the degree of consciousness required to do so—necessitates reflection on the process of