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Sustainability Learning in Natural Resource Use and Management

J. David Tàbara, Autonomous University of Barcelona
Claudia Pahl-Wostl, University of Osnabrück


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We contribute to the normative discussion on sustainability learning and provide a theoretical integrative framework intended to underlie the main components and interrelations of what learning is required for social learning to become sustainability learning. We demonstrate how this framework has been operationalized in a participatory modeling interface to support processes of natural resource integrated assessment and management. The key modeling components of our view are: structure (S), energy and resources (E), information and knowledge (I), social-ecological change (C), and the size, thresholds, and connections of different social-ecological systems. Our approach attempts to overcome many of the cultural dualisms that exist in the way social and ecological systems are perceived and affect many of the most common definitions of sustainability. Our approach also emphasizes the issue of limits within a total social-ecological system and takes a multiscale, agent-based perspective. Sustainability learning is different from social learning insofar as not all of the outcomes of social learning processes necessarily improve what we consider as essential for the long-term sustainability of social-ecological systems, namely, the co-adaptive systemic capacity of agents to anticipate and deal with the unintended, undesired, and irreversible negative effects of development. Hence, the main difference of sustainability learning from social learning is the content of what is learned and the criteria used to assess such content; these are necessarily related to increasing the capacity of agents to manage, in an integrative and organic way, the total social–ecological system of which they form a part. The concept of sustainability learning and the SEIC social-ecological framework can be useful to assess and communicate the effectiveness of multiple agents to halt or reverse the destructive trends affecting the life-support systems upon which all humans depend.

Key words

modelling social-ecological systems; social learning; sustainability

Copyright © 2007 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087